Bill Gates Makes Bold Bet About Poverty, And Tech Plays A Big Role

Technological advances will drastically change life in the developing world by 2030.

Bill Gates is betting on it.

In the 2015 Gates Annual Letter, published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropist predicts that “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.” And according to Gates, innovation will play a vital role.

“We’re putting our time, resources and credibility behind this bet, and asking others to join in,” Gates said in the video above, produced by the couple’s foundation.

Along with dramatic improvements in global health and food production — particularly in Africa — Melinda Gates argues that an increase in access to mobile banking through cell phones will allow impoverished people “to save what they earn or borrow what they need cheaply.”

Mobile banking is already making significant impacts in developing countries. M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer initiative launched by Safaricom, is one of history’s biggest success stories in terms of empowering those on the lowest end of the economic ladder, The Christian Science Monitor claimed last year.

Sitoyo Lopokoiyit, Safaricom’s head of strategy for financial services, pointed out how drastically the service has improved lives in Africa. What he described as “financial inclusion,” or allowing those without formal bank accounts to access basic financial services, is transforming national economies.

“Financial inclusion is reported to be at 80 percent in Kenya,” Lopokoiyit explained. “When you remove mobile money, it drops to 23 percent. So you can see what mobile money does for financial inclusion in Kenya.”

It is essential that women continue to gain access to technological tools, like cell phones, the letter argues, as they are disproportionately affected by the innovation gap that exists between developing and first worlds.

In Bangladesh, for example, just 46 percent of women own a phone, while 76 percent of men do. When women lack access to such devices, they also lack access to financial services the digital economy brings, slowing progress for all.

The Gates letter also points out that an increase in digital schooling will help pull those in poor countries up the economic ladder, as hundreds of millions of people will be able to access online education in the coming years.

Beyond technological innovations, the Gates are also predicting an increasing number of people helping the world’s most vulnerable. According to the video, aid dollars for the poor will go further because fewer and fewer people will be living in extreme poverty.

Simultaneously, more people will be in a position to help.

“We want to break the cycle of poverty,” Melinda Gates said. “And if we all work together, we bet it can be done.”

Click here to read the 2015 Gates Annual Letter.


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