Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter today, this time written in part by Melinda Gates for the first time, and it’s a superb read.
A few highlights that really caught our eye:
“By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world,” said Bill Gates. By then, most people will have an average personal income higher than in China today. (That’s in just 21 years – incredible, right?)
According to Bill and Melinda, there are three big myths impeding progress:
Myth #1: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.
Not true. In the last 50 years more than one billion people have risen out of extreme poverty and the percentage of people considered “very poor” has dropped by more than half since 1990. Many formerly poor countries now have thriving economies.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that Africa is worse off today than it was 50 years ago … If getting enough to eat, going to school, and living longer are measures of a good life, then life is definitely getting better there, said Bill Gates. “These improvements are not the end of the story; they’re the foundation for more progress.”
Myth #2: Foreign aid is a big waste.
Again, not true at all. “Since Melinda and I started the foundation 14 years ago, we’ve been lucky enough to go see the impact of programs funded by the foundation and donor governments. What we see over time is people living longer, getting healthier, and escaping poverty, partly because of services that aid helped develop and deliver.”
Most Americans think the U.S. allocates 25% of our national budget to foreign aid, when in truth we give less than 1%.
Take a moment to read the annual letter, but we especially love how Bill addresses the question of corruption in foreign aid programs, “There is a double standard at work here. I’ve heard people calling on the government to shut down some aid program if one dollar of corruption is found. On the other hand, four of the past seven governors of Illinois have gone to prison for corruption, and to my knowledge no one has demanded that Illinois schools be shut down or its highways closed.”
Myth #3: Saving lives leads to over-population.
“It may be counterintuitive, but the countries with the most deaths have among the fastest-growing populations in the world, says Melinda Gates. “This is because the women in these countries tend to have the most births, too.”
Image Courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
“When children survive in greater numbers, parents decide to have smaller families, says Melinda. “Consider Thailand. Around 1960, child mortality started going down. Then, around 1970, after the government invested in a strong family planning program, birth rates started to drop. In the course of just two decades, Thai women went from having an average of six children to an average of two. Today, child mortality in Thailand is almost as low as it is in the United States, and Thai women have an average of 1.6 children.”
An important part of breaking the cycle of poverty is providing access to contraceptives so women can better plan how many children to have, when to have them and how to best provide for them. In turn, women can build a better life not just for their families, but for their countries.
“Creating societies where people enjoy basic health, relative prosperity, fundamental equality, and access to contraceptives is the only way to secure a sustainable world,” said Melinda. “We will build a better future for everyone by giving people the freedom and the power to build a better future for themselves and their families.”