Remarks by Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft
Government Leaders Forum Americas 2008
April 4, 2008
HERNÁN RINCÓN: May I have your attention please? Thank you. I would like to welcome back all of you ladies and gentlemen, and at this time I would like to ask you to please rise to greet His Excellency Martin Torrijos, President of Panama. (Applause.) Thank you very much, Mr. President, for being here with us today. We really appreciate it.
I hope that all of you have found the program worthwhile and thought-provoking so far, and we now move to the final session of our forum. It is my personal honor to introduce to you the founder and Chairman of Microsoft Corporation, and Co-Chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has always been a great supporter of this event, and also has a deep interest in Latin America. We are, indeed, fortunate that he joins us to share his thoughts. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Bill Gates. (Applause.) This is when I dance, or I joke, or I cry. I know he is here. We had a great oh, thank you very much, please. (Applause.)
BILL GATES: Good afternoon. It’s great to be here and have the chance to talk about some of the great opportunities we have based on innovation and investment. This morning, I was at the Inter-American Development Bank, and I had a chance to talk to the governors there about the kind of investments they’re making, and talking about how partnerships are key – partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations, and corporations like Microsoft that are looking out into the future and really want to be a great citizen in all the countries we operate in. Throughout all the meetings I’ve had today with several of you, and thinking about the future for Latin America, I would say I’m very optimistic. I’m hearing about the focus on investment in education, government taking a long-term view of its universities and what needs to be done there, and really taking the young populations, and giving them the opportunities to lead in these new areas.
The first thing to say is that the piece of innovation in many, many areas is very rapid. It’s accelerating, and people I think underestimate it. Innovation is something that really changes the picture. If you think why 100 years ago in health conditions over 30 percent of children before the age of five would not see their fifth birthday, that’s on a global basis, and why today that number is down to 4 percent, it’s innovation. It’s sanitation, vaccination, healthcare – and understanding of these basic things.
If we look at what’s happened with information technology, the pace is even more rapid. We can take a 30-year period, and say that computing 30 years ago was a very narrow thing that empowered governments to track people, and businesses to keep track of their customers. It wasn’t about individuals. It wasn’t about creativity. It wasn’t about education. It wasn’t about communication. It was a very, very narrow tool. Today, we’ve got several billion people out of six billion with a chance to use the over one billion Windows personal computers that are out there, overwhelmingly connected to the Internet, and connecting people up to an unbelievable wealth of information. So we can say that if you were a student 30 years ago trying to pursue a question you were curious about, your opportunity was to go get an encyclopedia, try and look up the information. Today, no matter where you live, if you have access to the Internet, then you have a far better experience. I really envy young people because of this. They can go online and find articles that are completely up-to-date, and see links to other articles, and see links to communities, and find people who are interested in that topic and engage with them on an completely global basis.
Now the innovation in the technology sector that counts is exponential rate of improvement. We’ve had that from the original PC where we doubled the speed every two years, and we’ll continue to have that. The size of disk storage has now doubled so many times that even things like keeping videos on the Internet is very practical. A company could keep all the meetings that it has and make them easily reviewable by people without any significant cost. The way Microsoft does training, we’ve gone from having it be all employees going to an off-site and spending lots of time away to taking 75 percent of it and just putting it online with the videos and the interaction, and the balance is where you really need to be working in a group and collaborating, and that justifies the travel, but the overall expense is reduced dramatically, and the quality of the training has gone up as well. So the fact we can just assume that video works, that’s this constant improvement. What was impractical only five years ago, we basically can take for granted today.
The ability of the computer to let us visualize information and look at trends, it’s phenomenally improved.And so, whether it’s a government or a business or a scientist trying to learn something, processing massive amounts of data has now become incredibly practical. In fact, when we look at most of the sciences, the need to use state-of-the-art software has become a real requirement. Even something as simple as astronomy now the data is such you’ve got to get it online and let people around the world connect up to it, and Microsoft has really revolutionized that by creating a single way of looking at all that astronomical data, and that’s there as an open tool for any scientist to use and take advantage of. In the field of biology, we talked about genetic information, there’s just such a mass of information that comparing and finding sequences that are the same and, therefore, having insights in disease, again, it’s the tools of software that will be necessary.
So it’s very important that the number of transistors keeps going up, the size of the storage keep going up, the speed of the networks, the data we can send across an optic fiber keeps going up – that innovation is not slowing us down. A lot of it will be innovation that changes the nature of the way we use the device. For example, the personal computer, the portable machine has gotten smaller and cheaper. Over time, we will have a version I call the Tablet where not only can you use the keyboard, but you can use a pen. In fact, you can even take it where you just have it in a tablet form with no keyboard at all. It will recognize your handwriting, it will let you take notes, and today that machine is something like a $1,000 machine. But over the next three to five years, that will become a $400 machine, and get to the point where the ability to use that instead of textbooks, and have something that’s far more powerful that can become mainstream. Now how do we get there? How do we learn about that? How do we get the curriculum to change? How do we get the teachers to embrace it? Those are the challenges that all of us have, but that’s the kind of opportunity that innovation creates for us.
One of the biggest innovations that people will be surprised by is the way we interact with computers. Today that’s overwhelmingly through sitting down – we have a keyboard and we have a mouse, and that’s not going to go away. But it will be complemented by the ability to talk to the computer. You’ll be able to talk to your cell phone and ask it for information and it will recognize your speech. The computer will be able to see, your desktop will be a screen and you can point to information and it will come up and be displayed. Your whiteboard will be a smart screen that lets you not only bring up information and dive into it, but also bring up a video image so you can teleconference with a colleague, and look together and work together on data no matter where that colleague is located.
The magic here is a combination of hardware and software. The software for vision and speech are things that Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in over more than a 10-year period. And many of the advances are done by ourselves, many are done in collaboration with the universities, but this accumulation of improvements has now gotten to the point where ink and speech and vision will become a standard part of how we interact with these devices. And whether it’s in the office setting, or the home setting, this will cause us to think about these tools, and get a benefit from them that is far greater than ever before.
Now when we think about how these advances in technology impact economic growth, the biggest thing of all is to make sure these tools get used in the key areas of education, business and government. And so, in fact, I’m going to talk about a lot of things here today. I won’t talk about many examples of how businesses using software make them more effective. In fact, that is super important, you can actually track, when you think of a country and its innovation, you can look at the intensity of technology use by the leading companies in that country, and that tells you very quickly how world-class their work is, how world-class their productivity is, how world-class their innovation is. So when somebody says, well, doesn’t the U.S. get an advantage because there’s a lot of the innovation that’s done in the U.S., in fact, that alone should not be much of an advantage. What is an advantage is that the companies of all sizes, small, medium, and large, adopt those innovations far more rapidly, and that is the thing that allows even with all the cost disadvantages allows that level of leadership and competitiveness to stay strong.
In any country for Microsoft it means working with partners who can define solutions, and bring all those elements together, and so that’s a big part of what we do. And we bring those partners, and those customers every year big advances in software, software that can replace the PBX and yet make what we call unified communications better, advances in video conferencing to make that simple to do, advances in SharePoint for collaboration. And so that basic idea that the efficiency of the economy comes from the tools of technology and how well those are absorbed and used, – that’s a fundamental point that helps drive the advances and the improvements in productivity that we’re seeing worldwide.
Now, beyond business use is the idea of broad use. If we just focused on that, we would miss some important things. We would miss the focus on government, which has of course been a theme of this event, e-government and the great things being done there, we’d miss the incredible focus on education, and we’d miss the idea of access for everyone, even people who are in rural areas, people who are poor. We want them to have a chance to use the latest in PC technology, get connected, be involved. And so really there’s an opportunity to take these things and transform education. It requires a special program that we have to engage in in reaching out to every country in the world, and say, OK, how would you like to work together with us to have broad access, and in particular in the education side what we call Partners in Learning, to connect up the schools and let those schools do neat new things.
Now where do you put these computers? How does this work? Some people would say that the main barrier is actually the cost of the machine. In fact, it is not at all. That is there as one of the factors that has to be solved, but in fact, it’s much more the connectivity costs, and even more importantly the training and the environment that’s going to let someone be shown what to do and get guidance, and so it really is a very effective tool. Microsoft about 10 years ago looked at this and said, let’s try this in some libraries, what would the librarians think? Will they like it or not? What will the kids do when they come in, will they just play games? Will the machine break? Will the funding be there for the Internet connection over time? And, in fact, it was done on a pilot basis, and it was spectacularly successful. The visits to the library went up, the number of books checked out went up. It was not a book versus computer type thing. Even in the poor communities, the fact that that Internet connection was put together, and in fact some places the fact that the library got connected up meant that businesses were able to pool together, and they also in those rural areas got better connectivity.
So it was done in the United States, and it was a big success, a huge success – over 50,000 computers. Then it was taken to Chile and done there, and it was also later taken to Mexico. And both of these projects are pretty impressive. In the Mexico case, this is partnership between the government and my foundation and Microsoft, and in that country so far it’s 15,000 computers in 3,000 libraries. And so now the penetration is about 40 percent of all the libraries. One way to understand this is just to think of the numbers, the number of people who visit. But probably it’s most impactful when you take it down to the individual level, and I was able to go down and meet with some women who are from a rural village who were afraid of computers, and reluctant to go in, but hear from them once they overcame that and it was made attractive to them, and they were helped, how they got in touch with relatives, or learned about jobs, or got training, it was really incredible.
A good example is a woman named (Oralia Lopez ?) who was a street-sweeper in Zacatecas in Mexico, and she went to the library and took a training course and got a teaching certificate, and now is not only giving back in terms of teaching, but her salary is four times what it was now as a teacher instead of a street-sweeper, and now she can afford school things for her sons, and it makes a huge difference. And so this kind of access can lead to many, many stories like that. When this thing started, less than two percent of libraries had it, now as I said we’re at 40 percent.
In the case of Chile, it was seven years ago when we first started the discussion, and they had 10 percent of the libraries, and through the project there they got to 100 percent, and I’ve got a little video that will give you a glimpse of why I think access really is an amazing thing when the right partnership comes together. So let’s look at the Chile video.
So along with access for everyone, whether it’s through libraries, or community centers, or government centers, is the question of how the computer can fit into education itself. And here you really have two goals, one is to facilitate education all subject areas, but also to create a familiarity with this tool which an increasing number of jobs require that as part of the skill set in order to get that job done. And so it’s a lifelong benefit that somebody is able to use this tool. And one of the things we think is magic about the Internet is it allows teachers to share and work together in a way they’ve never been able to before. If a teacher comes up with a good idea of teaching a class and creates a project, if they take a particular text and use it, build a field trip around that that really engages their students and is very, very effective, if they want to take one of the classes they teach and just make a video of that and put it up there so other teachers can watch and see how they do things, now that’s accessible.
So in the past, teachers were very isolated, and not able to build on the work of others. Through the Internet, and these teacher portals, we now bring the community together, and they can talk about the best practices, and a lot of great things, including contests for who is doing the best, so that can be highlighted, and everybody can learn from those, have come out of these portal type things. We talk about this as the innovative teachers’ network. These portals are now at critical mass in 45 countries, and actually Latin America has been one of the great success areas for this with over 387,000 teachers in 19 countries.
We really want to drive this portal concept everywhere, and drive up the traffic so teachers really are improving because of this. Today we’re announcing that Microsoft and the Telefonica Foundation have come together to create a new partnership where we’ll take the work they’ve done in this area, the work we’ve done in this area, have a common technology base, cross-link them, and have what we call a solution sharing network so that we have even more scale. And I think this will drive usage up to a higher level. Whenever we talk about teaching, the issue is that the difference between the very best teacher and the average teacher is quite dramatic. And being able to in a very positive way help change that is one of the biggest things that can happen for education.
Another way that we’re using technology in the region is what we call POETA, we’ve been doing this for a number of years, and several of you probably know about the project. It’s the Partnership for Opportunities and Employment through Technology in the Americas, and we have some great partners who have really helped make this a reality. It provides training to disabled and at-risk youth, and by the end of this year we’ll have 65 of these centers running in 18 countries. The OAS has been a great partner, actually helped kick this off, and likewise the Inter-American Development Bank. And yesterday, just as a new phase of commitment with those partners, we announced that there will be a $4 million fund that is taking POETA to new countries, and expanding its activities. And so there’s a clear measure there in terms of people coming in, learning new skills, and then eventually getting new jobs.
One other area of education that’s important is the universities, having great universities is an important element of economic development, and getting universities to work together in an effective fashion so that the research ideas can be shared more effectively is very important. Historically, universities worked in isolation and even if there was a way to combine good ideas, or share work, people were not aware of that. Now Microsoft has a very active research group – we call it Microsoft Research, MSR – which has many locations around the world. And we get a lot of improved research by our relationships with the universities, but our goal is not just for us to work with these universities, it’s to create a community so these universities are working with each other.
And one of the places that we’ve done our most interesting work is in Latin America, where we’ve created what we call a virtual institute. And today that was work, we put out requests for research on various topics, we often get back groups that involve multiple universities. We’ve got an online community, it’s got great video connections there. It’s 29 universities now from 11 countries, and hundreds of researchers, an we’re putting millions of dollars into this that includes our researchers visiting the universities, the people in the universities coming up to Microsoft Research, and playing a role in helping these universities not only be world-class on a broad set of subjects, but also take areas of specialization that are important to their economy that they particularly want to drive, and show them how software is a tool to help with any of those research type projects. And so this collaboration is a great thing. I’ve met a number of the interns who come up with Microsoft Research and spent time in our labs, and it’s been great to see not only their talent, but their enthusiasm for what’s being done.
Another educational thing that is very important to me is getting kids enthused about programming, from a young age when they can do it so well, to think about that as an opportunity. The world at large, actually less kids are going into science, engineering and programming type activities. Information at, all but India and China, the numbers are going down. So there will be a shortage, and that’s unusual in that these jobs are high paying, they’re very interesting, they give you opportunities to do amazing things that are not just sitting in a room by yourself, they’re working with groups that are really having an impact on the world. One of the ways that we are stimulating young people to show off their skills and have opportunities what we call the Imagine Cup. This is a yearly student programming contest. It’s getting bigger every year. This is going to be our sixth year. We have many categories. We tend to emphasize things like software and health, or software in the environment, software in government. We’ve had many different themes over the years, and to see what this next generation can come up with and really stimulate them. This year we’ll have 185,000 students from 100 countries who will participate, and actually one of the very strongest regions is Latin America with over 75,000 of those participants, so a little bit over a third. I have to admit, almost apologize, when I heard that number I said, could you double check that? And they said, yes, yes, absolutely, you know, the level of enthusiasm and interest is very strong there, and so it’s really terrific. Actually Brazil is the biggest part of that, and so it’s challenging our groups in other countries to even drive their numbers up a little bit more.
Now when somebody is a winner, one of the finalists in the different categories, they get to go to the worldwide finals that are held different places around the year, and if they do well then we give them the opportunity to learn from us about perhaps how they might be entrepreneurs and do new things.
There’s a group of Ivan Cardim, Madson Menezes, and Carlos Rodrigues were students at Pernambuco Federal University when they were one of the top two in the 2006 thing, and they did what’s called Virtual Eye. And it’s kind of an amazing system that can help people who are blind find their way around by using computer information, and actually a very innovative wristband that they put together. So we’ve got a little video to give you a sense of this, and then after that I will show it to you in person. So let’s take a look at the video.
We’re very fortunate that the students made a special trip up here to show us their work, and give us an update. And I’d like to invite them on stage to discuss their Imagine Cup experience, and to show the project to us. So let’s welcome Ivan, Madson, and Carlos. (Applause.)
IVAN CARDIM: Hello, everyone. It’s a great pleasure to be here. I’m actually kind of excited. So we’re three former students from (speaking a foreign language) and we’re here to talk to you about our project, our solution called Virtual Eye, which is, as Bill mentioned, a navigation system for visually impaired people.
So this solution started back in 2006 as part of the Imagine Cup, when we were asked to build a solution that solved a problem related to health. So at that same point in time, my grandfather started losing his eyesight. So as I watched him struggle, our solution was born. And this solution won the national edition of the Imagine Cup, and got second place in the worldwide finals in India.
So after the competition was over we were invited by Microsoft to take part in the innovation accelerator workshop, an intensive program targeted at teaching us how to take what we had and market it. So for two weeks we sat together with a bunch of MBAs, software architects, and very experienced businessmen as we learned to better address customer needs, and created a solid business model. So after we got back to Brazil, we decided it was finally time to do something real about it. So we wrote a funding proposal for the Brazilian government, and we were awarded funding in the amount of $500,000.
Right now we are starting our company, looking for commercial partners, so we can take what we have now and turn it into a reality. It’s really amazing, like all that happened, and it really amazes me that so much has happened in so little time, but it is an immeasurable pleasure for us to be able to be here, and tell you guys how this all happened, because you can see that all it takes is an idea, and the right opportunity, like the Imagine Cup was for us, to turn an idea, a dream into a reality.
But, enough talk, let’s take a look at how the project works with Madson, and Carlos, if you would.
MADSON MENEZES: OK. Thanks, Ivan. Now, before we check it out, I’d like to tell you something. The people that you saw in the video, they are real. We’ve been working with several visually impaired organizations, both in our city, and all over Brazil. And we see, and we know that we have truly real users asking for us. We are using technologies to solve problems for real users.
OK. Are we all set? OK, Bill, you have to help me here to create a scenario. Let’s believe that we are a blind person, and we are outside this building, and you start to feel a headache. You probably think something like, oh, I have to find a pharmacy to buy some medicine to deal with that, but you don’t know the place. So we’re going to use Virtual Eye to guide you to this pharmacy, you just need to get your cell phone jack, like this one Carlos is showing, and using your voice you’re going to ask for directions to this pharmacy. And using this information, and using your current position, get data from GPS. We’re going to create a route, and going to guide you through these vibration wristbands, just the way Carlos will show now.
CARLOS RODRIGUES: So you’re in front of the hotel, right, you need to get to the pharmacy. So after the route is created it is sent back to the phone, and Virtual Eye will start guiding you there. So imagine that when you reach the pharmacy your first step is going forward, so both wristbands will vibrate like they’re doing right now. I guess you can actually put them next to a mike. That’s basically it. It looks like cell phone vibration. That’s the idea. And next you reach a corner, and have to make a left, for example, and then they would vibrate like this, the left one will vibrate. So imagine you reach another corner and you have to make a right, then the right one will vibrate in a similar way. That’s right. Then eventually you find your destination, and when you get there, both of them will vibrate alternately. Good.
That’s basically it, and it may look simple, but actually that’s exactly what visually impaired people have asked us for. They have a very good idea what’s happening around them, they just want the guidance. And with these simple commands we can guide anyone anywhere.
BILL GATES: Now, what technology helped you pull this together?
CARLOS RODRIGUES: That’s a good question. Actually we put a lot of technology inside this. Here we have Microsoft .NET Framework to build the application. And it runs here in a Windows Mobile device. Then we have Microsoft Virtual Earth for the mapping, and the route creation. And we use the Speech SDK for speech recognition, and finally Bluetooth to make the communication between the mobile device and the wristbands. (Applause.)
BILL GATES: Fantastic. It’s an amazing project, and I’m glad to hear you’re making progress, but it’s a great example of young people taking on a tough challenge, and using software in a great way.
CARLOS RODRIGUES: Thanks a lot.
BILL GATES: Thank you, well done. I’ll give you back these. (Applause.)
The horizons for what we can do with the innovative breakthroughs in hardware and software are really just at the beginning. So it’s very fascinating to be in a situation of looking at the challenges, the challenges of efficient government, the challenge of competitive business, the challenge of education, making it fun and interesting for students who are using videogames at night, and during the day want to learn the various subjects that are important for the workforce of the future.
It’s really by having people who understand the innovation, who understand the problems, and really coming up with those solutions that we can be very optimistic about the future. And I definitely think that in your region a lot of great advanced solutions are going to get done. Technology gives us an opportunity, but it’s only by working in partnership that we’ll be able to seize that, and we look forward to working with you to make that a reality.
Thank you. (Applause.)
Question & Answer Session
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Thank you very much, Bill. Thank you very much, Bill, for being here, for spending the time with us, for bringing these magnificent examples of things that we can do in Latin America, from Chile, to Brazil, to Mexico, everywhere there is poverty and need. Bill, we have spent the last two days, as you know, talking about government, about the partnerships between governments and private institutions, because we know that only by working together we can tackle some of the most difficult challenges that we have in Latin America, like education, health, and also the use of technology to improve government efficiency.
We know move to a question and answer session. You can ask any question that you want of Bill. And before we open up to the floor, throughout yesterday and today people submitted some questions. I have a couple here. I want to begin with that. And the first question, a very interesting question indeed, was presented by Raul Sudar from Chile. His question is: What has been your experience in dealing with public and private agreements with governments around the globe? In Latin America, in general, the governments are not so willing to have these agreements with private IT companies. What would be your recommendations?
BILL GATES: Our experience has been really excellent in working on a global basis. As we’ve approached the education departments and said, would you like to work with somebody who has done projects like this around the world, seeing some of the challenges, we know you have unique needs, but we’ll bring some of our experts in, we’ll provide software at very low cost for these kinds of projects. We’ve been able to craft agreements that work and fit the particular circumstances.
Some of those are very long-term agreements, in some ways that’s the ideal if you can do it, where you commit to each other, say, for a five-year time period, so you have the whole curriculum that you’re working on. In some cases it’s about opening innovative schools that are going to be a model for how new schools are built, and bringing young teachers into that.
So I admit that the number of such agreements is fairly small. I’d say of the ones that have been done, Microsoft may be a very high percentage of very broad, comprehensive agreements. But, we have a lot of success stories. And that I guess that’s very helpful, where a country that’s new to it, or looking at going in a new direction can talk to other countries, whether it’s just in general, or at an event like this, and say, wow, was that a big win, was it open, non-exclusive, was it helpful to the students, was this the software they needed to know to get jobs later on? And it’s been overwhelmingly successful.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: As you mentioned, one of the subjects that was also discussed in the last two days was the role of technology in education. And Gustavo Vosari from Uruguay submitted the following question: What is the best system, one computer per child, or setting up a computer lab? Is it possible to set up one computer per child program without training the teachers beforehand?
BILL GATES: No, the costs of moving to the one-computer approach are fairly large, and yet in the long run that’s what we recommend people should do. Now, it takes thinking about your curriculum, it takes getting your teachers enthusiastic about that. They are around the world thousands and thousands of schools that are using this Tablet PC, where all their students have them.
My daughter goes to a school where every day she’s using the Tablet PC, she doesn’t have textbooks, every day when she hands her homework in she gets it back in e-mail, she can forward it to me, I can read it. Before I get to dinner I know how she’s done that day on the quiz, if she wants to let me know. I can help her out on anything where she’s confused. It’s just so natural for her, it’s really an amazing thing. And they’ve really this school has been doing this for a lot of years, and has thought through where it’s beneficial, how those kids learn.
In Spain there’s a whole region, Aragon that decided they are just going to use Tablet PCs. And so you’ve got over 10,000 students there, but for each of those projects there was years of planning. Okay. Let’s get it to the teachers first. Let’s get the right software there, let’s get the right connectivity. What about the batteries? What about the printers? What about if they’re lost? What about if they’re broken? It is not a simple thing. And once you get done you’ll look back and the cost of the computers themselves may be 10 percent of what you put into that overall.
Now, we highly recommend in every country to do a pilot school that operates exactly that way. We have that, I’d say, probably in over half of countries today, particularly large ones, and we want to push that out and broaden it. I’d say that for most countries it’s going to be some time before they go to that approach on a wide-scale basis. And the last thing we want is projects where people where they do them and fail, because they haven’t looked at the buy-in that’s necessary. Are the parents enthusiastic about it. Have you thought about, if the kids are just sitting there doing instant messaging, do you have a way to see that, and get that so it’s not a problem. We have solutions to all these things, but they’ve been learned by being involved in many, many, many of these projects.
So once you get to that the student owns the computer, the benefits are really immense, because it’s so much different than the lab. In a lab setting you’ll have a subset of students who are enthused, who grab and hog those computers. And somebody who falls behind on using the computer, and is uncomfortable, they never get the extra time they need to kind of catch up. If you own your own tablet, you can go home at night, ask a friend, ask somebody who knows, take a little bit of time and get very comfortable with it.
It’s also true for the teachers. A lab approach, the teachers always are kind of hands-off. There will be just one or two teachers, and they don’t change the curriculum. In many of our programs we give the teachers the machine a year before the students, and they have a portable or Tablet, and they can take it home, use it themselves, and therefore not feel like, well, these students are going to be way, way ahead of me. So the one computer approach is best, but it will take a long time before all of those institutional things get pulled together on a broad basis.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Thank you. We’ll take one more question from the ones that were submitted, and then we’ll open up to the floor. There will be microphones, so please raise your hand and identify yourself. While we get ready for that, one more question. This one was submitted by Frank Pearl, from Colombia, and he says: Most private companies have a chief technology officer, countries do not, what type of structure or role do you think governments should have and at what level, in order for countries to be able to design and implement an effective IT strategy?
BILL GATES: I think at the country level there are a lot of things that are imperative. You have to have the government itself be efficient, because of the use of IT. It’s more transparent, it’s more approachable, it’s more responsive. And there are many countries who have said, okay, as we interact with businesses we’re going to go to a pure digital approach, we’re going to get rid of the paperwork in the taxation system, or in the healthcare system. And we’re just going to go to this approach. Some amazing things have been done.
What’s interesting is it’s fairly mixed. There’s no one country that has done it all, and most countries have at least one thing they’ve done well. Now, smaller countries have an easier time, because one of the tough things is getting the various departments to work together, and have a common ID system, a common user interface. You don’t want the citizen to think, okay, which department is this, because they may not know, and they shouldn’t have to think is this national, state, or city level, or maybe I have to go use all three. Even simple things like changing your address, could you go to one place and do it, and it’s done for the tax guys, the medical people, the voting people, the school people, or is that kind of something you do many, many different times.
So the government is a great you can grow the local companies by involving them in e-government solutions. That’s one thing Microsoft is most proud of, not just that our software has been used, but that the partner capacity in each of these countries, once they’ve done the first few systems, then they are really capable of doing more and more of those systems in country, and understanding the special needs that particular governments might have.
The government also has the role to make sure R&D gets funded, that the top universities get special allocations so that there are experts in the country on these issues, and thinking about them. Of course, education is the biggest thing there. The incentives to make sure the Internet infrastructure gets built is a very important thing, so that the providers take a high-volume, low-price approach, instead of low-price, high-volume approach that in some of the poor countries you can get locked into a, hey, let’s just take a few people in the one big city and charge them a lot, and not really go out and make it pervasive.
The number of issues is quite broad, that’s why in these forums we can have breakouts and talk about things. Even things like, do your police understand technology. Well, some of the bad guys understand technology. And so you’d better make sure that the police are using that, as well, so they’re smart about evidence and things, or we’ve done a model thing which is this child tracking system, which is using technology, even now on a global basis, to help with a key issue.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: So this job does exist, it’s quite a comprehensive job that has to think about how to use technology within the government, how to create the incentives for the whole society to use technology, it’s a very far-reaching job?
BILL GATES: Yes, and coordinating that, people do it in different ways. Do you have one cabinet person, do you have a group. The ideal is that the people themselves are all heavy users, so they have an intuitive feel for, okay, is it easy to e-mail in the government, it is easy to find a service in the government, because they’re sitting there using it themselves, and they can complain if it’s not great. And every time they get a new paper form they say, why do we have this paper form, why didn’t we get rid of this? So to draw in the politicians themselves to have that familiarity that I think is one of the elements of success.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Thank you very much. Now we open it to anybody. If you would please raise your hand and wait for a microphone so everybody can hear you that would be very useful. And please, if you don’t mind, saying your name and your country, that would also be very useful. There are several hands up, thank you.
QUESTION (Via translator): My name is Esteban Valenzuela , I’m a representative for Chile. And my question is the following. We’ve heard a lot about education at a macroeconomic level, and we’ve heard about the pillars for development. So my question is, how do you, Bill, see the study of a platform of transparency of governments that interact that the citizen will not be as blind vis-à-vis the government, talking about the Brazilian youngsters, how can we take additional steps in that area of research and technology in the continent, what additional steps can be taken?
BILL GATES: Was the focus mostly on transparency?
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Yes.
BILL GATES: Okay. In terms of transparency, technology can be fantastic for that. Some of the Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, have really taken it to an amazing level where whenever a minister goes out to lunch, you can see how much he’s spent for lunch, and how much on the cab, and literally it goes up within a few hours. They’ve got their calendar up there, you can take the total budget, how it breaks down, every bid that’s ever done, the bidders come up on the network, you can see the terms they offer. So it’s a very open, transparent bidding process. Now making that so that citizens can understand the information, and they can get not just to the funny things, but the things that really count, looking at efficiency, and how various regions, or various sectors are benefiting from the government budget. There’s still a lot that can be done there, but getting all the information up online so that any citizen who has got Internet access can then examine it, and then they can blog about did they like it, did it look right to them, was there a mistake with it, you tend to draw people in because you find the people who care bout these issues, and typical mass media doesn’t work well. Government issues that are complex have to be represented in as simple way. When you’re on the Internet, and you’re just in the community of people who care about, say, the judicial system, or the military budget, or the road building budget, then you’re drawing on expertise, you’ve got this openness, and so I think it’s been phenomenal. I think the quality of governance ahs improved, and can improve a lot more because of that Internet transparency.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: And there are practices in the world where we can learn from other countries and how they do it, right?
BILL GATES: That’s right. I would say this is one where the Nordic countries are the best. In the U.S., the data is there, but it’s way too complicated. There’s too much terminology, it’s not very navigable, so we’re not the model for that particular effort.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Thank you. Another question, please.
QUESTION: Carlos Hinatios from Venezuela. Bill, if you decide to create a university with two locations, one let’s say in the United States and another one in a developing country, what part of the contents you would include in a new curriculum of a university in order to create leaders, I would say, creative people, leaders in economics, social and political sense?
BILL GATES: Economies are complex enough that you need many types of leaders. You need government leaders, you need business leaders, and the breadth of education you need, you need an exposure to technology. You don’t have to be a scientist who is going to advance the state-of-the-art, but you have to understand how technology will be changing. I think you’d have to learn a lot of role models of what countries have done well.
One thing that’s interesting is, if you think of business school as a place where you learn about what companies do well and what companies do poorly, the level of educational quality in the world where you compare governments and you say, this government did this well, and this government did this poorly, there’s actually surprisingly little debate and examination that really looks into those things and can understand them.
I know I get involved in that in terms of the money that institutions like World Bank, or the United Nations spend, and how much really good academic discussion do you have about how that’s gone. Yes, there’s a narrow set of people, but it’s nothing like business schools. The place you see it in particular that you might say is amazing is that the Chinese bureaucrats, as part of their personnel system, they to be promoted to a high level, they have to spend multiple years doing one job, usually three to four years, then they have to go into the university system where they do papers and they’re subject to peer review, and they study global practices, then they go to another job in another location for three or four years, then they go back to the university, then they go out, and then they go back to the university. So if you’re going to get to the minister level, you’ve been in academia at least six years. And when I say academia, I mean academia that’s studying in a serious way the different government policy choices that are made around the world in trying to identify good practices, and bad practices. And it’s in an environment where if they’re uncertain they’ll have some states do it one way, and some states do it another way, and then actually be fairly objective about that type of comparison.
Anyway, so I think a leadership school for government leaders would really expose them to the practices of other countries, and probably insist that they get out and do things in many locations around the world. The myopia that you get if you just stay in one country is a severe handicap in a global world, and you’d even wonder what percentage of your students, at least at the university level, you’d like to make sure get some type of international exposure. So I’m sure there are some new models that could be created for universities, but I would look a little bit at what the business schools do relative to businesses, and try and map that into what’s the equivalent for a government leader.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: And is there a role for entrepreneurship, and the private sector models for public officials?
BILL GATES: Well, public officials should understand entrepreneurship. The word entrepreneurship has many definitions. If you just think of it in the narrow sense of people who start new companies, they’re not going to come to this university. They’re too busy grabbing something. When a company gets to a certain size where you need professional management, then people who have gone to universities are going to come and get involved in those things. So having great business schools, absolutely. Entrepreneurship is not the notion that you teach it. I’ve always been a little bit skeptical about that.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Thank you. We have time for one last question, please.
QUESTION: Oscar Vassoveri with World Data Ventures. We have operations in Boliva and the U.S. I applaud your interest and active participation in development. Would you consider, in terms of your creative capitalism idea, would you consider microfinance as one of the pillars, or components in your idea of creative capitalism?
BILL GATES: Yes. Creative capitalism speaks to the idea that businesses of all types and sizes should even beyond the normal sort of economic market signals that are sent to them, consider how they could adopt their products or expertise to help the poorest, either the poorest in the country they’re in, or the poorest in the world at large. And so when you get to a financial institution, a large bank or any type of financial organization, the idea of how they create loans for the poorest is part of it.
Now my view is that microfinance usually has been fairly narrow. It’s been mostly loans. We need to get savings, and even some insurance type products into that, and we need to get an efficiency of the transaction cost that probably requires using technology so that the effective interest rates on those things are much lower. But so when we think of creative capitalism, we can think of industry groups. For technology companies, I think Microsoft is, in terms of working with education, involving our employees, we’ve set a real model there. The food companies, it’s about micronutrients, and special approaches there. For the drug companies, it’s about the neglected diseases. For the banks, it’s about microfinance for the poor. So every industry group, they should be putting some of their best innovators and some of their best people, put them forward, to work on those things because I think that the way they’ll be viewed in their society, the way they’ll be able to hire will actually give them a reason that that would be effective, because I think employees, particularly young people, are more values-based and interested in being in an organization that is pioneering things that take all these great advances and make sure that even the poorest one-third is a significant beneficiary of those.
HERNÁN RINCÓN: Thank you. I want to take a moment to thank all of you for being here yesterday and today. We think we have benefited extensively from your participation. I want to thank you, Bill, for spending today with us, for your presentation, for sharing with us the very moving examples, for your leadership and your vision. Please join me in thanking Bill Gates. (Applause.)
GERRI ELLIOTT: I get to do the proper thank yous. Thank you, Bill, as always for joining us, as always for your leadership on some of the issues that are so vital to us in LatAm and the Caribbean. My co-host Hernan, thank you so much for facilitating the session. I think the three of us would love to thank the students from Virtual Eye.
I don’t know if you all know, but Ivan, the lead student, postponed his wedding, he was supposed to get married today, so that he could be with us. So I think a big thank you to the Virtual Eye team. (Applause.)
Also, we would like to extend our deep gratitude and thanks to President Torrijos, not only for joining us, but for sharing your deep insights with us today. We really appreciate it. Thank you, also, for bringing your first lady with us. We’re honored to have you, and your Vice President Lewis, thank you for joining us, as well. And I would also like to thank an old GLF friend, our Vice President from Ecuador, Vice President Moreno, who has joined us, as well, for GLF. Thank you for coming back.
I have a protocol formality that I would like to help me adhere to. In a minute I’m going to ask you to stand up, so that we could have Bill and Hernan escort President Torrijos and his delegation, outside. This is a security issue. So we ask you to just remain in the room. I’m going to ask you to stand for protocol, and then I’m going to ask you to sit back down, so I can formally thank you. But, if you will, thank you, again, for joining us for GLF. (Applause.)
If I could ask you now to just take your seats for 30 seconds, I promise not to bear on your patience too much. All right. Let me give you a proper send-off, please. We had a number of goals for this session. The very first one was to make sure that you could network with your colleagues, and share best practices, to not only talk about the challenges in your region, but hopefully some of the solutions associated with those, that you could then take back to your countries. I hope we succeeded in fulfilling some of those goals, and that in some very small way we’ve made a contribution to Latin America and the Caribbean.
We look forward to establishing and continuing our partnerships with you. And on behalf of the entire Worldwide Public Sector Team, I sent you off with many blessings, and safe passage home. Thank you so much.