Checking and setting goals with Melinda French Gates

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly released a list of 17 global goals designed as a plan to bring more peace and prosperity to the world. These so-called Sustainable Development Goals called for things like the end of poverty and hunger by 2030, good education, gender equality and economic opportunities for all. Until that point is reached, the world is on track to achieve none of these goals.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issues an annual “Gatekeepers” report to track progress on these goals. This year’s report, which came out last week, says that in order to reach these goals, we need to radically change our approach. And while COVID has played a role in the slow pace of progress, foundation president Melinda French Gates says it shouldn’t be an excuse to let go of the work that still needs to be done in areas like gender equality.

“It was very serendipitous one of the things that happened during the pandemic, you know, because a lot of governments put money in the hands of families,” French Gates said in an interview with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour. “But what we saw is that if you don’t make sure that money actually goes into a woman’s wallet, and honestly into a digital wallet or into her bank account, you’re not going to make a deep change.”

The following is an edited transcript of their interview:

Sabri Ben Achour: So we have these big goals: Zero hunger, quality education, cheap and clean energy. Admitted by the UN itself, these goals are not being met. The UN underscores how desperate COVID has been for those goals. But you write that blaming COVID alone is a cop out. Why?

Melinda French Gates: Well, I think we have to see, first of all, that there was tremendous progress before COVID. Poverty went down, malaria deaths went down, children under the age of five survived to their fifth birthday, much longer. However, COVID disrupted many, many things. But to begin with, we were not going to reach some of these goals. Just take gender inequality, it’s all over the world. However, now it has gotten even worse with COVID. But because we didn’t invest in some reasons about gender. And I think we’ve realized that now with COVID. If we don’t really address this, and address the real causes, we will never get to gender inequality.

Ben Achour: Speaking of gender inequality, that’s one of the issues you’ve addressed, and you’ve written, we really need to change our thinking there. Can you give us an example of how to change our thinking?

French doors: Of course, so it was very coincidental that one of the things that happened during the pandemic was, you know, a lot of governments realized that they had to put in social protection payments, and they did that, they put the money in the hands of families. But what we’ve seen is that if you don’t make sure that money actually goes into a woman’s wallet, and honestly into a digital wallet or into her bank account, you’re not going to make a profound difference. In reality, he should have complete control over that money and the authority to make decisions, when to spend it, where to spend it, whether to save it or not. So often the money went into a man’s hands, or he got the money, but then he controlled it. So we have to work on those root causes, the root problems of: “Does he have full decision-making authority over the cash?”

Ben Achour: You know, aren’t there, in some cases, cultural barriers? I also refer to the US, you know, the belief system that a check, even if properly addressed, is not going to be dismantled very easily?

French doors: Well, there are all kinds of systemic barriers that hold women and the world back. And we have to name them, and we have to work on them. I will say one thing, but we know that when a woman has access to her own finances, the social norms within her family begin to change. So I think we have to cover a lot of issues. And we have to make sure that, you know, women have decision-making power, they have a seat at the table, not just to decide who eats what happens, but what decisions are made at the table. And they must have a seat at the policy-making table. Not only to be policy recipients, but to implement policies in their own countries.

Ben Achour: It’s one of the ways you express how to free daycares from the responsibilities they take on disproportionately in many places. You say there is an economic incentive for society to provide child care support. Can you explain that?

French doors: So a woman spends more than half of her time in unpaid work, which is often child care if she has a child at home, sometimes it is care for the elderly. That’s, you know, part of what he wants to do, is the loving care that we do, but a lot of it is work and work. And so if we have good childcare policies, so that women have support in that, and if their husbands take on a bit of responsibility, or their partners take on a bit more responsibility, then we free them up to be able to do the things they want to do. in the workforce And that generally helps our economy. So it’s a good thing, both for the family, for their income, and for the economy in general.

Ben Achour: To quickly shift and talk about rethinking hunger, 30% of Africa’s crops will be grown in climate conditions that will significantly reduce the yield of how they grow. This is in a continent that imports most of its food, nearly three-quarters of its grain. How do you fix that? How do you rethink that?

French doors: You make sure they have the seeds they’re asking for: pest-resistant seeds for their specific areas, drought-resistant seeds because we know you know the Sahel is going down, and flood-resistant seeds. The rains come at different times. And when they come, they are entering [a] deluge These seeds are being created and exist with African contributions. But then we have to make sure that we work the seed system and the agricultural dealers to reach the women as well. Half of African farmers are women. But if we put the seeds through the normal system, they will reach half of the farmers who are men, and not women. So we have to do that specific programming as well.

Ben Achour: You know, it’s easy – I think it’s easy – for people to be cynical about huge goals, as you know, without more poverty. Think that’s too big, it’s not really fixable. Are there any examples of great purposes that the world has fulfilled in our lives that a skeptic can point to?

French doors: Well, in our lifetime, we have eradicated smallpox. It’s a disease, if you go back one generation, people remember the people who had smallpox, you see the smallpox marks on people’s faces, you know. We don’t have that anymore. Anywhere in the world – we eradicated that disease. So it’s possible that when the global community comes together and says “we’re going to take this down,” we can actually do it.

Ben Achour You know, as you explain the ways in which we need to rethink our strategies to achieve these different goals of reducing human suffering, what is the Gates Foundation doing to promote this latest kind of rethinking?

French doors: So this week, highlighted by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the foundation will make more than a billion dollars in commitments and investments on behalf of others. These are things like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We are making commitments around hunger, because there is so much need right now. And we are also making commitments to African institutions such as the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda.

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