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Improving Lives during Economic Crisis - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Improving America’s education system and renewing our commitment to foreign assistance holds great promise for long-term economic prospects

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
206-709-3400
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400
Email: media@gatesfoundation.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- During a major policy address today, Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, strongly urged the incoming Obama administration and new Congress to renew America’s commitment to expand opportunity in the United States and in the developing world.

Speaking at The George Washington University, Gates argued that—even as the world struggles to address the global economic crisis—it is more important than ever to expand opportunities for all American students to have a high-quality education, and to fight disease and poverty around the world. Gates described investments in health, education, and development that have made big differences during the past decade, and argued that it is imperative to build on these gains.

“Long-term strategic interests do not disappear in an economic downturn,” Gates said. “Developing the talent of our young people, addressing poverty, preventing disease is always smart, no matter what the budget outlook.”

Gates argued that by forcing a new fiscal vigilance—cutting waste and inefficiency, and demanding more accountability—and using data to see what works, lawmakers can make smarter decisions on how to support the programs making the greatest impact.

Gates noted that to thrive now and in the future in the United States, we must ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education while dramatically increasing the number of low-income youth who graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and earn postsecondary degrees. In sharing examples of schools around the country already helping disadvantaged young people reach these goals—and illustrating the importance of effective teaching for student success—Gates explained that the federal government has the potential to be the agent of reform to bring the nation out of the downturn stronger than before it began.

The federal government can help accelerate school reform by providing incentives and supports to states to:

  • Boost the recruitment and retention of effective teachers
  • Align state standards with top international standards and adopt curricula that help students meet them
  • Make postsecondary completion a national priority by rewarding college completion
  • Build data systems to create the infrastructure to help drive evidence-based reform in high schools and colleges
“Today’s down economy doesn’t mean education will be less important for the future, so a down economy doesn’t mean we should cut back on education,” Gates said.

Gates also urged the nation to support President-elect Barack Obama as he honors his campaign pledge to double foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012, especially in the face of the global financial crisis.

“It will make a phenomenal statement about the kind of partner America plans to be in the world,” Gates said. “Of course, the point isn’t only to enhance America’s reputation in the world—that’s a byproduct. The point is to improve lives.”

Evidence shows that investments in development and health work. Gates described how key federal and global initiatives are dramatically saving and improving lives around the world—reducing child mortality, raising life expectancy, and helping people lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.

For example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) have helped deliver antiretroviral drugs to nearly 2.5 million people in four years. Global health programs have also helped to drive malaria deaths down by more than 50 percent in some areas of Africa and Asia, and to reduce measles deaths in Africa by more than 90 percent. Overall, the percentage of people in developing countries living in extreme poverty has fallen from more than 30 percent in 1990 to under 20 percent today.

“If you look at the stock market, business activity, or budget deficits, things are dark,” Gates said. “But if you consider our capacities and opportunities, our passion and vision, the outlook is bright. We can keep moving toward a world where every child grows up in good health, goes to a good school, and has opportunities waiting—as long as we stay confident about the future, and keep investing in it.”

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