Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Richard Dimbleby lecture at the Royal Insitution. Bill Gates was speaking about his quest to eradicate polio.
It was an event packed to the roof with newspaper editors, the great and the good of the bbc and (a couple of) randoms like me. I found myself sitting next to the wonderful Joan Bakewell and as we waited for Bill to emerge, she told me about her early career “turning all the wrong knobs” as as young technician in the early 50s. 
Jonathan Dimbleby introduced the lecture and I was struck by how he described Gates as someone who believed everyone should have equal opportunity to use technology and who had been guided by wanting to democratise technology from the age of 26 when he launched microsoft. Whether or not you agree with this view of Bill, it struck a chord with me because of all the work I have been doing over the last four years.
Bill then talked for an hour about his ambition to eradicate polio by 2018.
I found it awe inspiring.  Three big things struck me.
I was wondering why polio had emboldened Bill so much and why he thought it such a vital mission –  he explained  brilliantly. Polio was nearly eradicated in 2000 but now it is flaring up in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – in order to make sure that this is stopped it is necessary to know where every person lives, and crucially every child. Plotting a way to map all settlements in vast countryside is incredibly tough but once done is an amazing blueprint for the next health challenge that comes along. Polio is the mechanism that is enabling a massive amount of data to be gathered and a massive number of people to be logged. I could see that for a genius coder like Bill, unpicking the impossible processes and improving on them was an  irresistible way of attacking the problem. 
Secondly, Bill talked with real clarity about how it is so important to strive for a total end to not only polio but any disease for which you have a vaccine. He talked about the immeasurable burden on the very poorest people in the world if they have serious health challenges whilst managing all the other hardships. I thought it was an important point rarely made that eliminating a disease 95% means that you are not helping the least advantaged 5%. 
Finally, I found it humbling that someone with unimaginable wealth, and therefore power  decided to wield it for such an extraordinary greater good. We should constantly celebrate such ambition and ask how we can create more Bill Gates… He talked with complete belief about how health iniquities could be ended in our lifetime – what an incredible ambition to devote your life to. The lecture was titled The Impatient Optimist as Bill says that is how he feels about the trajectory of his life. 
You can watch his lecture here http://bbc.in/WNC3sp
And here is something else brilliant that Bill does  (thank you @sanecinema)

4 thoughts on “Bill’s Big and Brilliant ambition

  1. Yes his charitable org has great ambitions but this attitude well established by great entrepreneurs over the centuries who
    re-distribute the wealth created from those that buy their products. But you hit the spot where are our “Bill Gates”? Fact is we have made it very hard for our people to rise to these levels with a Government that fails to understand the very basics such as tech companies are different from service ones. HMG is the largest buyer yet fails miserably to support. You are in position to help educate but it seems you think not your job well get out of self imposed silo and help make a difference not just observe and talk about it.

  2. Following our tweet exchange and your Nesta chat I think you are in a position to really help UK plc understand how to handle and exploit disruptive technologies. It is one thing to use technology to build an exciting business as you did it is quite another to create a new paradigm for the underlying technology –and that is what we have created.
    Very few business people understand business software technology and IT people rarely understand how business really works – the dominant players, who we challenge, like it that way and so stay in charge. The “open source” movement is a reaction to this but in reality is not the sustainable answer – the core technology needs to take a big step forward to “commoditisation” which truly unlocks “lock in”. You rarely come across such disruptive technologies and it has huge challenges even more so in the B to B market.
    It was Mahatma Gandhi that said “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win”. We have experienced all this except the “win” and UK not good at the winning – “we” must change this. Can we meet up I can explain and once you “get it” like all business people you will wonder “why do it any other way?” But then they come across the barriers in “IT”. It takes a brave person to face down IT – I think you have that quality with your independence and lack of fear on taking up new challenges. We must learn from our experiences our survival is based up my 35 years understanding early stage businesses including 20 year ICFC/3i and tech ones are the hardest. But very few survive the ones that do sell out far too early (usually to US) hence no “Bill Gates” in UK.

  3. “The “open source” movement is a reaction to this but in reality is not the sustainable answer ”

    sorry your saying an “open source” operating sytem that runs everything from the cloud through servers and workstation to nearly half the mobile phones in the world and looks like it will dominate aspects of the PC world as well such as games consoles (Steam box) i.e. linux (android=linux) is “not sustainable”.
    If thats “not sustainable” when it “owns” 90% of the devices I would like to know what is?

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