Bill Gates does the interview rounds to promote his foundation’s Annual Letter

Kareem Anderson

While the man currently holding the title of the world richest person is embroiled in both a corporate and personal scandal relatively speaking, many wait for the former world’s richest person to issue his yearly philanthropic outlook for the world.

Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates along with his wife Melinda, issue an annual letter on behalf of their aptly titled Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in which the two cover in broad strokes some of the efforts, challenges, opportunities, and accomplishments their foundation has seen or hopes to see around the world.

In preparation of their message and perhaps to broadcast above the noise of domestic headlines in the US, Bill and Melinda did a little bit extra this year as they get ready to issue their annual letter.

As a messenger for the foundation, Bill Gates sat with tech-centric reporting post The Verge to “talk about the letter, his work as a philanthropist, and how he and Melinda choose which initiatives to focus on with their foundation’s impressive team and enormous resources.”

While there is a relatively lengthy authored transcript front and center on The Verge, there is also an audio podcast of the interview as well as a playful video teaser up on YouTube.

Some of the highlights of the interview include a thoughtful reply to why the foundation issues a yearly letter at all, the importance of gathering data around the lives of women and girls and the rise of nationalism.

Arguably, the bulk of the interview which centered around one part addressing the youth population in Africa,  one part measuring the breadth of data of women and girls and finally helping men process roles and emotions in the world.

In all the work we do, the idea of gender equity is part of it. So when we go out and look at innovating with crops, [it’s] figuring out which of the crops the women are involved with. It’s that if we get cash into [women’s] hands, they tend to use it for school fees and nutritious food, more than if the father gets it.

A lot of data hasn’t been broken down. Who controls the household wealth, and how much are the women having to do work — that doesn’t show up in GDP statistics. The educational data, of course, shows still a significant gap [in Africa]. The cellphone ownership data shows a big gap. That’s important because we’re trying to use the cellphone as a tool of empowerment for things like financial services.

When asked about the connection between improving the lives of women with the data measured as well as the intangible contributions that outcome would have with young men as some roles reverse, Gates responded with:

Absolutely. The letter wasn’t long enough, but the gender data — although we framed it as seeing where there’s deficits for women — in many categories you see deficits for men. In educational achievement in the United States, more women are going to college. Less women are dropping out of high school.

So the gender data doesn’t always say, “Okay, we’re not paying enough attention to women.” Probably 80 percent of the time that’s the deficit it will show. But when you look at young black males, particularly where there’s no father in the household, the drop out rates, the rates of eventually ending up in jail are extremely high. Societally, that’s really unacceptable.

That’s where some brilliant people created this Becoming a Man counseling activity. In the case that I attended, it was young black males are coming in multiple times a week with this counselor who really understands the situation they’re in. It’s really connecting with them about, “Hey, you should have an image of yourself as being under control. The outcomes if you stay in school are way better than if you don’t.”

It was great to see that rapport between the peer group and that amazing counselor.

For anyone living in region with a rise in populism, Gates words regarding the increasing nationalism trend can seem a bit harrowing as he recognizes contributors but doesn’t quiet understand how to address it as social media has become a multiplier without a resolution.

Well, the populist wave is slightly different in different countries, but some form of it is being seen in a lot of the upper-income countries.

Understanding the idea that being able to just find articles that you agree with, or that show how the group you are in is right, and the other group is just completely corrupt and wrong, and the leader of that group is particularly awful — the polarization in politics, whether that’s come partly because of these digital communications tools and is there some way you can moderate polarization without giving up the benefits of those tools? I think that’s a very important discussion that we’re having.

The creativity about that, what the solution looks like other than being mad — “Oh this person is responsible for this” — I haven’t seen as much recommended that we move forward on it.

But yes, I worry that the digital tools have contributed to polarization.

Other lighthearted conversations during the interview include a nod to current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s privacy advocacy, the balancing act of delivering technology to poorer regions, what an effective government could look like, and his preferred phone operating system in 2019.

Managing editor of the Verge Nilay Patel does an excellent job of allowing Bill Gates to express his views while also giving push back on the less obvious answers the world’s second richest man had to offer.

The interview between Gates and Nilay is a pleasant capstone to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s yearly philanthropic letter, and I would recommend giving it a listen this week as well as reading the very detailed letters of the past to broaden your global and technical horizons.