In their latest annual letter (28 pages, PDF or HTML), Bill and Melinda Gates argue that persistent poverty is as much about the absence of resources as it is about lack of money.
The Gateses' eighth annual letter is addressed, for the first time, to high school students, who, as the couple writes, will be the ones "solving these problems." One of the problems highlighted by the Gateses is access, or lack thereof, to energy, which, as Bill Gates notes in his half of the letter, affects 1.3 billion people — 18 percent of the world's population. "Without access to energy," he adds, "the poor are stuck in the dark, denied all of these benefits and opportunities that come with power." Using a mathematical equation, he then highlights the need for an "energy miracle" — the development and transition to efficient green technologies that will boost energy production while reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, Gates argues, access to affordable sources of clean energy will transform the lives of millions of the poorest families, enabling them to study, run businesses, and power local clinics and hospitals.
In her half of the letter, Melinda Gates highlights the opportunity cost — in terms of education, health, and economic advancement — of a global gender gap in paid and unpaid work. "[T]he fact is that the burden of unpaid work falls heaviest on women in poor countries, where the hours are longer and the gap between women and men is wider," she writes. "[I]t's obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can't holds their families and communities back." But with innovation, she argues, we can "recognize that unpaid work is still work...reduce the amount of time and energy it takes...[and] redistribute it more evenly between women and men."
Elsewhere in their letter, the Gateses call on high school students to "tap into a different kind of superpower that all of us possess: the power to make a difference in the lives of others." "Your generation," Bill Gates writes, "is one of the most globally minded in history, adept at looking at our world's problems beyond national borders. This will be a valuable asset as we work on global solutions in the decades ahead."