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Mexico, Carlos Slim, and Me

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Gene Banks for Crops

Mexico, Carlos Slim, and Me

This week I’m excited to be in Mexico for a series of events with Carlos Slim, probably Mexico’s best-known business leader, whom I’ve enjoyed getting to know for his business insights—but also because of some of the innovative approaches he’s taking to philanthropy.

We’ve been invited by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its acronym in Spanish, CIMMYT) to help launch new facilities at its headquarters near Mexico City. With a staff of 1,100 in Mexico and 13 regional offices around the world, CIMMYT is helping reduce hunger and raise living standards in many poor countries through programs focused on increasing maize and wheat productivity. Our foundation has invested in CIMMYT, and Carlos Slim has been a big supporter.

Carlos is a very interesting guy. His father immigrated to Mexico from Lebanon. Carlos started several businesses when he was quite young and was already very successful by his mid-20s. His interests in construction, real estate and mining eventually branched out into many other businesses, including Mexico’s largest telecommunications company. He reminds me a little of Warren Buffett in his ability to find undervalued investment opportunities. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with him, getting to hear his thoughts on business trends and the future of Latin America.

Among many other great projects, the Slim Foundation has funded the new CIMMYT facilities that we’re helping open this week. Carlos’ foundation and ours have collaborated before in helping launch the Salud Mesoamérica 2015 initiative to support health projects in Chiapas, Mexico and across Central America.

This week we’ll get a chance to tour the new CIMMYT facilities including the gene bank, which holds the genetic diversity of 130,000 wheat and 28,000 maize varieties worldwide. This information is being uploaded onto databases that will be available to plant breeders everywhere. We’ll also get into the field with farmers who’ve been helped by the MasAgro project, sponsored by the Mexican government to help strengthen food security through R&D, capacity building and technology transfer.

One reason why I always enjoy going to Mexico is because of the country’s incredible progress, which has been really encouraging for me to get to see as I’ve spent time there over the years first for Microsoft and lately for our foundation. Despite the many challenges Mexico still faces, Mexico’s extreme poverty rate (those living on less than $1.25 per day) went from 13.6 percent in 1996 to 4.03 percent in 2010 (as per latest World Bank figures). A major driver in reducing poverty has been agricultural development, especially innovations that have helped improve crop yields for smallholder farmers, whose lives have improved a lot as a result.

Part of what makes this week’s visit particularly exciting for me is that the expansion of CIMMYT represents a very important and positive global trend: newly industrialized countries such as Mexico, China, India and Brazil are becoming leaders in efforts to help less developed countries. Mexico is in a great position to work closely with poor countries both because of its progress and because of its quite advanced technical capabilities in agricultural development. CIMMYT is a prime example of that.

Poor countries, donors and rapidly growing countries are increasingly working together in partnerships that I believe are a model for how to deploy the world’s combined resources. These sorts of partnerships, combined with rigorous goal-setting and measurement, can produce enormous benefits for the poorest around the world.

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