I'm sitting in a lecture theatre at the London School of Economics, having just watched presentations from Bill Gates and Hans Rosling as part of the launch of the Global Poverty Ambassador initiative. You can view a video of the event here.
They've just led a fascinating discussion about the continuing struggle against extreme poverty across the globe. Bill Gates outlined his 2012 Annual Letter, released earlier today. The letter outlines the trajectory of his foundation's work in global health and development for the year ahead.
Focusing on innovation this year, he sets out a bold and challenging vision of how, even in tough economic times, we can make huge progress in the fight against extreme poverty.
Agricultural innovation is a central theme of the letter, and Gates urges governments to focus on agricultural innovation to ensure food security. He picks up on some of the themes we've been writing about in our series on the Never Again famine charter, and includes the challenging graph you see below around disparity in how much the extreme poor spend on food.
His proposed solution, and the area into which his Foundation is putting billions of dollars, is scientific research to increase productivity, through things like improved seeds.
On global health, Gates focuses on vaccines and polio. He reminds us that polio eradication is the Foundation's top priority - a commitment we're proud to hear given our campaigning on The End of Polio. And, he congratulates donors and vaccine manufacturers for their efforts, calling the success of the GAVI pledging conference in June 2011 an "historic day for global health equity."
On the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, Bill Gates is positive about progress that has been made.
At the same time, he expresses strong concern about donors falling short of their commitments. In his words, "Every $300 that's not forthcoming will represent a person taken off treatment. That's a very clear choice. I believe that if people understood the choice, they would ask their government to save more lives." It's a sentiment that we share at the Global Poverty Project, and is one of the reasons our UK team are working with Malaria No More to call on the government to Fund the Fund.
In closing, Gates recounts why it is that he remains so optimistic about our ability to fight extreme poverty: "Whether it's fighting plant disease, treating people with AIDS, or getting a measles vaccine to a child in a remote area--modest investments in the poorest make a huge difference.
Unfortunately, many people believe the opposite -- that money spent on development is wasted, or that it doesn't get lasting results. Melinda and I will spend a lot of time in the coming year explaining why they're mistaken. The relatively small amount of money invested in development has changed the future prospects of billions of people--and it can do the same for billions more--if we make the choice to continue investing in innovation."
You can read the entire 2012 Annual Letter from Bill Gates at http://www.gatesfoundation.org/annualletter. This year, Bill is calling on young people to write their own annual letters and submit them to him in response. Our Global Poverty Ambassadors did this, and we hope you will too. You can find more details and see Bill's invitation here.