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2015 Gates Annual letter Our Big Bet
for the Future
Bill and Melinda Gates

Forty years ago, Bill and his childhood friend Paul Allen bet that software and personal computers would change the way people around the world worked and played. This bet wasn't exactly a wager. It was an opportunity to make computers personal and empower people through the magic of software. Some people thought they were nuts. But the bet turned out well.


Fifteen years ago, the two of us made a similar bet. We started our foundation in 2000 with the idea that by backing innovative work in health and education, we could help dramatically reduce inequity. The progress we've seen so far is very exciting — so exciting that we are doubling down on the bet we made 15 years ago, and picking ambitious goals for what's possible 15 years from now.


Our Big Bet

The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else's.


Our Big Bet

We see an opportunity and we want to make the most of it.

We're putting our credibility, time, and money behind this bet — and asking others to join us — because we think there has never been a better time to accelerate progress and have a big impact around the world.

Some will say we're irrational to make this bet too. A skeptic would look at the world's problems and conclude that things are only getting worse. And we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that a handful of the worst-off countries will continue to struggle.

Bill and Melinda Gates in Tanzania
When we travel, we meet with people to learn what they need to live a healthy, productive life. Mapinga, Tanzania, 2011

But we think the next 15 years will see major breakthroughs for most people in poor countries. They will be living longer and in better health. They will have unprecedented opportunities to get an education, eat nutritious food, and benefit from mobile banking. These breakthroughs will be driven by innovation in technology — ranging from new vaccines and hardier crops to much cheaper smartphones and tablets — and by innovations that help deliver those things to more people.

The rich world will keep getting exciting new advances too, but the improvements in the lives of the poor will be far more fundamental — the basics of a healthy, productive life. It's great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It's even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren't going to die.

A quick overview of the bet we’re making about the next 15 years

A quick overview of the bet we’re making about the next 15 years.

It is fair to ask whether the progress we're predicting will be stifled by climate change. The most dramatic problems caused by climate change are more than 15 years away, but the long-term threat is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively — right now — to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide. The next 15 years are a pivotal time when these energy sources need to be developed so they'll be ready to deploy before the effects of climate change become severe. Bill is investing time in this work personally (not through our foundation) and will continue to speak out about it.

We're excited to see how much better the world will be in 15 years. Here are some of the breakthroughs we see coming.

Education — Better software will revolutionize learning

Four: Education Better software will revolutionize learning Bill and Melinda Gates


Last fall, Bill met a number of students in Arizona who are getting their college degrees through online schools.

One of them, Shawn Lee, is a former construction worker who went back to college so he could build a better life for his young son. Shawn told Bill how he had struggled in a traditional school — and how learning online made it much easier to balance school and work.

Yet if we went to a poor country and asked a street vendor about taking online classes, she would just laugh. The idea would seem ridiculous.

It shouldn't. And one day, it won't.

Shawn Lee, of Steamboat, Arizona, grew up with few opportunities and became addicted to alcohol. He’s now studying to be a licensed substance abuse counselor online at a college in Tempe, Arizona, without leaving home.

Shawn Lee explains how online education has opened up new opportunities for him.

Our foundation gives more money to education than to any other cause in the United States because it's the best lever we've seen for giving every child in America a chance to make the most of their lives. Some of the work we fund is focused solely on U.S. students and teachers. But a core piece of it — online courses — will be a global asset, available to anyone with a smartphone or tablet.

As high-speed cell networks grow and smartphones become as cheap as today's voice-only phones, online education will flourish. For people in rich countries, it will be an important step forward. For the rest of the world, especially in places where growth is creating demand for educated workers, it will be a revolution.

Think back 15 years, to when online education was first gaining traction. It amounted to little more than pointing a camera at a university lecturer and hitting the "record" button. Students couldn't take online quizzes or connect with each other. It wasn't interactive at all.

Closing the Global Literacy Gap

Equal Access to Education and Technology Will Empower More Women and Girls to Build Better Lives
Understanding the global literacy gap; there was a sharp decrease in literacy gaps around the world comparing 1990 to 2010.

The technology has already come a long way, as you can see at sites like Khan Academy, and it will advance even more in the next 15 years. Before a child even starts primary school, she will be able to use her mom's smartphone to learn her numbers and letters, giving her a big head start. Software will be able to see when she's having trouble with the material and adjust for her pace. She will collaborate with teachers and other students in a much richer way. If she is learning a language, she'll be able to speak out loud and the software will give her feedback on her pronunciation. (Some sites do this today, but the technology will improve a lot.)

Many of today's online classes are disconnected from career paths, but that will change too. Suppose you want to be a health worker; you'll be able to find out what level of math, chemistry, and other subjects you need to meet the requirements, and you'll be able to do much of the work online. Some content will need to be localized for different places and languages. Yet the basic ideas don't change; algebra works the same way everywhere.

By 2030, if women’s level of employment in India and Africa rose to match men’s, their gross domestic product (GDP) would go up 12 percent.

By 2030, if women’s level of employment in India and Africa rose to match men’s, their gross domestic product (GDP) would go up 12 percent.

There is one thing software will never do: replace teachers. Even the most self-motivated student needs guidance and support. But software can play a crucial role, for example by connecting teachers to each other. They will be able to upload videos of themselves and get advice from their peers, watch the best teachers in the world at work, and get real-time feedback from their students. These advances will be important in the United States, and they'll have an even bigger impact on teachers in developing countries where enrollment is high but achievement is not.

To make the most of these innovations, we need to close the gender gap. In Africa, women are 24 percent less likely than men to own a cell phone; in South Asia, it's 37 percent. And as Melinda has seen vividly in her travels, the gap is not just about technology. Last year she and our daughter Jennifer stayed with a family on their farm in Tanzania. Their 13-year-old daughter, Grace, couldn't start her homework until 10:30 at night — she was too busy chopping wood, carrying water, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, and washing dishes. Her twin brother, who had plenty of time to study, had already passed the exams needed to keep going in school.

As Melinda and Jennifer were leaving, Grace asked, "Can I have your flashlight?" She wanted to use it for studying at night.

Education is a great leveler. But if the factors that hold girls back are not addressed, and if access to education isn't equal, then education will become another cause of inequity, rather than a cure for it.

This is especially important because when a young woman gets an education, it has a powerful ripple effect. As an adult, she'll earn more money. If she has children, they will be twice as likely to live past the age of five. Her daughters will be twice as likely to go to school themselves. There's no way to get around the fact that more girls need to be in good schools, and for longer. But online education will open up new opportunities for girls with the means and motivation to take advantage of it.

Melinda and Jennifer Gates with students, Tanzania

Earlier this year, Melinda and our daughter Jennifer spent several days with a farming family in Tanzania.

As the cost goes down and incomes go up, more people will have the means, and we'll be well on our way to providing high-quality education for everyone.