Monday, September 24, 2007

Bill Gates Commencement Address

Upon receiving his honorary degree, Bill Gates said, "I've been waiting 30
years to say this: "Dad, I always told you I'd come back and get my degree."

On June 7th, Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, in a moving commencement address at Harvard University, said to the graduating class of 2007:

"I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world's deepest inequities, on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity."

He has been called, “Harvard’s most successful dropout,” but as the Chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he addressed the graduates by saying,

“Reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.”

His mother, who was filled with pride the day he was admitted at Harvard, never stopped pressing him to do more for others. A few days before his wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to his wife, Melinda. His mother, who was very ill with cancer at the time, saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she wrote:

"From those to whom much is given,
much is expected."


He explained that when he left Harvard in the 1970s he had no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world-the appalling disparities of health, wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.

Bill and Melinda read about the millions of children who were dying every year in poor countries from measles, malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis B, and yellow fever; diseases that had long ago been made harmless in the United States.

They were shocked. Together they just assumed, like many Americans, that if millions of children were dying and they could be saved, the world would make it a priority to discover and deliver the medicines to save them. But it didn’t. For under a dollar, there were interventions that could save lives that just weren't being delivered.

“If you believe that every life has equal value, it's revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not.”

So they began their work in the same way anyone would begin it. They asked: "How could the world let these children die?"

“The answer was simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it.”

Many skeptics to the idea of reducing inequity say: "Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end-because people just don't care."

To this he said, “I completely disagree.” “The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.”

“I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.”

“We don't read much about these deaths because the media covers what's new-and millions of people dying is nothing new. So it stays in the background, where it's easier to ignore. But even when we do see it or read about it, it's difficult to keep our eyes on the problem. It's hard to look at suffering if the situation is so complex that we don't know how to help. And so we look away.”

“To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact.”

“But complexity blocks all three steps.”

“Cutting through complexity to find a solution runs through four predictable stages: determining a goal, finding the highest-leverage of approach, discovering the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, making the smartest application of the technology that you already have-whether it's something sophisticated, like a drug, or something simpler, like a bed net.”

“The AIDS epidemic offers an example. The broad goal, of course, is to end the disease. The highest-leverage approach is prevention. The ideal technology would be a vaccine that gives lifetime immunity with a single dose. So governments, drug companies, and foundations fund vaccine research. But their work is likely to take more than a decade, so in the meantime, we have to work with what we have in hand-and the best prevention approach we have now is getting people to avoid risky behavior.”

“[But] we can also make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism-if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. We also can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.”

“If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world.”

“This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world.”

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