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Investment in Africa needed to keep extreme poverty on the wane, Bill and Melinda Gates say

For all of the progress made in fighting poverty and disease in recent years, those strides could stall because of rapid population growth in some African countries, according to a new warning from the Gates Foundation. Bill and Melinda Gates talk with Judy Woodruff about their findings, changes to their educational reform efforts, and what’s next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight, a conversation with two of the world's biggest philanthropists and billionaires about trying to alleviate extreme poverty around the globe.

    The Gates Foundation warned in a report today that, for all the progress made in fighting poverty and disease in recent years, it could stall because of rapid population growth in some African countries.

    It was issued as part of an annual look at meeting United Nations goals.

    I spoke with foundation heads Bill and Melinda Gates a few days ago about their findings and what's next.

    Bill and Melinda Gates, thank you very much for talking with us.

    So, the good news in this report that you point out is more than a billion people on the planet have been lifted out of extreme poverty just since 2000. But the challenge is that it's now concentrated in some parts of the — of this world that — where it's really going to be hard to make the next set of improvements.

    How is that, Bill Gates?

  • Bill Gates:

    Well, it's amazing how Asia, including most large countries there, have gotten extreme poverty down quite substantially.

    So, as you say, Africa is going to have a very high share of the people in extreme poverty. And, in fact, the births in the world are shifting towards Africa. It's a quarter the births today, but over the course of the century, it becomes half of all the births in the world.

    So we need to really double down, take the positive examples from Asia, what was done there in terms of health and education, and go to even the toughest parts of Africa and execute those investments.

    And so it's a call that, to maintain the great progress, we're going to be working in tougher places. But that's what we need to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melinda Gates, what makes it so tough in these particular parts of sub-Saharan Africa?

  • Melinda Gates:

    Well, I think we're talking about places where the infrastructure investments haven't necessarily been made. You have a lot of big pockets of poverty.

    But the great thing that we do know is, we know how to make these investments as a world. We have learned from the miracles that have happened in Asia and China and other places in Africa, even Ethiopia.

    When I was a kid, we thought Ethiopia is almost hopeless, and the opposite is absolutely true now. They have really worked on maternal mortality and childhood mortality, and they cut the number of child deaths substantially in the last few years. So, when I go to Ethiopia, you see that progress is possible.

    And we need to take those lessons to other places in Africa.

  • Bill Gates:

    The majority of the people are young people. And that is an opportunity, because if you do invest in those people, their open-mindedness, their productivity, being in — as they come into working age, it can be a fantastic thing.

    But the challenge, to get these health systems to scale up, to get the food systems for nutrition to scale up, and then the educational systems to not only have the access, but the quality as well, that's not going to be easy.

    We're going to have to have donor resources stay very generous and the local governments figure out how to raise domestic resources, and then run the system.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melinda Gates, I think people look at this and they think, gosh, hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars have already been spent by other governments, nonprofit organizations trying to help, to aid these poor African countries.

    Why do you think this new effort is going to be different?

  • Melinda Gates:

    Well, I think one thing that people should know is that those investments that have been made in the past have made the world better.

    We have seen incredible progress in the number of people lifted out of poverty. We see childhood death have been cut substantially over the last 20, 25 years. So, what we want people to know is, those investments make a difference.

    When you see a country like South Korea that went from middle — from low-income to middle-income, and they're now giving money to other nations, they're a model for Africa. So we want people to know those investments make a difference, and we have to keep making them in health and in education.

    And families will lift themselves up in these countries. And it'll lift up whole economies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bill Gates, you do point out the work you're doing now comes at a time when many governments are pulling back, turning inward.

    How much of a problem is that, and how much of that is a problem for the United States?

  • Bill Gates:

    There were a lot of things that caused the focus on these very poor countries to be somewhat diminished.

    Throughout all that, though, there were aid increases, the U.K., Germany. The U.S. big increase took place under President Bush, was increased a little bit under Obama. And even with the executive branch now being — recommending cuts, the Congress has seen the benefits, whether it's the stability, the economics, the relationships, and the U.S. foreign aid has been maintained.

    So, although the dialogue and terms like America first really do have people considering turning inward, we hope, with events like this, they can see modest resources are making a difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Melinda Gates, just quickly, your — it sounds like the Trump administration policy, the president's philosophy, policy, approach, America first, isn't helping.

  • Melinda Gates:

    No, I think any time that you have a world leader who's turning inward, it doesn't help the world.

    And I think we know, as a nation, we're better off when we're more together, when we are coming together to solve our own problems and to help people as a world.

    We're a generous nation. We want people to not only survive, but to thrive in the world. And we should be leaders in that in the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bill Gates, I want to turn to a question about the foundation and education policy here in the United States.

    Over the past year, your foundation appears to have made an important shift in your approach, from a more centralized attempt to impose standards and discipline on schools and teachers, to what you're calling a local-based or locally driven solutions.

    As you know, the original approach did receive some significant criticisms. What lessons did you learn? Why are you making the shift?

  • Bill Gates:

    U.S. education is the other big thing, besides global health, that we do. We think it's so important that all the kids get a great education.

    Our earlier work was about helping teachers be better and peer evaluation. We saw some benefits there, but not sustained over the long period.

    So now we're doing networks of schools where the exact tactics they pick to help the students progress depends on what they see, what they see ability to make a strong long-term commitment to.

    And so going out to these schools, you can see teachers care. They want to find out which kids are not making progress and have resources and interventions that can work for those kids. So, we're hoping to see the same type of dramatic improvement in education that we have seen in health.

    But, as yet, for all the people who work in the field, there have been improvements, but they have been modest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, to Melinda, you have issued a statement recently about the under-representation of women, especially women of color, in the tech sector.

    What do you see there? Why does it concern you?

  • Melinda Gates:

    Well, I think the tech sector is having profound implications on all of our lives.

    And these are incredible jobs in the economy. And what I want to make sure is that everybody participates. All women not only have a seat at the table, but that their best ideas can be funded and come forward.

    And so it was discouraging to me to see in the last decade that blacks, Latinas and Native Americans, their numbers are actually declining in the tech sector. And I think we should address that and do something about it.

    I think there's something that we can do about it, to give them more pathways in, to make them know it's welcoming, and to make sure that their great ideas do in fact come forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melinda Gates, Bill Gates, we thank you both.

  • Melinda Gates:

    Thank you.

  • Bill Gates:

    Good to talk to you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Talking to them on the day their Goalkeeper report was issued for this year.

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