A little more than a year ago, Melinda Gates made a bold and controversial pledge to help women in the developing world get better access to contraception.
It was an unexpected declaration from the practicing Catholic and co-chair with husband Bill of a private philanthropy better known for promoting vaccines and working to improve education. She was sharply criticized by Catholic groups that argue that global health and development funds should go to other causes.
In her travels across sub-Saharan and South Asia over more than a decade, Ms. Gates says she had seen the same scene play out over and over. Women she met with to talk about vaccines would ask her how they could get birth control. “They would say to me, ‘But what about that shot I used to get?’ ” she said in an interview at the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The women were referring to Depo-Provera, she explained, an injectable contraceptive that they told her they like and walk miles to get—only to find often out of stock.
Now, one year later, Ms. Gates appears well on her way toward her goal. At a summit last summer hosted by the Gates Foundation and the U.K. Department for International Development, donors pledged $2.6 billion—$300 million more than the hosts had hoped to raise—to bring voluntary family planning services to 120 million more women in the world’s poorest countries by 2020.
From the fight against polio to fixing education, what’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data. We can do better. We have the tools at hand.
We can learn a lot about improving the 21st-century world from an icon of the industrial era: the steam engine.
Harnessing steam power required many innovations, as William Rosen chronicles in the book “The Most Powerful Idea in the World.” Among the most important were a new way to measure the energy output of engines and a micrometer dubbed the “Lord Chancellor” that could gauge tiny distances.
Such measuring tools, Mr. Rosen writes, allowed inventors to see if their incremental design changes led to the improvements—such as higher power and less coal consumption—needed to build better engines. There’s a larger lesson here: Without feedback from precise measurement, Mr. Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”
Because of those women, Gates made a decision that’s likely to change lives all over the world. As she revealed in an exclusive interview with Newsweek, she has decided to make family planning her signature issue and primary public health a priority. “My goal is to get this back on the global agenda,” she says. She is sitting in an office in the Gates Foundation’s 900,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Seattle, a pair of airy boomerang-shaped buildings flooded with natural light. It was here at headquarters late last year that she announced her new emphasis on contraception at an all-staff meeting, to thrilled applause.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in what he said is his final address to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, warned Friday against the United States getting involved in another major land battle.
He told the cadets that wars like Afghanistan are not likely, and in fact he would advise against it.
“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it,” Gates said.