Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A reflection from the Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundation

Walking out the visitors center of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation visitors center, I realized that I have not written any new blog post on my blog for more than 6 months. Sometime daily preoccupation takes over life, and without noticing one loses those spaces for refection and for sharing those reflections.

I have just spent a week in Seattle, headquarter to Microsoft but also the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to join a meeting on how to make big data work the agricultural sector in the developing world. After the meeting, i spend half a day in the Gates Foundation visitors' centre, a place that has the ambition to inspire its visitors to make a difference.

The center is fully interactive, inviting the visitor to learn more about who Bill and Melinda Gates are, how they came about founding the foundation and its guiding principle. I admired the simplicity with which complex problem such health, poverty and education are addressed, without loosing its essence. 

I particularly enjoyed the intersecting wheels of agriculture that only could make turn the whole machinery if soils, water, seed, market and support comes together. I am still wondering why some of our research still does not consider theses interactions... and yes if you ask me the equation is missing livestock... (feed, water + seed, animal health, breeds, market and support).

The agricultural success machinery
Also there is a very instructive video on which Bill explains why he does not invest into climate change mitigation and why he actually does in biotechnology such as  GMOs. His reflection is quite simple, what has a market and is a business opportunity should be done by the industry, what is not is supported by Gates foundation. Drought tolerant seeds for the developing world are not sufficient commercial for the industry to develop them, yet they might play a critical role in mitigating climate change for the most vulnerable people in the world.

There are many things i did not know about Gates foundation. For example, it is behind the AGRA initiative, the initiative that among others funds many small and medium innovative enterprises in the agricultural sector in Africa. Also they run a whole program in the US to support homeless people, especially giving access to homeless children and youth to access high level education. One big effort also goes into health, among others into the eradication of polio and malaria.

As i left the visitors center, i walked to Seattle downtown realizing that already 4 times i directly or indirectly benefited from Gates Foundation money, for my multi-dimensional spatially explicit ex ante environmental trade-off model, for this conference on big data for the agricultural sector in the developing world and finally by making the new chicken breed Kuroiler available in East Africa combined with the AGRA conference on social enterprises. All four experiences have lead to radical rethinking of modelling approaches (that boldly ignore the farmer), of data collection, processing and dissemination (are our data portal really the answer?) or of sustainable business models for the poor. 

None of us has the right formula to make the world a better place for every one even those we tend to forget. We are all on a learning through trial and error journey, but some of us are radical re-thinker who challenge the status co (and have probably learned through errors). I have been deeply impressed by the strong vision that Bill and Melinda have, to question the question and invest time, money and passion to see their vision implemented on the ground both in the US and the developing world. Their objective is not only to bring change but to inspire others to bring change or to be an impatient optimist. The visit at the visitors centre has open my eyes on how much their vision and investment has given me the opportunity to re-think my work, to challenge my own small status co, how much they have actually inspired me to bring change without me noticing. 

At the end of the exhibition, the visitor is asked to come up with her/his own plan to contribute to make the world a better place... I decided to make sure that my blog becomes lively again, that it may be an (unbiased?) voice from the ground in the developing world and a space where reflection (radical rethinking?) is possible. I hope you will join the new start of this journey!

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