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How Melinda Gates plans to promote growth in Africa

Sunday January 28 2018

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Melinda Gates speaks on a wide range of issues during an interview at Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi, on January 25, 2018. She said that some of the most innovative ideas in the world can come from places like Kenya. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Mrs Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, last week made her fourth trip to Kenya to launch a new initiative meant to promote use of technology in reducing poverty, called ‘Pathways for prosperity’.

Mrs Gates discussed about how it will be implemented.

1: What is Pathways for Prosperity and how is it working to achieve global development and what is your role in it?

Technology can be used for good or for evil but one thing we know is that it is here to stay and moving very quickly.

Part of the reason for launching Pathways for Prosperity is to think about how we can include everyone and use it for the best of societies both high-and low income countries.

The Pathways for Prosperity looks at the rapidly advancing technology.


Although technology is helping to equalise all places in the world, there are other places that have been left behind.

Through this commission, we are looking at both the pros and cons of the advance in technology, where has it worked to inclusively benefit people and how we can make sure that nobody is left behind.

2: Is there a particular focus on collaboration between academia and private sector to advance human development?

Absolutely, we want to bring together experts from different fields including NGOs, private sector and government to really look for solutions that benefit everybody.

One of the best examples lies here in Kenya where mobile money, M-Pesa, has been able to transform lives.

The first time I saw it was in 2007 in Tanzania.

Now we see financial technology services in almost 30 countries and the ones who put in the right regulations and policies have had the steepest growth and have been the most inclusive.

These are some of the examples that I think will shape the rest of the world.

3: Why is the launch of the commission taking place in Kenya? Why now?

I think that some of the most innovative ideas in the world can come from places like Kenya.

I mean the iHub, which has been in existence since 2010, is pretty unique and people are starting to call Kenya the Silicon Savannah.

But not only does the iHub exist, it also has a venture fund that can support new innovators and businesses and I would like to see three dozens of those at least around the African continent and not just in Kenya.

In this way, people will be able to come up with ideas that will work for their countries and economies and which can also be shared globally.

4: What is the single most important achievement that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been able to attain by investing in health care in Africa? And are we likely to start seeing a technology-driven push in that area?

Technology and innovations have been key to saving people’s lives.

And vaccines are one of the biggest examples.

Childhood mortality has been reduced by half in the past 20 years, thanks to vaccines that have the right strains for the developing world.

When I started doing this work 20 years ago, there was no human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines for prevention of cervical cancer in women — now there is and we give it to young girls.

Cervical cancer kills 600,000 women annually and this will stop happening once everybody gets this vaccine.

5: The foundation has announced that in the next 20 years, it will pay off $76 million (Sh7bn) of Nigeria’s polio debt through their namesake foundation.

Do you think your foundation should pay debts for countries?

We should be very specific about that debt.

There was an incentive programme that if Nigeria met certain benchmarks and goals for eradicating polio over a certain period of time, which they have been able to do, then the expense for that, the debt would then be erased.

That is what happened. This is a way of doing innovative financing to spur the right thing in health.

6: Kenyan innovators are giving us hundreds of new ways of tackling economic, health, and social issues every year, but most of these hardly take off.

What could be the problem, and how have innovators in other countries worked around this challenge?

Are there any health care innovations that you are excited about?

How can they be applied to Africa? Are we likely to see this innovation tailor-made to be as user friendly as possible and how will this be done?

I think that is part of having policies and guidelines right in countries because it helps businesses to move from being merely pilots to scaled up projects.

And we have an example of one local idea that is really scaling called Tala, a finance app that has helped people get their financial records in order so that a small business can get up and running, something which is not easy to do in Africa.

Through this, Tala has been able to be used in 10 different countries.

I think if the business is done right and spurred in the right way and direction with a good policy environment, businesses can grow and get spread easily.

Businesses that are inspired by consumer needs, what the market will support are also the ones that make the most sense.

However, they ought to have a good regulatory environment and good funding.

7: How, in your view, will technology change the prospects of jobs and economic opportunities in developing countries, and what kind of policy shifts should we anticipate if we are to be successful in this regard?

I think it will bring far more people into the formal sector.

Two examples I can give — in India, where they got their policies and regulations right just a few years ago for having mobile money.

What this meant was that all of a sudden, a huge number of accounts were opened and people were actively using them.

The government started putting its government-to-person payments through that and all of a sudden when a woman had her own account separate from her husband and she got a government payment, she moved from the informal to the formal sector of the economy, got a job and increased her own income by 25 per cent.

In Indonesia, there is a hyper-local transport, logistics and payments company, GO-JEK, that in the last two years called has brought together people from the informal and formal sectors into ride sharing, as well as service delivery, creating an estimated 1.5 million jobs.

To me, these are the ways we will begin seeing the benefits of technology to people in developing world.