Guess who’s thinking about innovation

“Throughout my careers in software and philanthropy—and in each of my annual letters—a recurring theme has been that innovation is the key to improving the world. When innovators work on urgent problems and deliver solutions to people in need, the results can be magical.”

If you guessed Bill Gates, you are correct!  This is the start of his 2012 annual letter.  I’ve picked out a few passages that may be of particular interest.

In the note, he focuses primarily on innovations in several critical areas: agriculture, global health, and education in the United States .  Giving examples of the critical threats to food security globally, he describes a product that has great potential in Bangladesh:

“For example, when I was in India in March I met with about 20 rice farmers who had recently switched to a new rice seed called Swarna-Sub1, which is both very productive and can survive in flooded fields. Their rice fields get flooded every three to four years, and in past flood years they ended up with almost no food to eat. Now, these farmers can feed their families no matter the weather. Currently, 4 million tons of rice are lost to flooding every year in Bangladesh and India. But as farmers in the region adopt Swarna-Sub1, they will grow enough extra rice to feed 30 million people.”

Also in Bangladesh, this year’s winner of the FIRST ever Gates Vaccine Innovation award:

Dr. Asm Amjad Hossain, a district immunization medical officer from Bangladesh. In 2009, Dr. Hossain was assigned to two districts where immunization rates were 67 and 60 percent, respectively. In 2010, they were 85 and 79 percent. These rapid improvements were the result of Dr. Hossain’s innovative approach to running an immunization program. He instituted a process of registering pregnant women with their expected date of delivery, location, and phone number, so vaccinators knew when children were born, where they were, and an easy way to contact their mothers. He provided annual schedules for vaccine sessions to make vaccinators more accountable to the community and had the vaccinators put their phone numbers on the children’s immunization cards, so parents with young children could get in touch with a health worker. These may seem like small innovations, but they show how looking at old problems in new ways can make a profound difference.”  Watch a recent video to see some examples of BRAC’s involvement in immunizations in Bangladesh.”

Mr. Gates ends his note with some inspiring words in defense of optimism:

“Unfortunately, many people believe the opposite—that money spent on development is wasted, or that it doesn’t get lasting results. Melinda and I will spend a lot of time in the coming year explaining why they’re mistaken. The relatively small amount of money invested in development has changed the future prospects of billions of people—and it can do the same for billions more if we make the choice to continue investing in innovation.”

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