Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bill Gates on the Successes of Foreign Aid

In a recent interview with Financial Times, Bill Gates -- the world's second richest man and co-chair of the philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- spoke about foreign aid for development and recent successes of aid in improving quality of life in poor nations.

Gates acknowledged skepticism of foreign aid. He noted the notorious former President of then-Zaire, Mobutu, as an oft-referenced example of how foreign aid has sometimes been funneled to corrupt politicians, like Mobutu, and then wasted. However, Gates argued that examples like this are not arguments against aid, but illustrate the need for greater investment in aid so that it can be channeled effectively.

He went on to highlight several important areas in which foreign aid has produced real results, including improved agricultural production and, especially, great advances in medical technology. He said, "The primary reason we’ve gotten down from twenty million children dying a year to close to eight million is vaccines.” Indeed, the funding of vaccine research has been one of the primary focuses of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Interestingly, Gates also discussed the role of political interests in determining where aid money is spent. He criticized former U.S. support of corrupt governments, calling certain instances examples of "Cold War calculation." Similarly, he criticized those that oppose international aid on the grounds that domestic interests are more important. “If all you care about is the US or the UK’s relative strength in the world, then it’s particularly scary,” he said, encouraging the consideration of problems beyond those of our own country. Wise words from the world's most prominent philanthropist.

-Elizabeth Newton

SOURCE: Financial Times