Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Stanford University.

  • >> BILL GATES: Congratulations, class of 2014! (Cheers).

  • Melinda and I are excited to be here. It would be a thrill for anyone to be invited to speak

  • at a Stanford commencement, but it's especially gratifying for us.

  • Stanford is rapidly becoming the favorite university for members of our family, and it's long been a favorite university

  • for Microsoft and our foundation. Our formula has been to get the smartest,

  • most creative people working on the most important problems.

  • It turns out that a disproportionate number of those people are at Stanford. (Cheers).

  • Right now, we have more than 30 foundation research projects underway here.

  • When we want to learn more about the immune system to help cure the worst diseases, we work with Stanford.

  • When we want to understand the changing landscape of higher education in the United States,

  • so that more low-income students get college degrees, we work with Stanford.

  • This is where genius lives. There's a flexibility of mind here, an openness to change, an eagerness for what's new.

  • This is where people come to discover the future, and have fun doing it.

  • >> MELINDA GATES: Now, some people call you all nerds and

  • we hear that you claim that label with pride. (Cheers and Applause).

  • >> BILL GATES: Well, so do we. (Cheers and Applause).

  • >> BILL GATES: My normal glasses really aren't that different.

  • (Laughter). There are so many remarkable things going on here at this campus,

  • but if Melinda and I had to put into one word what we love most about Stanford,

  • it's the optimism. There's an infectious feeling here that innovation

  • can solve almost every problem. That's the belief that drove me in 1975 to

  • leave a college in the suburbs of Boston and go on an endless leave of absence.

  • I believed that the magic of computers and software

  • would empower people everywhere and make the world much, much better.

  • It's been 40 years since then, and 20 years since Melinda and I were married.

  • We are both more optimistic now than ever. But on our journey, our optimism evolved.

  • We would like to tell you what we learned and talk to you today about how your optimism and ours

  • can do more for more people. When Paul Allen and I started Microsoft,

  • we wanted to bring the power of computers and software to the people, and that was the kind of rhetoric we used.

  • One of the pioneering books in the field had a raised fist on the

  • cover, and it was called "Computer Lib." At that time, only big businesses could buy computers.

  • We wanted to offer the same power to regular people and democratize computing.

  • By the 1990s, we saw how profoundly personal computers could empower people, but that success created a new dilemma.

  • If rich kids got computers and poor kids didn't, then technology would make inequality worse.

  • That ran counter to our core belief. Technology should benefit everyone.

  • So we worked to close the digital divide.

  • I made it a priority at Microsoft, and Melinda and I made it an early priority at our Foundation.

  • Donating personal computers to public libraries to make sure that everyone had access.

  • The digital divide was a focus of mine in 1997, when I took my first trip to South Africa.

  • I went there on business so I spent most of my time in meetings in downtown Johannesburg.

  • I stayed in the home of one of the richest families in South Africa. It had only been

  • three years since the election of Nelson Mandela marked the end of apartheid.

  • When I sat down for dinner with my hosts, they used a bell to call the butler.

  • After dinner, the women and men separated and the men smoked cigars. I thought,

  • good thing I read Jane Austen, or I wouldn't have known what was going on.

  • (Laughter). But the next day I went to Soweto,

  • the poor township southwest of Johannesburg, that had been the center of the anti-apartheid movement.

  • It was a short distance from the city into the township, but the entry was sudden, jarring

  • and harsh. I passed into a world completely unlike the one I came from.

  • My visit to Soweto became an early lesson in how naive I was.

  • Microsoft was donating computers and software to a community center there. The kind of thing we did in the United States.

  • But it became clear to me, very quickly, that this was not the United States.

  • I had seen statistics on poverty, but I had never really seen poverty.

  • The people there lived in corrugated tin shacks with no electricity, no water, no toilets.

  • Most people didn't wear shoes. They walked barefoot along the streets, except there were

  • no streets, just ruts in the mud. The community center had no consistent source of power

  • so they rigged up an extension cord that ran 200 feet from the center

  • to a diesel generator outside. Looking at this setup, I knew the minute the reporters left, the

  • generator would get moved to a more urgent task. And the people who used the community

  • center would go back to worrying about challenges that couldn't be solved by a personal computer.

  • When I gave my prepared remarks to the press, I said Soweto is a milestone.

  • There are major decisions ahead about whether technology will leave the developing world behind.

  • This is to close the gap. But as I read those words, I knew they weren't

  • super relevant. What I didn't say was, by the way, we're not focused on the fact that

  • half a million people on this continent are dying every year from malaria.

  • But we are sure as hell going to bring you computers. Before I went to Soweto, I thought I understood

  • the world's problems but I was blind to many of the most important ones.

  • I was so taken aback by what I saw that I had to ask myself, did I still believe that innovation could

  • solve the world's toughest problems? I promised myself that before I came back to Africa,

  • I would find out more about what keeps people poor.

  • Over the years, Melinda and I did learn more about the pressing needs of the poor.

  • On a later trip to South Africa, I paid a visit to a hospital for patients with MDR-TB, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis

  • a disease with a cure rate of under 50%. I remember that hospital as a place of despair.

  • It was a giant open ward, with a sea of patients shuffling around in pajamas, wearing masks.

  • There was one floor just for children, including some babies lying in bed.

  • They had a little school for kids who were well enough to learn,

  • but many of the children couldn't make it, and the hospital didn't

  • seem to know whether it was worth it to keep the school open.

  • I talked to a patient there in her early 30s. She had been a worker at a TB hospital when

  • she came down with a cough. She went to a doctor and he told her said she had drug-resistant TB.

  • She was later diagnosed with AIDS. She wasn't going to live much longer,

  • but there were plenty of MDR patients waiting to take her bed when she vacated it.

  • This was hell with a waiting list. But seeing this hell didn't reduce my optimism.

  • It channeled it. I got into the car as I left and I told the doctor we were working with

  • I know MDR-TB is hard to cure, but we must do something for these people.

  • And, in fact, this year, we are entering phase three with the new TB drug regime

  • for patients who respond, instead of a 50% cure rate after 18 months for $2,000,

  • we get an 80% cure rate after six months for under $100.

  • (Applause). Optimism is often dismissed as false hope.

  • But there is also false hopelessness. That's the attitude that says we can't defeat poverty and disease.

  • We absolutely can. >> MELINDA GATES: Bill called me that day after he visited the TB hospital

  • and normally if one of us is on an international trip,

  • we will go through our agenda for the day and who we met and where we have been.

  • But this call was different. Bill said to me, Melinda, I have been somewhere that I have never been before.

  • And then he choked up and he couldn't go on. And he finally just said,

  • I will tell you more when I get home. And I knew what he was going through because

  • when you see people with so little hope, it breaks your heart.

  • But if you want to do the most, you have to go see the worst, and I've had days like that too.

  • About ten years ago, I traveled with a group of friends to India. And on last day I was there,

  • I had a meeting with a group of prostitutes and I expected to talk to them about the risk of AIDS that they were facing,

  • but what they wanted to talk to me about was stigma.

  • Many of these women had been abandoned by their husbands. That's why they even went into prostitution.

  • They wanted to be able to feed their children.

  • They were so low in the eyes of society that they could be raped and robbed and beaten by anyone, even the

  • police, and nobody cared. Talking to them about their lives was so moving to me,

  • but what I remember most was how much they wanted to be touched. They wanted to

  • touch me and to be touched by them. It was if physical contact somehow proved their worth.

  • And so before I left, we linked arms hand in hand and did a photo together.

  • Later that same day, I spent some time in India in a home for the dying.

  • I walked into a large hall and I saw rows and rows of cots and every cot was attended to except for one,

  • that was far off in the corner. And so I decided to go over there. The patient who was in this

  • room was a woman in her 30s. And I remember her eyes. She had these huge, brown, sorrowful eyes.

  • She was emaciated and on the verge of death. Her intestines were not holding anything

  • and so the workers had put a pan under her bed, and cut a hole in the bottom of the bed

  • and everything in her was just pouring out into that pan.

  • And I could tell that she had AIDS. Both in the way she looked and the fact that she was off in this corner alone.

  • The stigma of AIDS is vicious, especially for women.

  • And the punishment is abandonment. When I arrived at her cot, I suddenly felt

  • completely and totally helpless. I had absolutely nothing I could offer this woman.

  • I knew I couldn't save her. But I didn't want her to be alone. So I knelt down with her and I put

  • my hand out and she reached for my hand and grabbed it and she wouldn't let it go.

  • And I didn't speak her language and I couldn't think of what I should say to her. And finally I just

  • said to her, it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay. It's not your fault.

  • And after I had been with her for sometime,

  • she started pointing to the roof top. She clearly wanted to go up and I realized

  • the sun was going down and what she wanted to do was go up on the roof top and see the sunset.

  • So the workers in this home for the dying were very busy and I said to them,

  • you know, can we take her up on the roof top? No. No. We have to pass out medicines.

  • So I waited that for that to happen and I asked another worker and they said, No no

  • no, we are too busy. We can't get her up there. And so finally I just scooped this woman up

  • in my arms. She was nothing more than skin over bones and I took her up on the roof top,

  • and I found one of those plastic chairs that blows over in a light breeze. I put her there,

  • sat her down, put a blanket over her legs

  • and she sat there facing to the west, watching the sunset. The workers knew -- I made sure

  • they knew that she was up there so that they would bring her down later that evening after

  • the sun went down and then I had to leave. But she never left me.

  • I felt completely and totally inadequate in the face of this woman's death. But sometimes,

  • it's the people that you can't help that inspire you the most. I knew that those sex workers

  • I had met in the morning could be the woman that I carried upstairs later that evening.

  • Unless we found a way to defy the stigma that hung over their lives.

  • Over the past ten years, our Foundation has helped sex workers build support groups so

  • they could empower one another to speak up and demand safe sex and that their clients

  • use condoms. Their brave efforts have helped to keep HIV

  • prevalence low among sex workers and a lot of studies show that's the big reason why

  • the AIDS epidemic has not exploded in India. When these sex workers gathered together to

  • help stop AIDS transmission, something unexpected and wonderful happened.

  • The community they formed became a platform for everything. Police and others who raped and robbed them couldn't

  • get away with it anymore. The women set up systems to encourage savings for one another

  • and with those savings, they were able to leave sex work.

  • This was all done by people that society considered the lowest of the low. Optimism, for me, is

  • not a passive expectation that things are going to get better. For me, it's a conviction

  • and a belief that we can make things better.

  • So no matter how much suffering we see, no matter how bad it is,

  • we can help people if we don't lose hope and if we don't look away. (Applause).

  • >> BILL GATES: Melinda and I have described some devastating scenes, but we want to make

  • the strongest case we can for the power of optimism. Even in dire situations,