“Mr. Gates was invited because he has a reputation for getting things done: His foundation played a key role in getting the African AIDS crisis under control, and was the key actor behind the successful development of vaccines against meningitis and malaria.
But curing diseases and solving the global food crisis is, it turns out, rather political, and Mr. Gates spends a lot of time persuading African and Asian governments that he’s not part of some Western plot, that the vaccines and flood-resistant seeds his foundation engineered aren’t foreign threats – and also paying for them to develop regulatory agencies so they can help themselves.
“I wouldn’t call myself a political lobbyist,” he says, but “that’s ended up being a much bigger category of my time than I expected …. If you’d asked me five years ago if I would expect to speak at a G20 meeting I would have said ‘No, I’ll be writing grants to great scientists and travelling to Africa!’ ”
And indeed, political lobbying was a big part of what he was doing in Cannes this week. As a philanthropist whose $33.5-billion endowment is larger than the foreign-aid programs of many governments, he still relies on those programs to match his funds and do the lion’s share of the work.
So he was here to praise countries like Britain, which upheld the promise they made in 2000 to raise their foreign-aid spending to 0.7 per cent of their economies – despite dire financial crises – and shame those like Canada, which currently spends less than half that amount, far short of its promise.
After all, he says, the world’s poor can’t rely on the largesse of billionaires. Amid all the talk of finding innovative ways to end inequality, Mr. Gates says it really just requires some smart money.
“I resist the term ‘innovative,’ the word is funny,” he says. “All these things we’re discussing here are taxes, or borrowing now to pay back later … The term suggests there’s a free source of money. No one yet has discovered a free source of money.” ”