Bill Gates talks foreign aid with Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee |

Bill Gates talks foreign aid with Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee

Software entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates, who is scheduled to meet with the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee today, defended U.S. foreign programs in an interview Wednesday.

In an interview with Atlantic Editor-in-Chief James Bennet, conducted before an invited audience and live streamed on the Internet, Gates said that U.S. foreign aid “has this amazing track record” including small pox eradication and the Green Revolution, under which improvements in wheat, corn and rice seeds “avoided hundreds of millions of people starving.”

Most U.S. foreign aid, Gates noted, is in either health or agriculture.

Some foreign aid programs don’t work, Gates acknowledged, but he hated that 80 percent of venture capital investments don’t work out and that he believes only about 20 percent of investment in foreign aid doesn’t “do well.”

The United States, he noted, provides the largest amount of aid for agriculture and health care.

“Over time we are getting a lot smarter” about foreign aid, Gates said, adding that the success or failure of foreign aid should be judged on what outcome was expected. If foreign aid is given to convince a foreign leader like President Mobuto Sese Seko in Zaire during the Cold War to be friendly, then the outcome should not be judged on whether the aid met development goals, he said.

Bennet noted that dispelling the idea that “foreign aid is a waste” was one of the points in the annual letter to the world that Gates and his wife, Melissa, wrote this year.

The others are that “poor countries are doomed to stay poor” and that “saving lives leads to overpopulation.”

The letter says that the three myths “block progress for the poor.”

Although the Gates Foundation’s commitment to agriculture development in low-income countries is well known, Gates said that he spends most of his time on polio eradication and is still hoping that it will be eradicated globally. The only three countries in which the incidence of polio has “never gotten to zero” are Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said.

There were outbreaks this year in Syria and Somalia but they are being cleaned up, he said. In some areas of Pakistan polio workers have been killed, however. Eradicating poio “is going well, but it is always a challenge,” he said.

Asked about his views on entrepreneurial education, Gates said he believes all students should understand economics, business and product innovation.

“Entrepreneurship is so hard for me to define,” Gates said, adding that he has always described himself as a software engineer. His fascination with computers, Gates said, led to his development of software and then the creation of Microsoft, not the reverse.

“If we raise the level of education overall, if we advance the sciences, then businesses will come up around that,” he said. Given the choice of doubling the number of entrepreneurs or doubling the number of scientists, Gates said he would double the number of scientists.

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., announced that Gates will join them and other members of the subcommittee later today for a discussion “about the importance of strengthening American agriculture by making smart investments in agricultural research,” according to a Senate Appropriation Committee news release. The meeting is closed to the public.

–The Hagstrom Report