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Bill Gates - U.N. General Assembly

September 25, 2008

September 25, 2008
Prepared remarks by Bill Gates

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is unusual for a member of the philanthropic sector to be given the opportunity to address heads of state here at the United Nations. I am honored by it—and I am also encouraged. I see it as a sign of partnership—that the world understands that no sector acting alone can achieve the goals for humanity that are the mission of the United Nations.

We are here today to assess where we stand on the Millennium Development Goals. As I look at it, the Millennium Development Goals are like a report card that helps us judge our performance.

A lot will be said about the areas in which we’re falling short of our targets and our funding commitments. These points are very important, and they need to be addressed. It is crucial to evaluate our performance in both areas, but I also think it’s important at this point to evaluate the goals themselves as a force for change.

So here’s my evaluation: I love the Millennium Development Goals. I think they the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I’ve ever seen. With all the mountains of measures and studies and reports in the world—these Millennium Development Goals have broken through and grabbed broad attention.

Thanks to these goals, not only UN agencies but the world at large knows the key measures of poverty, hunger, health, and education. Some of the numbers are good and some are not. But the fact that the world is focusing on the numbers is excellent.

It means people see where things are going well, and understand how we can spread those successes. They see where we’re falling short, and they see the need to apply more effort and do things differently. That is the purpose of these Goals, and it’s a brilliant purpose. So independent of the individual measures—on the question of raising the visibility of the suffering faced by the world’s poorest people, I give the Millennium Development Goals an A.

Of course, attention alone can’t help us change the future. We also need greater innovation—in both the tools we discover and the way we deliver them. Scientific innovation led to the smallpox vaccine. Combining that with an innovative approach to delivering it helped us track the disease, immunize around it, and eradicate it. Likewise, innovation in discovery and delivery has cut child deaths from 20 million a year in 1960 to under 10 million today – through childhood vaccination.

Eradicating smallpox and expanding childhood vaccination are two of the greatest accomplishments in the history of global wellbeing. Today we have new advances in biotechnology, computers, and the Internet will give us the power to solve many more problems—and that’s why the future will be better than the past.

As an example, the world is working on some very exciting breakthroughs in agriculture, including drought-tolerant maize for Africa. This could bring dramatic increases in yield that would help African farmers adapt to climate change.

Researchers are working on new vaccines for livestock. The simplicity of developing these means they can be brought to market for a few million dollars. And by preventing families from losing their livestock to disease, the economic benefits are quire dramatic.

The Medicines for Malaria Venture are coming up with new synthetic drugs that works like artemisinin. In early animal studies, a single dose of this drug cured malaria—something we've never seen before.

The opportunities for innovation are incredible. And the Millennium Development Goals can guide the search for new discoveries by showing us where innovation can bring the biggest returns. This is their genius, and I am optimistic about what they can help us accomplish. They can bring together new partnerships with the private sector, the philanthropic sector and government and UN agencies working in new ways.

We have to acknowledge that progress in some areas is disappointing. But disappointing should not mean discouraging. This is the first time we have whole world focused on these problems and so, it’s not surprising we do not get perfect grades. So I disagree with those who focus only on the disappointments and try to spread around blame. People aren’t motivated by blame and guilt. People are motivated by success. And we have many successes and opportunities for many more.

When the Millennium Declaration was adopted in 2000, my wife Melinda and I would never have predicted the power of these goals to gather the world’s heads of state, our governments, businesses, and foundations in a focused effort to fight poverty and disease. And we certainly never expected that eight years later, one of our daughters would come home from school with an assignment to learn about the Millennium Development Goals. She was especially troubled to learn how many mothers die during childbirth.

These problems are going to be an interest and a focus of the children in her class and in her school for the rest of their lives. In its own way, this concern of the world’s children is just as important to our future as the attention of the people gathered here today.

There is more power in these goals than we ever imagined. Now that we’ve seen it, we want to work with you to intensify it – and push the day when all people, no matter where they’re born, can live a life filled with health and opportunity.

Thank you.

September 25, 2008
In his speech to the United Nations about the Millennium Development Goals, Bill Gates praised the goals and provided a progress report on the efforts of the foundation and its partners to help eradicate extreme poverty.

Ending Extreme Poverty by 2015: Are We on Target?

In 2000, 189 world leaders came together at the United Nations to design a roadmap for ending extreme poverty, disease, and hunger. Together, they created eight objectives—known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)—and agreed to achieve them by 2015. On Thursday, September 25, 2008, these leaders met again to renew their commitment to achieving these goals and set practical steps for action.

The foundation supports the MDGs through our grant work in initiatives such as Agricultural Development, Vaccines, Malaria, and HIV/AIDS.

Learn more about the Millennium Development Goals.

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Visit the U.N. web site to view all events and speeches about the Millennium Development Goals.
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