So in the meantime we have to work with what we have in hand and the best prevention approach we have now is getting people to avoid risky behavior.
Pursuing that goal starts the 4-step cycle again. This is the pattern.
The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working. And never do what we did with malaria and tuberculosis in the 20th century. Which is to surrender to complexity and quit.
The final step after seeing the problem and finding an approach, is to measure the impact of the work and to share that, success or failure, so that others can learn from the efforts.
You have to have the statistics, of course. You have to be able to show for example that a program is vaccinating millions more children. You have to be able to show for example a decline in the number of children dying from the diseases.
This is essential not just to improve the program but also to help draw more investment from business and government.
But if you want to inspire people to participate, you have to show more than numbers. You have to convey the human impact of the work. So people can feel what saving a life means to the families affected.
I remember going to the World Economic Forum some years back and sitting on a global health panel that was discussing ways to save millions of lives. Millions.
Think of the thrill if you could save just one person’s life, then multiply that by millions.
Yet this was the most boring panel I have ever been on — ever. So boring that even I couldn’t stand it.
What made that experience especially striking was that I had just come from an event where we were introducing version 13 of some piece of software, and we had people jumping and shouting with excitement.
I love getting people excited about software. But why can’t we generate even more excitement for saving lives?
You can’t get people excited unless you can help them see and feel the impact.
The way to do that is another complex question. Still, I’m optimistic.
Yes, inequity has been with us forever, but the new tools we have to cut through complexity have not been with us forever. They are new. They can help us make the most of our caring. And that’s why the future can be different from the past.
The defining and ongoing innovations of this age, biotechnology, the personal computer and the internet give us a chance we’ve never had before, to end extreme poverty and end death from preventable disease.
60 years ago, George Marshall came to this commencement and he announced a plan to assist the nations of post-war Europe.
He said, I quote “I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very massive facts presented to the public by press and radio, make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. It is virtually impossible, at this distance, to grasp at all the real significance of the situation.”
30 years after Marshall made his address, which was 30 years ago, as my class graduated without me, technology was emerging that would make the world smaller, more open, more visible, less distant.
The emergence of low-cost personal computers gave rise to a powerful network that has transformed opportunities for learning and communicating.
The magical thing about this network is not just that it collapses distance and makes everyone your neighbor. It also dramatically increases the number of brilliant minds we can bring in to work together on the same problem. And it scales up the rate of potential innovation to a staggering degree.
At the same time for every person who has access to this technology, 5 people don’t. That means many creative minds are left out of this discussion. Smart people with practical intelligence and relevant experience, who don’t have the technology to hone their talents or contribute their ideas to the world.
We need as many people as possible to gain access to this technology, because these advances are triggering a revolution in human — in what human beings can do for one another.
They are making it possible, not just for national governments, but for universities, corporations, small organizations and even individuals to see problems, see approaches and measure the impact of their efforts to address the hunger, poverty and desperation George Marshall spoke of 60 years ago.
Members of the Harvard family, here in the yard is one of the great collections of intellectual talent in the world.
For what purpose?
There is no question that the faculty, the alumni, the students and the benefactors of Harvard have used their power to improve the lives of people here and around the world.
But can we do more? Can Harvard dedicate its intellect to improving the lives of people who will never even hear its name?
Let me make a request of the deans and professors, the intellectual leaders here at Harvard.
As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum and determine degree requirements, please ask yourself, should our best minds be more dedicated to solving our biggest problems?
Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world’s worst inequities?
Should Harvard students know about the depth of global poverty, the prevalence of world hunger, the scarcity of clean water, the girls kept out of school, the children who die from diseases we can cure?
Should the world’s most privileged learn about the lives of the worlds least privileged?