Bill Gates urged President-elect Barack Obama and his administration on Wednesday morning in the Marvin Center to continue funding education reform projects and to reduce global poverty despite the economic downturn.
In his first public speech since September, the co-founder of Microsoft said the United States needs to be optimistic and must continue to fund long-term goals, even in a bleak economy.
“If you look at the stock market, business activity or budget deficits, things are dark,” Gates said. “But if you consider our capacities and opportunities, our passion and vision, the outlook is bright. We can keep moving toward a world where every child grows up in good health, goes to a good school and has opportunities waiting – as long as we stay confident about the future and keep investing in it.”
Gates is the co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic foundation. He said he was impressed with GW students’ commitment to two of his foundation’s causes: the improvement of U.S. education and the reduction of global poverty.
He said he was especially impressed that GW ranks No. 1 in students who join the Peace Corps after graduation and that the largest employer of GW graduates is Teach for America, an organization that promotes a better education for minority and low-income students in public schools.
“If young people in America make the kind of choices that people make here at GW, we are going to have a great future,” Gates said.
During his speech, he urged the federal government to put more money toward recruiting better teachers and creating incentives for students to earn college degrees.
Gates said if the government puts education and the reduction of poverty on hold, there will be an even greater divide between rich and poor when the economy bounces back.
“If we don’t make these people part of the investment now, when the economy comes back, they won’t be coming back with it,” Gates said.
After Gates’ address, GW professor and CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno moderated a question and answer session with members of the audience.
One audience member, an Italian journalist, asked Gates if he supported increasing taxes on the rich to fund education and the reduction of poverty. Gates said he didn’t mind having his taxes raised.
“Now people can say, ‘You’re so rich you don’t mind.’ That’s true,” Gates joked, drawing laughter from the crowd.
He added, “But overall, the pendulum will swing in the direction of taxation in this country being more progressive and I personally think that’s fine.”
Gates also offered advice to students who hope to create a better system of education in the U.S. and reduce global poverty. He said the key was taking an interest in these issues to form “a broader constituency” instead of depending on “a few enlightened leaders.”
“I think, in your young years, to get out and get involved and being a strong voice in terms of your giving, your volunteering time and how to speak out politically will put these issues on a much sounder footing than they’re on today,” Gates said. “I’m thrilled that there is this interest, where GW is at the forefront of it, but it can become much more broader than that.”