A Great Speech

If you haven’t already, you must read or listen to the commencement speech by Bill Gates at Harvard this year. Regardless of what you think of his software empire, his humanitarian work is admirable and his vision is compelling. A few key passages:

But taking a serious look back … I do have one big regret.

I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world — the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.”

The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.

But you and I have both.

We don’t read much about these deaths. The media covers what’s new – and millions of people dying is nothing new. So it stays in the background, where it’s easy to ignore. But even when we do see it or read about it, it’s difficult to keep our eyes on the problem. It’s difficult to look at suffering if the situation is so complex that we don’t know how to help. And so we look away.

But if you want to inspire people to participate, you have to show more than numbers; you have to convey the human impact of the work – so people can feel what saving a life means to the families affected.

Let me make a request of the deans and the professors – the intellectual leaders here at Harvard: As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum, and determine degree requirements, please ask yourselves:

Should our best minds be more dedicated to solving our biggest problems?

I’ve said it many times but probably not on this blog: I believe history will remember Bill Gates for the full-time humanitarian work he is about to embark on and his software magnate status will be just a footnote of interest.

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