Sunday, April 20, 2014
Exit from comment view mode. Click to hide this space
11

The Measurement of Hope

SEATTLE – The lives of the world’s poorest people have improved more rapidly in the last 15 years than ever before, yet I am optimistic that we will do even better in the next 15 years. After all, human knowledge is increasing. We can see this concretely in the development and declining costs of new medicines like HIV drugs, and in the creation of new seeds that allow poor farmers to be more productive. Once such tools are invented, they are never un-invented – they just improve.

Skeptics point out that we have a hard time delivering new tools to the people who need them. This is where innovation in the measurement of governmental and philanthropic performance is making a big difference. That process – setting clear goals, picking the right approach, and then measuring results to get feedback and refine the approach continually –helps us to deliver tools and services to everybody who will benefit.

Innovation to reduce the delivery bottleneck is critical. Following the path of the steam engine long ago, progress is not “doomed to be rare and erratic.” We can, in fact, make it commonplace.

Though I am an optimist, I am not blind to the problems that we face, or to the challenges that we must overcome to accelerate progress in the next 15 years. The two that worry me the most are the possibility that we will be unable to raise the funds needed to pay for health and development projects, and that we will fail to align around clear goals to help the poorest.

The good news is that many developing countries have growing economies that allow them to devote more resources to helping their poorest people. India, for example, is becoming less dependent on aid, and eventually will not need it.

Some countries, like the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, and Australia, are increasing their foreign-aid budgets; others, even traditionally generous donors like Japan and the Netherlands, have reduced theirs. The direction of many countries, including the United States, France, Germany, and Canada, is unclear.

Still, aid is critical. It helps people in the poorest countries to meet their basic needs. It funds innovation in the creation of new tools and services, and in their delivery. Unfortunately, aid budgets are threatened by fiscal weakness in almost all of the advanced countries. Unless voters hear about the positive impact that their generosity is having, they will inevitably focus on issues closer to home.

A single story, true or not, about a small amount of aid being misused can often cloud the entire field. Imagine how you would feel about investing if every article you read were only about stocks that did poorly, with no reporting on the big successes.

Historically, aid was discussed largely in terms of the total amount of money invested. But now that we are measuring indicators like child mortality more precisely, people are able to see the impact that aid has in stark terms – that it means the difference between, say, giving people access to HIV treatment and letting them die. When framed this way, aid has a better chance of becoming a priority.

But will the world align around a clear set of goals in the next 15 years? The United Nations is starting to map out new goals for the years following the 2015 expiration of the current Millennium Development Goals. As with the MDGs, the next set of goals could help to align groups doing the work, remind voters what their generosity supports, and allow us to see where we are making progress in delivering solutions to the poor.

The MDGs’ success means that there is a lot of interest in expanding them to include a broader set of issues. But many of the potential new goals lack unanimous support, and adding a lot of new goals – or goals that are not easily measurable – may sap momentum.

The MDGs were coherent because they focused on helping the poorest people in the world. The groups that needed to work together to attain them were easy to identify, and they could be held accountable for cooperation and progress. When the UN reaches agreement on other important goals like mitigating climate change, it should consider whether a different set of actors and a separate process might be best for those efforts.

The progress that the world has made in helping the poorest in the last 15 years is the kind of good-news story that happens one life at a time, so it often does not have the same visibility as a big setback, such as the outbreak of a new epidemic. From time to time, we should step back and celebrate the achievements that come with having the right goals, the necessary political will, generous aid, and innovation in tools and their delivery. Doing so has certainly deepened my commitment to this work.

Exit from comment view mode. Click to hide this space
Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (11)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedKathy Holland

    All we have done is shift the poor from one country to another. Innovation and measurement of the opportunities that lift greater numbers of lives up will lead to prosperity. Democratizing the tax code, charitable giving, etc. so there is greater economic participation with the intent to correct, adjust the laws in support of enterprise and each nation's citizenry. All inclusive information data needs to be massaged to answer the critical questions no one appears to be willing to ask.....well I am willing.

  2. CommentedFemi Awoyinfa

    Certainly some remarkable progress has been made in the last fifteen years, especially in relation to the world's poor across some indicators. The next fifteen years are critical and success will rely heavily on the crafting of new MDG goals and political will both in the north and south as Gates has suggested.

  3. CommentedLeo Arouet

    Es muy difícil mantener esa esperanza cuando se coloca en una balanza la realidad de la voluntad política y el deteriorio acuciante de la situación de los más desfavorecidos...

  4. Commentedsk khalid ali

    good article overall..vission is clear to help poor worldwide..i think the axis of all evil usa-israil & their role in conspiracy in world politics should be check by un to calm world..& will help people to do their work normally...people will live peacefully..economy will bounce back

  5. CommentedEdward Ponderer

    These are beautiful sentiments, only Murphy's law tends to outrank such beautiful sentiments. For example, see here on the problems with Mr. Gates push for an end to Polio:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/health/01polio.html?ref=world&_r=0

    It is going to take a lot more than the teamwork smarts of individuals to take on Murphy. Its going to take a singular global Humanity, with mutual concern and responsibility matching the economic and cultural interdependence rapidly evolving from globalization.

    Try completely getting rid of the dandelions on your front lawn without the concern of everyone to protect their neighbors front lawn with equal ferocity.

  6. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

    Gates is right that we can make a better world. He is also right that innovation is a major motor of this. He does not mention the great issue of inequality. Reducing that will be the other great motor.

  7. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Even if we share Mr. Gates's optimism based on the present, the future does not look so optimistic.
    The global crisis, the disappearing middle class, growing unemployment is creating a new generation of "poor" people, and youth without future prospects.
    The main problem is humanity's stubborn persistence of pushing on with a socio-economic system that is unsustainable.
    Very soon even today's generous donors will stop giving as they will have nothing to give from.
    Gazing optimistically beyond the horizon without knowing where we stand, and who we are only yields disappointment.
    Instead we should be looking down the ground, ahead of our feet and try to build a new, natural and thus sustainable global human system, adapted to today's global, interconnected world, one in which mutual responsibility, truly global cooperation and consideration will make today's charity projects obsolete.

  8. CommentedJ St. Clair

    trade is monetary...life's journey require money....of which is not that easy to obtain...therefore.....the "advantages" of life are questionable...

  9. CommentedJ St. Clair

    when framed this way....we can frame it this way too.....the market of making drugs..needs a market of takers of drugs....what would a market of making drugs do...without a market of takers of drugs......who is the greater of benefitors...is it about life...or is it about trade...

  10. CommentedAyse Tezcan

    I, too, am an optimist that things are moving in the right direction. Thanks to information dissemination, people in the developed world have an access to information about where their aid monies go. Consequently, the recipients are being required to be more accountable, which may eventually help reducing corruption in the recipient countries and mediator organizations.
    I also believe that advancements in technologies such use of smart phones in delivering health care will expedite reaching these MDGs sooner than expected as well as measuring the process and outcomes more accurately than ever before. The important challenge is now identify the communities' assets to remedy these needs for sustainable progress and prioritizing the delivery for optimum impact. On the process end, I am still cautiously watching the great fraction in social enterprise whether this many small organizations has any utility, or they are redundant and/or impede progress.

Featured