Bill Gates: The Pandemic Has Erased Years Of Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic is a “gigantic setback” for the world. But Bill Gates is still optimistic about the future.

As we wrapped up our interview with Gates at the virtual GeekWire Summit on Thursday, we asked the Microsoft co-founder and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair to give us some reasons for hope. We also asked him for one call to action — something we can all do to improve the world. Here’s what he said.

>Related: Bill Gates says the world can avoid climate ‘disaster,’ if we learn lesson from pandemic

Scientific advances: Gates is encouraged by the rapid development of vaccines and therapeutics such as monoclonal antibodies, as well as the collaboration happening between researchers around the globe.

Though “things will get worse” between now and the end of the year, he said the U.S. can cut transmission and be in much better shape by late 2021, due in part to so many companies developing therapies for just one disease.

Learning from mistakes: There is a lot to be learned from missteps made early on in the pandemic, Gates said, citing early slip-ups by the CDC with testing, and efforts by the country’s leaders to discount the seriousness of COVID-19. Gates said funding to infectious disease research will also rise now that governments understand how much money is needed for pandemic preparedness.

Tech innovation: Beyond preventing another pandemic and coming up with scientific breakthroughs, Gates also pointed to advances with remote work and learning technologies, as well as telemedicine adoption. “We’ve opened up maybe 12 years of progress maybe just in this last year,” he said.

Bill Gates takes part in a virtual discussion with GeekWire editor Todd Bishop during the 2020 GeekWire Summit on Thursday.

Climate change: Gates said he’s encouraged that the pandemic, despite its tremendous impact, has done little to diminish climate activism, particularly among young people internationally. “Even though climate’s far harder to solve, the broad awareness is much, much higher,” Gates said, comparing the COVID-19 crisis to the climate crisis.

> I’d like to see philanthropy go up — not just in dollars, but all the office workers participating in various causes to help out those who have been less fortunate.

Subtle perks: Gates enjoys traveling less to big conferences. Now he can attend them via video conferencing, without ever leaving Seattle.

Staying at home also means more time with his college-aged children, who are learning remotely. “That was kind of a pleasant surprise, at least for the parents,” he quipped.

The big picture: In the grand scheme of things, life is getting better, according to Gates. “Slowly but surely, we’re recognizing how we treat minorities, how we treat women,” he said. “Slowly but surely, we’re reducing cancer deaths and beginning to understand things like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.”

He added, “Progress will continue to take place. I’m upbeat even about bringing the pandemic to a close.”

A spark for philanthropy and civic engagement: Finally, we asked for his call to action (beyond voting, which of course we’re all going to do). What’s one thing Gates thinks we should all do to make the world a better place in 5 to 10 years?

His answer: give back. People who aren’t as impacted negatively by the pandemic — such as tech workers — should lend a helping hand, he said. The Gates Foundation itself has already dedicated $350 million toward COVID-19 response efforts and expects that number to grow. But giving makes an impact at any level, he said.

“I’d like to see philanthropy go up — not just in dollars, but all the office workers participating in various causes to help out those who have been less fortunate,” he said.

Gates also wants to see folks get more involved with their communities — something he learned from his father, Bill Gates Sr., a devoted civic leader who just passed away at the age of 94.

“We need to cut down on the polarization, and help local communities,” Gates said. “The kind of civic engagement he believed in, I think that’s a great model for all of us.”

[The full interview with Gates, and other GeekWire Summit sessions, are available on-demand exclusively to attendees of the virtual event.

 Learn more and register here.]

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