Bill Gates: “I was pretty naive”


Just before Christmas, the Seattle Times provided coverage of the Gates Foundation’s report about their decade’s worth of progress with their goal of fixing the world (the Grand Challenge). After a billion dollars spent on improving lives and health care in the developing world, Gates had to report, “I was pretty naive about how long the process would take.”

In his quest to make the world a better place, Gates invested in all sorts of research. But it turns out that research can only happen as fast as it can happen. Sometimes science takes time.

Not only did he underestimate some of the scientific hurdles, Gates said. He and his team also failed to adequately consider what it would take to implement new technologies in countries where millions of people lack access to basic necessities such as clean water and medical care.

The foundation has tweaked the Grand Challenges approach in a variety of ways, but still doesn’t really know whether any of it is actually succeeding. In many cases, they know it is not. There are several examples, but let’s look at toilets.

Gates funded high-tech toilets in the Indian city of Raichur, at a cost of $8,000 each. These beauties have automatic sensors that run lights, fans and FM radio when a patron uses them. Some prototypes in the toilets project wing of Grand Challenges also throw in solar power and other amenities. But in Raichur, the rollout had some technical difficulties, and then- the public just didn’t use them.

As it turns out, there are already people working on the toilet problem, but not with high tech answers. Jason Kass, founder of Toilets for People (which, as a name– really? to distinguish them from Toilets for Cattle?) took Gates to task in a New York Times piece “Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet” in which he notes, “If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything, it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work.”    Read more>>