The COVID-19 pandemic is a “gigantic setback” for the world. But Bill Gates is still optimistic about the future.
As we wrapped up our interview with Gates at the GeekWire Virtual Summit on Thursday, we asked Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for some reasons for hope. We also asked him for a call to action – something we can all do to make the world a better place. Here is what he said.
Scientists progress: Gates is encouraged by the rapid development of vaccines and therapeutics such as monoclonal antibodies, as well as by collaboration between researchers around the world.
Although “things will get worse” by the end of the year, he said the United States can reduce transmission and be in much better shape by the end of 2021, in part thanks to the fact that so many companies are developing therapies for a single disease.
Learn from mistakes: There is a lot to learn from the missteps made at the start of the pandemic, Gates said, citing the CDC’s early mistakes with testing and the efforts of the country’s leaders to ignore the severity of COVID-19. Gates said funding for infectious disease research will also increase now that governments understand how much money is needed for pandemic preparedness.
Technological innovation: Beyond preventing another pandemic and achieving scientific breakthroughs, Gates also highlighted advancements in remote work and learning technologies, as well as the adoption of telemedicine. “We’ve opened up maybe 12 years of progress, maybe just in this last year,” he said.
Climate change: Gates said he was encouraged that the pandemic, despite its enormous impact, has done little to decrease climate activism, especially among young people around the world. “Even though the climate is much more difficult to solve, the broad awareness is much, much higher,” said Gates, comparing the COVID-19 crisis to the climate crisis.
Subtle advantages: Gates is less fond of going to big conferences. He can now attend by videoconference, without ever leaving Seattle.
Staying at home also means more time with your college-aged children, who learn from a distance. “It was quite a pleasant surprise, at least for the parents,” he joked.
The big picture: In the grand scheme of things, life improves, according to Gates. “Slowly but surely we recognize how we treat minorities, how we treat women,” he said. “Slowly but surely we are reducing cancer deaths and starting to understand things like diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.”
He added: “Progress will continue to be made. I am even optimistic about the end of the pandemic.
A spark for philanthropy and civic engagement: Finally, we asked for his call to action (beyond voting, which of course we’re all going to do). What’s the one thing Gates thinks we all should be doing to make the world a better place in 5-10 years?
His answer: give back. People who are not as negatively affected by the pandemic – like tech workers – should lend a helping hand, he said. The Gates Foundation itself has already committed $ 350 million to COVID-19 response efforts and expects that number to increase. But giving has an impact on all levels, he said.
“I would love to see philanthropy increase – not just in dollars, but all office workers participating in various causes to help those who have been less fortunate,” he said.
Gates also wants to see people become more involved in their communities – something he learned from his father, Bill Gates Sr., a dedicated civic leader who just passed away at the age of 94.
“We need to reduce polarization and help local communities,” Gates said. “The kind of civic engagement he believed in, I think he’s a great role model for all of us.
[The full interview with Gates, and other GeekWire Summit sessions, are available on-demand exclusively to attendees of the virtual event. Learn more and register here.]