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Davos for Asia

A productive day at the Bo’ao Conference

I attended the Bo’ao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island in China, an annual conference attracting government and business leaders.


This last weekend, I attended the Bo’ao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island in China. Bo’ao is a kind of Davos for Asia, an annual conference attracting government and business leaders. I’d attended once before, in 2007, but was particularly happy to be going this year because China’s new president, Xi Jinping, would be attending.

President Xi Jinping addressing the opening session of the Bo’ao Forum for Asia

The theme of the Forum this year was development for all, so I was pleased they allowed me the chance to speak on Saturday about investing for the poor. Our foundation’s efforts in China started by focusing on programs inside the country – primarily HIV/AIDS prevention, and work on TB and tobacco. But now our efforts there are evolving. We’re working with the government and businesses to help make sure that the innovations that have been successful in helping the poor in China also reach people in places like Africa.

I asked the Bo’ao Forum audience to use their expertise to help the poor.

China has raised 600 million people out of poverty in just a few decades, which is a credit to the power of innovation and rigorous use of evidence in creating policies. I challenged the audience to apply the same skills, expertise and rigor to the problems of the poor in other parts of the world.

The next day was a series of meetings with government officials from China and with other attendees. I had a great conversation with New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, and got to spend some time with my friend Andrew Forrest from Australia, who’s been a tremendous advocate for philanthropy in that part of the world.

Talking with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key about global health and education.

But the highlight of Sunday was my meeting with China’s First Lady, Madame Peng Liyuan. It was kind of her to make some time for me and terrific to catch up with her. Madame Peng is an old friend to the foundation, as we’ve worked with her for a number of years on HIV/AIDS prevention and on TB and tobacco. She is Goodwill Ambassador for HIV and TB for the WHO, and an Ambassador for Tobacco Control for China’s Ministry of Health.

Talking over a cup of tea with China’s First Lady, Madame Peng Liyuan

She is a remarkably gracious and thoughtful person. She visited the foundation last year, but this was the first time I’d seen her since she became First Lady. So I was excited to send her Melinda’s congratulations as well as my own, and to hear her thoughts on the topics we’ve worked on together. Over a cup of tea, we got to talk about the foundation’s work and our hopes that China will play an ever greater role in tackling health and development challenges around the world.

The next day, I was lucky enough to spend time with Madame Peng’s husband, who made time to see me even though he was busy with the Forum and its visiting heads of state. It was a very productive meeting, as we got to touch on a number of topics of interest to us both.

Meeting with China’s President, Xi Jinping

I thanked him for including Africa in his first foreign trip as head of state. In his plenary remarks, he’d spoken about China’s ability to have a positive impact on the world, and so it was a natural evolution to talk about our foundation’s hopes that China will help address global health and development problems, including eradicating polio.

While China is still a developing country itself, its ability to help other nations should not be underestimated. From developing and manufacturing vaccines to promoting agricultural innovations that could radically improve the output of African farmers, collaborating with China will be an important aspect of our work at the foundation. The trip to Bo’ao really helped me see that more clearly. I left the Forum even more optimistic about China’s ability to help the developing world.