Bill & Melinda Gates: Myths Blocking Progress for the Poor

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon(R) meets with Bill and Melinda Gates during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on September 25, 2013 (TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty)

Since launching their eponymous foundation in 2000, Bill and Melinda Gates have granted nearly $30 billion to organizations and individuals working to eradicate poverty across the world. 

Today the Gateses release their annual letter, an announcement of their goals for the year to come. This year, the Gateses focus their letter on myths that they believe block progress for the poor. In the annual letter and in this interview with Takeaway host John Hockenberry, Bill and Melinda Gates examine three particular myths:

  1. Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.
  2. Foreign aid is a big waste.
  3. Saving lives leads to overpopulation.

Melinda Gates begins by examining the overpopulation question. "What we discovered is that as more children survive in a family around the world, people naturally want to bring down their birth rate," she explains. "They want to be able to feed and educate those children, and they see the future for their children." 

She continues. "Because [of] a lot of things that were written in the late 1960s about the population explosion, those myths have held," she says. "And so as we’ve learned more about this and realized my goodness, actually the opposite is true. We want to make sure the word gets out there."

Bill Gates discusses the second myth, the idea that foreign aid is a waste because of corruption and dependence. "If you went in and ran businesses yourself or distorted prices, yes that could mix things up," he says. "And you do want to work with them to make sure you don’t bring in too many experts, that you’re educating their people."

As Bill explains, "We’re learning all the time on how you accelerate that self sufficiency; but help is aimed in that direction, and we see so many examples where that’s worked."

Melinda Gates particularly emphasizes the changes she's seen in Africa. "As we have traveled around Africa you see families coming together, you see communities coming together to demand health services of their government. So I saw this recently when I was in Senegal. The community, these three villages had banded together and said, 'We need a health post in our community.' And in their collective power, they go to government and they get a health post built.

"You see the change that has happened around the world when you get a growing, prosperous middle class in a country, and I think you’ll start to get these rights for women and other people that are so needed," she says.

Listen to the full interview above and check out the transcript here. What do you think of the myths outlined by Bill and Melinda Gates? Take our survey below.


Bill Gates and Melinda Gates

Produced by:

Jen Poyant and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [14]

Samina from Pakistan

Poor countries are poor because of ignorance,corruption and their mindset that they themselves cannot bring any change

Jun. 08 2014 02:02 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

Maybe Bill and Melinda would have some credibility if their foundation was not investing billions in Wal-Mart, Yum Brands (KFC) and Exxon.

Jan. 22 2014 02:14 PM
jotham from santa rosa CA

I have experienced "both sides of the world". Born in Kenya and now working in California .
"third world country " I can go to a government hospital or pharmacy in Kenya buy an emergency contraceptive with less than 1 US dollar, in fact some county hospitals,contraceptives services are free.
In California I will need to have an ID to even buy an emergency contraceptive which will cost me a 100 US dollars at CVS rite aid etc. . A doctor's visit only will cost me 300 dollars !! excluding other services "developed world"

lets face it this is the world we live in, no one else can make a
difference except YOU
. I applaud bill and Melinda gates foundation and YOU who have made a better world for our future generation .

love to be home .

Jan. 22 2014 09:35 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Applauding what the Gates' are doing generally, one myth of poverty is that poor people are crying out for birth control. In Africa especially, they want families, and don't want artificial birth control, which they see correctly as immoral.

Jan. 22 2014 08:22 AM
Wesley Price from Massachusetts

Please, forgive my skepticism... Would Mr. Hockenberry please make the connection between the green revolution in the United States in the sixties and our current agricultural dependance on genetically engineered seeds, pesticides, herbicides as well as the concentration of farmland away from the small/medium size family farm to the agribusiness that it is today.

Could this be the same road that AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) is paving?

The short term increase in crop yeilds, albeit wonderful for food production actually creates a cycle of economic dependency where the farmer becomes indebted to the seed and chemical fertilizer companies. This is not an accident. It is planned this way by DESIGN, and it is certainly not a solution to global poverty/hunger. I can guarantee there is a calculated financial return in this scenario; a return which benefits not the farmer.

book "Fatal Harvest" - 'The tragedy of Industrial Agriculture' edited by Andrew Kimbrell

Wesley D. Price
Cape Cod Mushroom Club - Founder
Cape Cod Mushroom Blog - Author/Publisher

Jan. 21 2014 05:38 PM
Rose Imai from California

It is important for highly developed, wealthy countries, to look carefully at how they are defining
poverty. Ending poverty cannot become a portal for continuing to colonize. Imposing western cultural definitions of what it means to prosper is destructive. For help to help it must authentically help. Leadership of
efforts to address issues of health, environment, birth control, inequity, education, etc., need to be in the hands of the people themselves. As difficult, frustrating, inefficient and often 'wrong' initial solutions may be
the will and spirit of those living in foreign lands to lead the solutions is, in my view, non-negotiable.
As highly developed countries, we often see only what "is not there" and do not recognize the
wealth inherent in the wisdom of the culture and the land from which culture emerges.

It goes far deeper than "teach a man to fish".... it demands a humility and recognition of how deep the relationship is to place and the quality of solutions that result when place is understood as more than a resource.

Jan. 21 2014 04:17 PM
simon lang from berkely

Why most countries are poor that are poor, is that they have taken up huge debts, usually for Guns, Bombs, war planes (War machines), military hardware all of which was purchased from America the UK, Germany or France. The general population has no say in this spending. and would not agree to it. This is often done by a military Junta, and these have come to power by force, often aided by interference of the United states.

The next factor is that Agriculture advisors come into the country usually from the America/United Kingdom, with no understanding of the local enviroment, coming from the so called first world countriesL They are most often coming with Mechanical agriculture techniques, and machines, and are advisors for a large farming machine company looking to make sales.

They find a kind of Agriculture that exists largely for an export market. Or perceived market, that often dose not actually exist, and often requires faclities and services that do not exist (electricity, clean water gas) and cannot be found.
Often using imported chemicals and seeds, but the machines will not have the support and services that are needed. therefore they end up in a broken down state and rusting away.

These features also will often benefit only a small number of people often white or rich. This takes place in areas that have land wise, the richest soils. Displacing large numbers of people who traditionally lived there.

Also there where vast numbers of humans needing work.

But the country is still charged vast sums for the importation of these machines, goods and services. The machines themselfs are often second grade machines, often not very servicable and have no parts available for them. and are not suitable to the enviroment that they live in.

Then there is non availability of parts. It may only be a fuse or oil filter or oil that is needed or has to be replaced, or a hydraulic hose, but as the machine is not used, it rusts out, and becomes to expensive to repair. Specially in the hot and humid places where these machines are not protected. Then there are not the personal who are able to fix the machines due to lack of tools or knowledge or simple things like penetrating oil.

Then there is a great deal of coruption, whenever some one who is not corupt comes into power, and wants a fair deal for the people of the country they will be taken out by the United States, ,

Jan. 21 2014 03:47 PM

I'm not a huge proponent for financial foreign aid. Once those things leave the country, it's hard to make sure they get used for their purpose. I'd rather see us invest in cultivating knowledge abroad - while keeping in mind the threat of cultural imperialism.

Jan. 21 2014 02:52 PM
Eric from Saint Paul

Foreign aid is one of the few ways the United States can influence other countries behavior. While it is a bit of a cynical look at aid it is important to point out that aid is one of the few things to motivate other nations to act in our interest, by making it there interest, without resorting to warfare. We can cut aid to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and we get a certain amount of cooperation. While we can't completely control them they cooperate better than countries that we give little or no aid to, like Iran.

Jan. 21 2014 02:16 PM
Tonya from Arkansas, USA

I got the same "drop in the bucket" comment from Tim Griffin, US Rep, and know that this is not true when the "giving" is truly expanded to the resources we spew-out to countries which are not made accountable for where those resources land. Our country has hurting, hungry and injured Military Veterans and people starving, enormous medical costs coming up with the millions who sign up for FREE ACA medical incurance, etc. One reason poor countries might stay poor, regardless of our aid, is that the food and money may never reach those who need it, espacially in countries whose citizens, (and leaders), want all U.S. citizens dead. How about the $1.5 billion we pay to Brazilian cotton farmers to help the cotton market?
There are lists of waste of government, (OUR), resources everywhere, but our Congress members have golden tape over their mouths.

Jan. 21 2014 01:26 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

If you are starving, all you have time for is trying to survive...

Poor people who are helped, quite often then feel they have the energy and time to further help themselves and the people around them.

Jan. 21 2014 01:04 PM
Jack Dresser from Oregon

The first priority in foreign aid is to discontinue it to Israel, an affluent country that is our #1 aid recipient that receives more taxpayer dollars than all of sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean that really need help while Israel uses our largesse to commit human rights abuses against the captive Palestinians and violate international law.

Jan. 21 2014 12:54 PM
M Khan from Dallas

Foreign Aid is a bribe to the US puppets in the foreign countries – even though the secretary of state can call it investment. Bureaucrats claim that foreign aid amount is a drop in a bucket compare to the US budget, well they totally ignore that the whole budget is based on borrowed money. The drop in the bucket that they refer to is $50 billion per year. $50B buys a lot of loyalty at the UN for the vote needed to declare the war on other countries. Has any of these foreign aid recipients ever submitted verifiable expense report?

For $50B we can build 10 oil refineries every year that US has not build in decades. By this we can avoid gas price fluctuations every time we change from winter grade to summer grade. Or for that amount we can improve our deteriorated infrastructure or improve our schools. Or we can give that money to students in grants for higher education and let them not be in debt when they graduate. Or how about paying $50B every year into Social Security distributions? Or how about paying $50B towards the principal amount towards the national debt every year? As you see this drop in the bucket can be utilized more efficiently at home than to buy loyalty from foreign puppets. Is there any common sense left in our elected officials or media pundits? Where are the national priorities? Let NPR not be the National Propaganda Radio as few of my Republican friends claim. Cut the foreign aid to all corrupt puppets now and use the $50B at home.

Some recipients have huge defense and space programs yet their government is not willing to spend a money on polio or other vaccinations.

Jan. 21 2014 12:38 PM

The earth is Already overpopulated with humans.

Jan. 21 2014 09:31 AM

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