Healthy, educated young Africans will shape the world.

Author:Gates, Bill
Position:Guest commentary

In this op-ed specially written for New African readers, Bill and Melinda Gates point out that while the population of the world is approaching middle age, Africa uniquely remains young. They argue that this factor can be a powerful force not only for Africa but the world. But for this potential to be unlocked, African youth, including its women, must have access to health and education the essential engines of economic growth.

Does the world today look like what you imagined a decade ago?

For us, the answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, the world as a whole continues to make the broad progress we hoped and expected to see. Many trendlines from the last decade continue their same positive trajectory: Fewer people are dying from preventable diseases. More girls are going to school every year, and more children are surviving to adulthood. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of kids who die before the age of five fell by 32% between 2000 and 2017.

On the other hand, unexpected events have reshaped the world in a way that no one (including us!) saw coming. That would be true for any random year that you pick--but last year, it seemed like unforeseen forces had an outsized impact. From especially devastating natural disasters to record numbers of women campaigning for office in the United States, 2018 felt to us like a series of surprises.

A benefit of surprises is that they're often a prod to action. When you realise that the realities of the world don't match your expectations, it gnaws at you.

Twenty-five years ago, a surprise changed the course of our lives. While reading the newspaper, we saw an article that made a shocking statement: hundreds of thousands of kids in poor countries were dying from diarrhoea. That revelation stopped us in our tracks. We sent a copy of the article to Bill's dad and said, "Maybe we can do something about this."

That surprise was one of the most important steps in our journey to philanthropy. It helped cry-stallise our values: we believe in a world where innovation is for everyone where no child dies from a disease it's possible to prevent. But what we saw was a world still shaped by inequity.

In our Annual Letter this year, we wrote about nine things that have surprised us along this journey. Some helped us see that the status quo needs disruption, like the fact that data collection can be sexist and often doesn't take women and girls into account.

Others underscore that transformation is happening...

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