New York: Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and Chairman of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, spoke to NDTV's Sarah Jacob in New York. Below is the transcript of the interview:
NDTV: One of the most important, successful and respected people in the world, Bill Gates is best known for founding Microsoft, but he joins us today on NDTV in a different role, that of the leading philanthropist of our times. Bill Gates and his wife started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and he has subsequently made it clear that he will donate the bulk of his personal fortune to it. The Foundation focuses on global health and the alleviation of extreme poverty around the world, in addition to enhancing the quality of education in the United States. Since 2006 he has stepped down from Microsoft and focused on running the foundation full time. His fellow billionaire Warren Buffett announced, in the same year, that he would leave the major part of his fortune to the Gates Foundation as well. This makes the Foundation, with a corpus of $37 billion, the wealthiest and most powerful development organisation in the world. This week, Mr Gates released a letter detailing the progress the Foundation has made and sharing his vision for global development going forward. He joins us today, to discuss his thoughts.
Thank you for your time. Your annual letter stresses the importance of setting goals and measuring yourself. To a layperson, that seems like a fairly obvious approach for any organisation. Are you saying this is not very common in the nonprofit sector, despite the large amounts of money that flow through the sector? Why do you think that is?
Bill Gates: Take the public education or public health system in India. Ideally you would have indicators down to a very geographic level, of the quality of the teachers, the jobs filled, the people showing up or the supplies there etc. That would be published as an ongoing report card. The fact is that does not happen in a very reliable way. That's the difference between the private sector and the public sector. Over time I think that will change. The ability to gather data is much better now than ever before. Slowly but surely digital systems that create feedback even to government services, like my teacher did not come today or I was asked for a bribe, are going to help improve things.
NDTV: Isn't one problem with setting measurable goals the fact that people will try to game the system? For example if we try and replicate the Colorado teaching system in India, where teachers are measured by the student's success, then all our students will be getting A's. Who is responsible for conducting the tests?
Bill Gates: You have to have tests and India does have tests. You don't get into IIT without a test. That is an objective test. There are honest measures. That is why you always have some impartial system that at least samples the data that is being generated to make sure it is correct. In Polio we had to go in to create a separate measurement set. Only when people knew that was happening and there were penalties for fake statistics the system got better. Now we see the self-reporting is very aligned to the auditing that we do. Earlier, we had to audit 30 per cent and now we are down to 10 per cent, which saves money. For government services India is a great example of how honest measurement would help things. I think it is now being done more and more.
NDTV: Your annual letter acknowledges the challenges of working on such issues in recessions when donor countries are tightening budgets. You have mentioned that emerging economies need to step up. What would you like to see India do?
Bill Gates: India is a good example of taking on a very high percentage of responsibility for health and education. I still think donor funding is very important, because it comes with an independent look at measures and the ability to bring in an analytical person that might not be easy for the government to get, at the level it needs.
But the government overwhelmingly funds, percentage wise, health services in India and the government has even been willing to increase the budget with programmes like the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Polio is a case where India funded a very high percentage of the campaign. When we achieve eradication that money will be able to be used in other health activities. We can point to India's aid percentage in various budgets and show that it is going down. We can show this to donor countries as an example that aid does not have to last forever, that countries do feel a sense of responsibility and that is a good thing.
NDTV: Talking about taking responsibility, when you last visited India, along with Warren Buffett, you urged India's wealthy to leave a large portion of their wealth to charity. This evoked a very lukewarm response. Despite the legacy of Jamsetji Tata, who was among the first businessmen in history to leave the bulk of his wealth to charity, Indian business leaders do remarkably little philanthropy. Why do you think that is?
Bill Gates: India has some amazing philanthropists. Azim Premji, Nandan and Rohini Nilekani, they are doing great stuff, there are lots of them and I cannot enumerate them all. I think it is not as pervasive as in the United States, where there is an expectation of you if you are rich that you will take up some cause. A lot of the people with first generation fortunes actually give a vast majority of it to charity, choosing not to create an inherited, ongoing dynasty. The US is a bit further along on that, but every country is different. Some people choose to give generously without being so visible about it. Often learning how to give takes time, where you say what is it that the government is not doing, and what can I do that is incremental to that. I think interest in philanthropy is absolutely going up. Everybody who does more is likely to say how much they are enjoying it and encourage more people to start, and five or ten years from now it is likely to have grown quite a bit.
NDTV: Do you believe it would be good for a country like India to institute an estate tax? After all, estate taxes were a strong motivator behind the rise in philanthropic giving in the US: if the government is going to take your wealth, you might as well leave it to charity. Do you think it might have a similar effect in India?
Bill Gates: Every country should look at an estate tax. I do not know the Indian tax system but the US does have an estate tax of 40% that is not paid on what goes to a foundation. That is certainly a factor, not the only factor that heads to large giving. Everybody does think that as part of their will maybe I should give a large part of this to philanthropy, and once they have decided that then maybe they think well, maybe I should do this while I am young and energetic and know interesting people. I am certainly a believer of the earlier the better when it comes to philanthropy. Estate tax is certainly a positive thing, but taxes are so different in different countries and I am not an expert and I do not want to wade into any discussion about whether India should change its tax system.
NDTV: But you are an expert on the Pulse Polio Programme so let's talk about that. The Foundation is most passionate about eradicating polio. While you are extremely proud that India has celebrated its first polio-free year there are three spots left in the world- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. How can India's experience be replicated in Afghanistan when you are up against the Taliban, which has no qualms about using violence against polio workers? Bill Gates: We have changed tactics in Afghanistan. We use permanent vaccinator teams now. We tend to have different vaccinator groups, perhaps one that a power groups likes or another power group likes. This way they do not feel like they are being infiltrated. In Afghanistan this year we actually have gotten letters from different groups and we have more access to the kids. Afghanistan is part of the Pakistan epidemic. Right now the hardest challenge is Pakistan, because there is where we have the most violence and access to Waziristan is most difficult. Even so I really believe we can achieve the end there. It would be tragic not to because it could spread back to India if we don't catch it all in these three countries. This is going to be a hard one. Which is why I put more time into polio than any other activity
NDTV: Hopefully by 2018 we will be a polio free world and then what will you do with your time and energy, because you show no signs of slowing down any time soon?
Bill Gates: We have very interesting partnerships, pilot programs in Bihar, and birth checklists in Uttar Pradesh, programmes with NACO. We have agricultural productivity programmes that we are doing in India as well. My wife is very involved in making sure that women who want modern contraception get them easily. The first 30 days, why does a child die in India? What nutrients should be eaten? We are doing a lot of work on that. We are very committed to being a partner with the Indian government on these things.
NDTV: When you married Melinda Gates, she was a sales executive at Microsoft where you were the CEO. In a sense, you were her boss. Today, you work together as partners. How has that change been for you?
Bill Gates: We are partners first in raising three kids and partners in the Foundation and it makes it fun. She was just in India and she returned and told me about what is going on in UP and New Delhi and Bihar. We also get to make the trip together. So we get the best of our travel and our energies and our voice out there for these causes. She is so articulate about women's issues. That is not all she works on, but she makes sure that is a top priority. It is fun working together. One of us can be more cautious when the other is being over optimistic. Next week we have a strategy reviews coming up and we will be commenting on how we spend our money and how we structure. I had Steve Ballmer running Microsoft and Melinda is the equivalent of that at the Foundation.
NDTV: After she returned from India did she mention the recent rape case and death of the 23-year-old?
Bill Gates: The incident happened right before she went and the protests were taking place at that time she was there. It certainly is an evolution for the country that something horrific like that galvanizes people to think. Sadly I am sure there will be additional incidents, but they may start to raise the consciousness and more and more people may deem it unacceptable. It would be great to be able to measure the actual levels, but that is difficult to do because the victims don't want to come forward. It is awful because they somehow feel ashamed when they are guiltless in this case. It is a domestic issue but the outrage is a step in the right direction
NDTV: One way of looking at how much of a difference you've made is to ask whether, if you weren't around, something wouldn't have happened. If you use that test, what are the two or three biggest successes of the Gates Foundation?
Bill Gates: It is hard to do that, but I'd say vaccines, vaccine inventions and coverage. We have pushed for getting this to children of the world. We have created a group called Global Alliances for Vaccines and are getting vaccines out to all kids. You can measure that literally in the over 5 million deaths that have been avoided. We tend to be the biggest funder of research. We have some new drugs and malaria vaccines. In our view there should not be vaccines that only rich kids can get and we think we have increased the equity in that area.