Bill And Melinda Gates Are Betting Big On The Change They Can Make In 15 Years

The Gateses think that the differences they can make using both technology and simple fixes will incredibly change the lives of billions of the world’s poorest people.

Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, says the next decade will be the decade of the world’s poor.


Since 2009, Bill and Melinda Gates have written a letter every January discussing the work of their foundation (which is to receive the bulk of his wealth). Last year, they wrote about why they believed that people around the world are doing better today than ever, despite some people’s perceptions otherwise. This year, on the Gates Foundation’s 15-year anniversary, two of the world’s biggest optimists are predicting a better future, often through interventions that seem basic, but will drastically improve the lives of billions of people around the world.

“The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history,” they write. “And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.”

Because Bill Gates is Bill Gates, that’s not a vague statement that will be impossible to fact check come 2030. He puts hard numbers to his big claims. The letter explains how the number of children who die before the age of 5 will be cut in half between 2015 and 2030; that polio will be gone and we’ll be close to a vaccine that thwarts malaria transmission; that new HIV cases will drop for the first time; that African farms will become 50% more productive; and that 2 billion people without bank accounts today will access financial services on their phones. (See the full letter here for many other predictions).

In interviews conducted before the release of their letter, both Melinda and Bill emphasized the advancing pace of technology and innovation as big drivers of these improvements, especially in the foundation’s focus areas like mobile banking, vaccine development, and online education. But they also believe that basic improvements, such as better neonatal education for mothers and road infrastructure, are still often needed–and can make an enormous difference. (If the Ebola outbreak in West Africa taught us anything, Melinda says, it’s that the investments in basic primary health systems are crucial).

“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved over the last 15 years, so we’re doubling down on that,” says Bill.

The letter notes that climate change could one day undercut many improvements in the lives of the poor but brushes off effects in the next 15 years (Outside of the charitable work of the Gates Foundation, Bill Gates is a big investor in energy and climate technology, in everything from better batteries to nuclear reactors to geoengineering). For now, he told Co.Exist, his approach to buffering the developing world from the negative impacts of climate change involves an increasing focus on agriculture.


“The foundation’s fastest growing program has been our agricultural program, and if there’s anything that’s vastly underfunded, it’s the global public good of improving seeds and making those available to farmers everywhere,” he says. “We can actually get productivity improvements that should let us get ahead of all but the most dire climate change-type setbacks.” He believes in 15 years, Africa can overcome its food challenges, which include not only climate change, but population growth, poor nutrition, and the $50 billion every year the continent throws away as an importer of food.

There will be more goal setting going forward. The Gates’s look towards the future syncs up with this year’s United Nations General Assembly meeting that will determine the world’s development agenda after the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, a set of global goals set in 2000, expire this year (the record on hitting them will turn out to be a mixed bag). To further that process, the Gates Foundation is helping to launch a platform, called Global Citizen, that aims to get people involved in the discussion, campaign to hold their governments accountable to their global commitments, and find donation and volunteer opportunities for NGOs. (Hopefully, it’ll go better than Microsoft’s attempts to launch a social network.)

As they’ve talked about in the past, the couple specifically sees Africa’s star rising in coming years.

“You have all of these countries that have moved from low to middle-income countries–Mexico, Brazil, Chile, China,” says Melinda. “We have these emerging markets in Africa that also will make that change if we do the things that we talk about in our annual letter. Start with this basis of health, get them on a healthy way of life, get them some income on their farm–a bigger yield off their farm, hook them up to the banking system, get the kids educated. These communities will end up liftng themselves out of poverty.”

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.