Last week, my wife Joy and I were front and center when Bill and Melinda Gates launched their new Living Proof campaign in Washington, D.C. I have to imagine that this campaign launch sounded a lot like one of Microsoft’s shareholder meetings. It was replete with charts, graphs, well-defined metrics for success, best practices, and market projections. But present throughout Bill and Melinda Gates’ talk on the state of global health and poverty were not just numbers but the real people whose lives are being saved every day by their U.S. investments in global health. As the Living Proof Web site states,
Much of what people read and hear is bad news — terrible statistics and sad stories. The purpose of the Living Proof Project is to share good news: Together, we can help the world’s poorest people improve their lives. We know, because we’ve seen living proof. People’s lives are improving in measurable ways … They are testimony to the fact that when you improve health, life improves by every other measure.
I believe the Gates Foundation has been so effective in their work for two primary reasons. First, they aren’t afraid to make the “smart case” through clear and definable metrics and at the same time make clear the “moral imperative” for improving global health and ending extreme poverty. Second, they recognize that solutions to problems this big come when everybody is at the table. That means private philanthropy, government policy, NGOs, local leadership, and the faith community all have roles to play.
Too often the well meaning case for the moral urgency of global health and poverty is divorced from a hard nosed look at both what is most effective and what makes the best use of limited resources. The Gates Foundation is changing that. In the “I’m Living Proof” video, they show child after child proudly proclaiming, “I’m Living Proof” that these programs work. They talk about the “Lazarus effect” of how HIV/AIDS drugs are bringing people back to life who were nearly dead. They profiled a small child who nearly died after her mother’s death from HIV/AIDS. Just one year after starting HIV/AIDS drugs, the video shows this same child now thriving. The change is almost unbelievable.
These compelling stories are combined with big goals and measurable outcomes. Bill and Melinda Gates called on each of us to join them in advocating for U.S. investments in reducing the number of child deaths worldwide by nearly half by 2025. That may sound like an ambitious goal, but we’ve already made real progress. The number of children who die before age 5 has been halved since 1960 — from 20 million to fewer than 9 million per year — even as the number of births increased by more than 20 percent. The child death rate declined by more than a quarter (27 percent) from 1990 to 2007 alone. Now we need to further reduce child deaths by half once again.
The kind of gains we have seen in the past and the ambitious goal of repeating them in the future are not the result of any one sector of society, approach, or organization. It is not a choice between private charity, government aid, debt cancellation, trade policy change, or NGO cooperation; rather, it’s a question of getting them all to work together. Change happens most effectively when there is coordination and cooperation between different sectors and forces, not a choice between them. Bill and Melinda make it very clear that even as the Gates Foundation is the single largest philanthropic organization in the world, they can’t accomplish their goals without the cooperation and coordination with government and the nonprofit world — including the faith community.
Bill Gates is known for the smart approach; that came through as he made the compelling case for the results we can have with more investment. Melinda struck me as a real evangelist as she spoke naturally and passionately for all of our involvement. She spoke in moral terms about the “preciousness of every human life.” But the most successful CEO in the world also spoke in moral terms about the deeply held American value of equality and how we now need to be consistent in applying that value around the world. In other words, the poorest kids in the world shouldn’t die from diseases that none of our kids do anymore.
As I spoke with a person at the foundation at the small reception afterward, he explained to me that the Gates had been on Capitol Hill for two days and in almost every meeting they had, Members of Congress told them that the faith community will have to be centrally involved if the U.S. is to make an even deeper investment in global health. At the reception, I thanked both Melinda and Bill Gates for their work and promised that we would be involved.
I almost expected an altar call at the end of Bill and Melinda’s presentation, and I would have gone down the aisle. Because when it comes to the health and well-being of the world’s poorest people, Jesus is already there, and its time the rest of us Christians joined him. And as I suggested to Bill, the combination of the smart case and the moral case is the winning strategy.