You may not know Hans Rosling by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen his videos. Rosling became famous for his optimistic discussions–first at TED and then all over the place–about the trajectory of global development. His talks, backed by compelling statistics and powerful narratives, showed a world beset by huge problems of poverty and inequity, but still making incredible improvements for even the poorest people.
Sadly, Rosling died today, so it seems an appropriate time to revisit some of his best videos. Rosling’s most compelling work applied statistics to people’s often-mistaken ideas of what was happening globally, causing them to question their assumptions about the state of global development. The Gapminder Foundation, of which Rosling is a founding board member, is dedicated to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; the general thrust of Rosling’s talks is that while poverty is still endemic, the world now is much better than it was 50 years ago, and can continue to improve with the right investments. Perhaps most compelling was what appeared to be the true joy and excitement Rosling had while explaining the leaps humanity has made: very rarely are talks about health statistics and average incomes this enjoyable.
In what may be his most famous video, made for the BBC, Rosling charts the course of life expectancy, population, and income for countries around the world:
In this one, he explains both the need to bring technological advancement to the developing world (in the form of washing machines, which give women more time to focus on business and education) and the environmental problems with huge swaths of the population starting to consume more energy:
Here’s a longer discussion of the global development statistics of the last century, that’s quite compelling if you have 20 minutes:
And, perhaps most important right now, this video is called “How To Not Be Ignorant About The World”:
There’s plenty to criticize about Rosling’s perspective–both his focus on market-based development and his overly rosy view of a world ravaged by poverty, war, and disaster. But there is also definite value in digesting and understanding his holistic explanations of the trajectory of global development over the last century. And in times when it appears the world is about to move backward on the path toward progress, it’s good to remember that–with a lot of work–we have made incredible strides forward and will continue to do so, no matter the obstacles.