IMPACT

Bill Gates: Humanitarian Aid Needs Tech Savvy

Mar 27, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Gates is fresh off his first year of working full-time for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In an interview with Newsweek, Gates reveals that his background in technology with Microsoft has proved invaluable when he approaches humanitarian issues.

"The kind of conversations we have on a malaria vaccine or financial services for the poor -- those are a lot like Microsoft R&D discussions," Gates explains, illustrating the importance of innovation in health, food and education. Using an approach similar to the one he would use towards software development has helped him make unexpected breakthroughs.

Gates is using his technology background to tackle the issue of malaria, which causes 1.5 to 3 million deaths annually around the world. With established tools such as insecticides and bed nets, Gates says, "we can shrink the disease map, but without breakthrough tools, we can only do disease reduction." Disease elimination, he believes, will come from putting together a team to computer-model the effects of different solutions on suffering countries. "In this case, it's pure software that could allow us to affect the human condition."

Yet these days, Gates does anything but spend a lot of time at the computer. He travels about 30 percent of the time because he doesn't believe that "you can do this work without seeing things firsthand." His plans for the future, including the use of gene sequencing to improve agriculture in Africa and funding circumcision clinics to reduce the spread of HIV, are varied and ambitious, and will use both his software background and the knowledge he has gained from his travels to help causes in Africa and beyond.

Read the full interview at Newsweek.com.