Friday, February 6, 2009

Bill Gates, "How I'm trying to change the world now"

Bill Gates recently spoke at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, ) annual conference on the topic of philanthropy. You can watch the video here:

Thanks to STLToday for this piece:
TED/Asa MathatBill Gates gave the opening session of the TED conference today a peek at his new life as a full-time philanthropist, focusing on two of his top priorities: global health and education.

As the CEO and founder of MIcrosoft, Gates had a reputation as a ruthless competitor with a laser  focus on his business. In his wide-ranging talk today, Gates seemed relaxed, but no less intent on success.

“I think there are some very important problems that we don’t work on naturally,”  because the market does not drive scientists, government and others to focus on them, he said.

He described his foundation’s work to eradicate malaria and the importance of developing good teachers.

His foundation has funded initiatives to improve education for nine years, and experience that convinced him that the key is “making great teachers.”

The foundation set out to determine how much variation there is in teacher quality and found it was “unbelievable,” Gates said. “A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class by over 10 percent a year.”

The U.S. education system does not reward these teachers or find ways to transfer their methods to other teachers, he said. “But I’m  optimistic,” he added. He briefly listed steps to address the problems, including more systematic measurement of teachers’ performance.

In a brief post-talk interview onstage with TED Curator Chris Anderson, the subject turned to the economy. Gates said he thought it was “good that the mood was bleak” at last week’s annual World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland.

“We’re going through a period of years where a 50-year expansion of credit is contracting,” he said. People should stop expecting that the government to magically change that because that would just delay the economic reckoning, Gates said.

“I know we are going to get past it,” he said. “But I think we have three, four, five years that will be very tough.”

Anderson asked Gates what he wanted his legacy to be, setting off some  gentle sparring. “I don’t think anyone optimizes for  having a good funeral,” Gates said, prompting Anderson to ask him if the philanthropy is a hobby.
“I’m as engaged in the new work as I’ve been in anything,” Gates responded. “It’s because of the day-to-day activity and the goals. It’s not about legacy.” He said it is fun to work on the problems and “fun when you achieve these ambitious goals. In that sense, it’s magic in the same way software was.”

The full video of Gates’ talk is now posted on the TED site, along with live Twitter and photo feeds from the conference.