When Bill Gates speaks, I listen. Is it because I am really impressed that he has made that much money? Or that he started a company which is so important? Or perhaps it is because anyone who gives away tens of billions of dollars of their own money deserves to be heard? All I know is that whenever I am invited to interview Mr Gates, I say yes.
This time it was to hear about the near failure of some G8 countries to make good on their IOUs to Africa.
Well, it is easy to be generous in times of plenty. How unfortunate then, when it comes time to pay the bill, you find the coffers bare. This is the situation the G8 countries find themselves in as they find themselves having to make good on the promises made to Sub-Saharan Africa for development aid.
Back in 2005 it all looked very different. At the Gleneagles Summit as they rushed to “do the right thing, G7 countries made generous promises to help Africa. They set their own deadline of 2010. They probably reasoned, “We have five years to do this. Easy!
Who could have known then, that money which should have gone to good causes would instead be spent bailing out banks and helping to stave the collapse of the financial world? According to the ONE Organization, just over a third of the money pledged in 2005 has been paid.
Some countries get virtual gold stars – Canada, Japan and the US are well on track to hit their goals. Others get silver star status – the UK and Germany who need a bit of a push, but will almost certainly get there in the end. In the case of France, “embarrassingly terrible is how the musician and activist Sir Bob Geldoff described their 7 percent contribution.
As for Italy, oh dear! Sir Bob keeps his best insults for the Italian government calling them a crowd of “shysters for meeting just 3 percent of its promised amount. As Italy is hosting this year s G8 summit, where aid to the developing world is on the agenda, Sir Bob has called on the presidency of the G8 to be removed from the country.
Bill Gates told me next year would be even worse as budget pressures grew on the G8 governments.
I have met Mr Gates several times over the years, and the way I view him has changed. Like most others I suspect, I used to think “gosh.he is worth sooo much money. Now I look at him and think, this man really has introduced a revolution in the aid community and not just by the billions he has given away.
It is his philosophy of viewing aid as an investment which must have measurable goals that has really made the difference. Money spent must be rewarded with success. It is the business ethos being applied to the world of giving. It all sounds so obvious now, until you realize that it has only been in the last decade that this business line of thinking has really been introduced.
That’s not to say it’s universally accepted or controversial, but when Warren Buffet – the second richest man in the world – gives his money to the Gates foundation to do good, well you have to start believing they are doing something right.
Which brings me back to Italy, whose prime minister is another rich man – Silvio Berlusconi. If he won’t listen to the aid community, he might at least listen to one with whom he can really identify. Yes, another member of that rare club ‘the billionaires who has seen the light.
It seems it’s time for everyone to get out the check book. Start writing.
Richard Questis a CNN anchor and correspondent who reports on business travel issues. Tune in to CNN International each weekday at 9 pm to catch Richard’s show, “Quest Means Business.