Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, is committed to spread the good fortune and give it back overwhelmingly to help the poorest in the world. The founder and chairman of Microsoft, one of the most valuable company in the world, said that he wants to help the world's poor with their farming, health, their water and sanitation. Bill Gates spoke to NDTV not just about his views on philanthropy but also about his relationship with the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers.
On India, he feels that the country needs to learn from China. "There should be a blending of the best of India and the best of China," he said.
Please see the complete transcript of the Bill Gates interview:
Vikram Chandra: Hello and welcome we have a very very special guest with us William Gates . Bill gates the person who has just announced 750 Million more for the global fund. Can you tell us what essentially this money and the fund is going to mean?
Bill Gates: Well there are three diseases that are terrible and we have tools to help with HIV, Malaria, and TB. 10 years ago, global fund was created to be the group that was really smart about how we spend money and save lives for those three diseases. So they have got bed nets out, they have got aids drugs out.
Over 7 million people are alive who would not be without the global fund. That is to the credit of the donors; the rich governments - United States, France and many others, who have been very generous in giving money to global fund.
Vikram Chandra: And of course people like you who are also donating very generously along with Warren Buffet and many others. Is this an effort that you are going to continue at a time where everyone accuses the businesses to be greedy and set an example from the point of view of personal philanthropy?
Bill Gates: the commitment that me and my wife has is to spread the good fortune and give it back overwhelmingly to help the poorest in the world; to help them with their farming; there health, their water and sanitation; any way; we can drive innovation to improve their lives.
Vikram: I noticed you saying yesterday that at the end of the day the, way the market works and the reason all of this is important, is because we don’t necessarily maximize welfare; we maximize profit and other things; but not human welfare, which is why intervention is needed.
Bill Gates: Well the market is phenomenal and particularly once you get up into the middle class, the market is there to give you the movies, the food, the educational services; it’s incredible. But, when you are very poor, your voice in the market place is extremely weak. So, if you have unique needs, the kind of research and delivery doesn’t get done.
Health is a great example of that. Malaria is an awful disease and yet when I put 20 million into a malaria vaccine to get rid of it; that more than doubled the money getting into it; whereas the health problems of the rich that are far far less impactful get billions of dollars. So I love capitalism, but we need government philanthropy activity combined with it, to get the appropriate improvement in the lives of the 1-2 billion, who are in the toughest position.
Vikram Chandra: And there are other disease in addition to the three you named; there is hepatitis and others, ones that you will look into later?
Bill Gates: Yeah our focus is in infectious disease. So, in India, it would be the unbelievable number of kids who die of diarrhea, who die of respitory disease up in the north because of the lack of vaccination coverage. New vaccines have been added; but the death rate is more than doubled of what it should have been.
Vikram Chandra: You have of course started to give a lot of focus to India. How do you think India is dealing with some of the problems it has, particularly in health, education?
Bill Gates: Well the focus of our foundation is health and agriculture. Certainly, India has had some big challenges there. But year by year, there is definitely improvement. The government put out the national rural health mission. Like all big programs, in the first few years; there was learning - how do you hire people, how do you measure people. But year by year, that program has become a real asset.
Over the third of the un-vaccinated children in the world are in India, one country. That just shows the room for improvement. Some areas, particularly Bihar, went from being about the worst to really quite good. It shows if you get focused, if you hire the right people, measure it the right way, phenomenal things can happen. Now new vaccines are starting to roll out.
A vaccine called Pentavalent, will be moving into 6 states, that needs to be used throughout the country. We are enthused about the partnerships we have and hope that as India is growing its economy, the health of the poorest, the sustenance of a farmer gets some additional focus.
Vikram Chandra: Related to what you were saying, I have been noticing the debate taking place here at Davos and certainly back in India; The government is trying to do something in these areas, the food security act, the NREGA which is already rolled out. The others are saying just focus on growth if they get the growth back on track, all of these problems will take care of themselves. Do you have a comment on that?
Bill Gates: Well that’s certainly not the case. There are plenty of countries that have a very high growth that haven’t helped out the poorest people in their country. If you let children die because you don’t get vaccines to them and India has got a terrible problem with that; no amount of economic growth will eliminate the fact that when that child dies with measles, it would make the mothers very very unhappy. GDP won’t make her happy.
Vikram Chandra: Right, so growth isn’t enough; you got to do these things as well focus a little more perhaps on health and education than India already is?
Bill Gates: Right. there is discussion in India about increasing the budgets on health and the key thing you got to avoid is the hospitals that is just for the wealthy. It’s got to reach out to maternal delivery having high quality services there; it’s got to get the new vaccines out; and we are starting to see some of that. But, India relative to its wealth, is not so far along in these things as other countries.
Vikram Chandra: You were speaking in the session of food security yesterday; What do you think about the food security bill and other such things which are coming up in India? Is that something which you think is going to make a difference?
Bill Gates: Well I don’t know that particular bill; But, the idea of getting new seed varieties out to farmers and having open mindedness to new technology, the GMO technology in some case, there is a lot more that can be done for farmers. It’s an area that we are excited about the progress. There is a challenge in India; you know the water table in some places is increasingly challenged; the fact that certain policies haven’t gotten people to conserve water, even electricity. It is going to take a lot of time. But I visited a lot of our sites and definitely year by year, it gets better.
Vikram Chandra: Mr. Gates something else that is happening in India and I just wanted to draw your attention to it as you might resonated with you. The effort to take innovation down to the grassroots 35$ tablet that’s being spoken about and ways of getting technology down to the grass roots level. Is that something you think that companies around the world can help bridge the digital divide?
Bill Gates: Well the digital divide is not the highest priority for a poor family. you know basic literacy is more important; their child surviving; their child having enough nutrition; if your brain does not fully develop because you didn’t have enough nutrition; which is a huge problem in India; there are astounding levels unique for that level of income. I don’t think a tablet computer would be helpful and I would be the first to say computing is a great thing; my whole career was spent there.
But yes, for the middle class, where the quality of the education system is disappointing, bringing in a good personal system so that the teachers are measured; and the high quality ones are rewarded; and a bit of technology, would be more important. But it’s not even at the top of the list for the poorest people in the country.
Vikram Chandra: Mr. Gates I think I interviewed you in 2008 just as you were stepping aside from Microsoft and you are now perhaps one of the few examples of someone who has re-invented himself with such a major passion, almost 2 different careers completely. How is this experience continuing to be for you? What are the challenges?
Bill Gates: Well I love the foundation work and I am beginning to learn a lot, meet with the innovators, lot of those innovators are in India; there are a lot of new companies, a lot of great vaccine manufacturers, institutes are amazing and others as well and so it’s interesting work. I don’t think i am unique in this. If you look at Azim Premji he is putting a lot of time into his giving and doing some brilliant stuff. Nandan Nilekani, who has taken the government post…
Vikram Chandra: I think they are inspired by you…
Bill Gates: No I wouldn’t say that. We learn from each other, we inspire each other. Those are great men that I love sitting down and sharing what’s working, what’s not working with.
Vikram Chandra: Do you still keep an eye on Microsoft now that Windows 8 is coming out and look at what are these guys doing and say that maybe they should tweak this and tweak that?
Bill Gates: On a part time basis. You know polio is the thing I spend the most time on. That is the case where India should be very proud. It’s been a year without a single case; but I am on the board at Microsoft and...
Vikram Chandra: You still have some influence…
Bill Gates: Sure. But I know a lot more now about seeds and vaccines, and where the systems are falling short. Once I start focusing on something, that is what I really know.
Vikram Chandra: That is what you really get into?
Bill Gates: Yes, and I love my software work and I hand out some advice there. But working on behalf of the poor, particularly bringing innovation to them, which will mean new seeds, new vaccines, that is what I am up to date on; That is where i am backing the great scientist in India and all over the world.
Vikram Chandra: …and hopefully there is going to be major change out there. On a more personal note, one of the tragedies that took place last year was that Steve Jobs passed away. You of course had a long relationship with him. You are two people who redefined the entire industry. You said it was quite a big blow to you …
Bill Gates: Well Steve was an incredible person. He did great work at Apple, particularly in the last 11 years and so it’s a huge loss. He and I worked together in a lot of things; we competed on a lot of things. He was a very unique person. I know his wife and kids. It was a tragedy.
Vikram Chandra: Well they don’t make too many people like you and him.
Bill Gates: He and I are quite different. We were probably the people who had the best opportunity to shape the personal computing industry; And we both are very very privileged to get that chance.
Vikram Chandra: Now when you see the way apple is doing, do you ever regret having bailed it out a few years ago?
Bill Gates: No it’s great; they are doing good work, and Microsoft is doing good work. In the software and personal computing field, the opportunities are as strong as ever. But in terms of impact, I have chosen to focus on this new area.
Vikram Chandra: On something that is making a direct impact on the lives of the people.
Bill Gates: Well personal computing and the internet are phenomenal. The foundation looks at how it will be used for education and of course the collaboration between scientists; so it facilitates all that. So it’s kind of an element that super charging everything in the world right now and so I watch over it.
The place where the world doesn’t focus on, that we miss, it’s not some gold plated new tablet computer. It’s that vaccine that helps the child lives. It’s not as sexy, but it’s more fundamental at the human level.
Vikram Chandra: I know what you are saying that, you have to first get health all right, you have to first make sure that there is no child mortality, because that is probably the most acute problem. But moving forward into areas like education, do you see technology starting to make a difference in stuff like basic literacy and getting education to everybody. I am not sure how it would necessarily happen; but 5-10 years from now, could technology make a difference?
Bill Gates: Technology kicks in more as you get older. And you have gotten past the basics. You know the basics are having good teachers who show up and whose results are measured and they are given feedback and they are observed. In the US and in India, although in different ways, there is need to improve their teacher personal system. I’d say that number one.
In parallel, though, technology will come along and particularly for the middle class, whose kids have internet access and they are out there; the ability to connect to rich lecturers, rich material that space is exploding. Some of it done philanthropically, some of it done on a for-profit basis. So yes there is a huge promise.
As you get to the college level and it is very dramatic where you can lower the cost of the education, improve the quality of it. We are at the beginning of a big revolution there. But it won’t substitute for the fact that you got to have teachers who do show up and particularly for the young kids, form a personal relationship.
Vikram Chandra: But given that they are many places that it’s almost impossible to find good teachers, when you do find teachers sometimes they don’t show up. You don’t see the possibility in a few years from now that you will have a distant learning . If you like a teacher at a remote location, with people sitting around some form of internet or TV information. You don’t see that happen?
Bill Gates: It can happen, but that’s when you are old. You can’t learn the alphabet from afar. If you believe that, why not just hand them the book. Education is about relevance and motivation; it’s not about the information. Otherwise just hand them the book and tell them to read it. There is nothing magic about that which comes from far away. It’s the same thing as a local DVD or the text would be.
So there will have to be big changes in the quality of teaching. Technology will not bail that out. In fact, because the middle class has access to technology, it’s just making the educational divide all the worse. Now that doesn’t mean we should not let them take advantage of it. But if you can’t get the poor kids to a certain level, they miss out completely.
Vikram Chandra: One final question, you sense of the global environment right now and what do you see happening to it in the next. Are things likely to get much worse? Because frankly that also has an impact in the rest of the world. If Europe goes down or America goes into some kind of 2nd dip major recession?
Bill Gates: Well, America is definitely improving. Now the big question more is reform. Even in the wealthy countries there are a lot of rigidities in the labor markets; in India, dramatic rigidities in terms of how markets work. The major question as we go forward is how much reform gets done. That is what will set the global growth rate.
We are more dependent on reform from middle income countries now than ever before. China has been such an example of not letting rigidities interfere with their markets. Even countries in Europe and US can take lessons, it seems ironic, from what they have done very well.
Vikram Chandra: And that’s something India also needs to really do now.
Bill Gates: Well, if you look at where China was 30 years back; they were far poorer than India and look at what it looks like today. They probably are some best practices that are worth looking at. India’s done some things better; but we’d really like to blend the best of both.
Vikram Chandra: For you, what is the biggest priority in the year till the next Davos?
Bill Gates: Well for me, it’s continuing to make sure that the poorest are not forgotten as we have these economic turmoil problems. The Aids budgets have the tendency to be the first thing that’s caught. And that means that you cut 300 dollars, and somebody who can’t get aids drugs dies. If you cut 10 dollars, you can’t buy bed net; if you cut 10 dollars, you can’t buy vaccines for kids. So we need to keep the poorest on the radar screen even if there is a challenge like the Eurozone crisis. My cause is to turn inward and remember that people who are far away, are also part of humanity.
Vikram Chandra: Bill Gates, it’s always been a pleasure to talk to you.