Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why I love Bill Gates & it has nothing to do with Microsoft

Every December, predicting the Time Magazine's Person of the Year is a favorite activity of mine. I have a 50:50 record in predicting it right. 2005 was the year I got it right. I considered Bono as the top possibility & Bill Gates a close second. Eventually both of them were nominated for the POY along with Bill's wife Melinda. And why ever not? At close to $32 billion, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private charitable foundation in the world working on education, global health & global development. It is run as a business & to quote Time - So far, the foundation has been able to exact a rare level of accountability from its grantees. In India the foundation runs an HIV/AIDS-prevention program that is headed by Ashok Alexander, formerly a senior partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He calls the 200,000 sex workers served by the program "customers" and the clinics "franchises." In the past year, he has cut off funding to three nongovernmental organizations because they did not meet agreed-upon milestones. "People are not used to being terminated for nonperformance, strange as it may seem," Alexander says.

It is very easy to root for the underdog & abuse the big guy. We always assume the big guy to be the source of all our problems. About 15 years ago, I rooted for Apple & hoped that the Apple Mac OS would trump Microsoft OS. When Windows 95 was launched, I was unimpressed. After all, the Mac had better features that had come out a lot earlier. When Netscape was killed, Bill Gates was on the top of my hit list. And when he was called to testify in court, I was jumping with glee.....

Somewhere something had to change. As we grow, we look and relook at the same things with varying perspectives. I subsequently read that Bill Gates had committed to eradicating malaria. I thought that if this guy has the time to do something about something that is not remotely Microsoftian, he cannot be that bad after all. It seemed to me that he had a heart. Slowly I began tracking his philanthropic efforts. And the more I read, the more I was impressed. He seemed to want to do something about AIDS. He was working on a massive effort to beef up libraries in public schools in the US. In the midst of all this, I landed in the US where I realized that capitalism really really really is not all that bad. Survival of the fittest is a painful process (especially for the not-so-fit), but it is a wonderful system that periodically prunes the system of unwanted fat. Microsoft was not so bad any more. And if the head of Microsoft has the time to think of global crises in addition to handling the day-to-day activities of the company, he really must be an awesome dude. I am sorry Bill that it took me nearly 10 years to see all that. You really are a nice guy....

I do not understand medicine much & so I will accept it when experts say that the cure for AIDS is still some years away. But what about attitudes to the disease? What about community support & government involvement? It is estimated that we need $1.5 billion per year to tackle AIDS in India. We spend only around $150 million. In per capita terms, we spend 34 cents per person. Uganda spends 6 times more while Cambodia spends 17 times. India has the largest number of AIDS infections (5.7 million) & a large section of the political class & the common man is still oblivious to this disease. We still have a long way to go.

But Bill, for playing your part in trying to combat this disease & for 'Avahan' - the name of your foundation's AIDS prevention effort in India (Avahan means 'Clarion Call' in Sanskrit) - I would like to say Thank You. The world needs more of your ilk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

blogaway arun.