Obama’s Full Speech and Q&A with Bill and Melinda Gates

thank you thank you so much please everybody have a seat have a seat we got work to do here thank you Bill for that introduction more importantly thank you and Melinda for your tireless efforts towards making a better world I’ve been reading about these goalkeepers you guys are pretty inspirational and I am excited to be here with you and whether it’s girls education or global health or climate change you’re setting a standard for the sorts of innovation and persistence and activism that the world desperately needs right now so I could not be prouder and that’s really what I’m going to talk about very briefly before I have a chance for a discussion with Bill and Melinda I want to talk about changing the world I remember sitting down with Bill in Paris a couple of years ago where the world was coming together to hammer out an agreement small agreement to save the planet by taking meaningful action to tackle climate change it’s a threat that may define the contours of this century more than just about anything else here was the interesting thing bill saw this not simply as a challenge but also as an opportunity and I remember him in sort of a matter-of-fact way saying well we’re going to just have to go ahead and invent some new technologies which I said I agree let’s do that although he knows more than me about inventing new technologies but his tone was yes this is hard but we can figure it out it’s hard but it can be done and that spirit a spirit that says to quote I guess myself yes we can rather than that spirit rather than a spirit of despair is is the motor by which we’ve been able to see real progress in reducing the pace of carbon emission increases here in the US and even if at the current moment the federal government is not as engaged in these efforts as I would like nevertheless progress continues because of the efforts of people like tho and a whole host of entrepreneurs and universities and cities and states they are making change around energy policy in America separate and apart from what government is doing and that gives me confidence that we can continue to make progress and my broader point here is is that you tend to believe when bill says we can do something that we can do it and when all of you stand up and say this is something we can do that spirit is infectious and it’s exactly what we need right now we do face extraordinary challenges you’ve heard of many of them in your discussions today you know the nature of these challenges from your work growing economic inequality by changing climate terrorism mass migration still too much extreme poverty still too many girls who are denied an education the rise of nationalism and xenophobia and a pop of politics that says it’s not we but us and then the politics that threatens to turn good people away from the kind of collective action that has always driven human progress so these are real challenges and we can’t sugarcoat them they’re going to take a long time to solve but that can’t discourage any of us from the belief that individually and collectively we can make a difference we can make things better and rather than be daunted by those challenges those challenges should inspire us and excite us because it gives us an opportunity to make our mark on the world and in ways that we haven’t even yet scratched the surface of we have to reject the notion that we’re suddenly gripped by forces that we cannot control we’ve got to embrace the longer and more optimistic view of history and the part that we play in it and if you are skeptical of such optimism I will say something that may sound controversial I used to say this to my staff in the White House young interns who would come in any group of young people that I met with and that is that by just about every measure America is better and the world is better than it was 50 years ago 30 years ago or even 10 years ago and I know that statement doesn’t jibe with the steady stream of bad news and cynicism that were fed through television and Twitter but think about it I was born I mean I know I have gray hair but I don’t consider myself bad old but I was born at a time when women and people of color were systematically routinely excluded from enormous portions of American life today women and minorities have risen up the ranks of business and politics and everywhere else and even if we still have miles to travel and innumerable laws and hearts and minds to change the shift in what this country is and what it means is astonishing remarkable and it’s happened when you measure it against the scope of human history in an instant just since I graduated from college crime rates teen birth rates dropout rates the share of people living in poverty had dropped and in some cases dropped dramatically the share of Americans with college education is up despite a massive global recession in the final years of my presidency the uninsured rate reached a new low the median household income reached a new high that’s here in the United States worldwide our progress is even more remarkable and Bill can rattle off these statistics better than I can but over the past 100 years we’ve come from a world where only a small fraction of women could vote – a world where almost every woman can since the 1950s the global average life expectancy has grown by more than 20 years since 1990 we have cut extreme poverty and childhood mortality in half keep in mind I was in law school in 1990 it seems like yesterday since 2000 we’ve evolved from a world without marriage equality to one where it’s a reality of more than two dozen countries all of this has happened in such a steady march that sometimes we have intensity to take it for granted but I often ask when I meet with young people if you had to choose any moment in history in which to be born and you didn’t know in advance whether you were going to be male or female what country you were gonna be from what your status was you choose right now because the world has never been healthier or wealthier or better educated or in many ways more tolerant or less violent than it is today fewer people are dying young more people are living not only longer but better more girls are in school more adults can read more children get the vaccines that they need despite the enormous conflicts that break our hearts around the world it’s demonstrable that fewer people are being killed in wars and conflicts than ever before this would be the time you’d want to be showing up on this planet and these trends are real they do not make us complacent but they should spur us to action because it shows despite them they say them the naysayers and the cynicism that in fact change can happen they’re not the result of mysterious forces of chance they happen because countless people like you toiling for many years chose to make this progress some like Bill and Melinda have enormous wealth and influence others like Justin Trudeau who I knows addressed you earlier have formal political offices but the majority of people who made these advances were citizens doctors nurses entrepreneurs clergy moms community leaders activists union leaders who mobilized and organized and voted and innovated and pushed for change and by the way they knew at every step of the way that they would not get everything they wanted as fast as they wanted they knew that progress required struggle and perseverance and discipline and faith they knew that sometimes for every two steps forward you’ll take a step back but they made things better and this is something I always had to emphasize to my staff when I was president better is good you laugh but sometimes people forget that I will take better every time so that’s what’s needed today the engagement of everyone who wants to see a better future for our children and it can be frustrating I’ll take an example here in the United States over the past eight years thousands upon thousands of Americans threw themselves into the collective effort of reforming our health care system those of you who live in countries that already have the universal health care are trying to figure out what’s the controversy here I am too these people but you know the folks who did the work it wasn’t just policy wonks it wasn’t just politicians it was moms and dads people who had the experience of a sick child or crushing medical bills that threatened to bankrupt them maybe a parent who was lost to cancer that had that person got a regular checkup and might have been caught earlier and those voices from every walk of life in every corner of the country against all odds made a difference and for the first time more than 90% of Americans know the security of health insurance paying more for insurance or being denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition or because you are a woman that’s not a thing anymore we got rid of that and people are alive today because of it and that’s progress now the legislation that we passed was full of things that still need to be fixed it wasn’t perfect but it was better and so when I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress for the 50th their 60th time with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage or roll back protections for older Americans or people with pre-existing conditions the cancer survivor the expecting mom or the child with autism or asthma for whom coverage once again would be almost unattainable it is aggravating and all of this being done without any demonstrable economic or actuarial or plain common-sense rationale it it frustrates and it’s certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents but typically that’s how progress is won and how progress is maintained on every issue we have to stand up for each other recognize that progress is never inevitable that it often can be fragile it’s in need of constant renewal and our individual progress and our collective progress depends on our willingness to roll up our sleeves and work and not be afraid to work so in conclusion each of us can make a difference and I know I’m preaching to the choir because otherwise you wouldn’t be a goalkeeper but many of you are young and maybe have only seen forward momentum and may not have seen backward momentum yet many of you may confront hurdles and roadblocks and disappointments in the future and when that happens that’s the test that the test is not how do you feel when things are going good or when you are at a cool conference in New York with Bill and Melinda Gates and will.i.am right the test is when you’re in the field and you’re on the ground and you are doing work and people are resisting or misunderstanding or purposely undermining efforts that you know can make a difference and how do you respond to that and what I’m suggesting here today is is that your response has to be to reject cynicism and reject pessimism and push forward with a certain infectious and relentless optimism not blind optimism not one that ignores the scale and the scope of challenges but that hard-earned optimism that’s rooted in the stories of very real progress that have occurred throughout human history and the recognition that our successes evens though sometimes they’re small or incomplete accumulate they built and they create a trajectory that’s better and will mean some girl somewhere getting an education that otherwise she would have been that’ll mean some farmer being able to cultivate a crop to feed his family and if enough of them do it feed a nation that’s what you’re fighting for at every moment because each new generation stands on the successes of the previous generation there’s like a relay race that we’re running each generation reaches up standing on that previous generation and bends that arc of history in the direction of more freedom and more opportunity and more justice that’s why I spend so much time when I was president convening young leaders on every continent that I visited that’s why in my post presidency my emphasis is going to be on training the next generation of leaders to take their own crack at changing the world through the Obama foundation which will be based in Chicago but we’ll have projects and programs and digital networks all across the globe and I’m hoping I get a chance to work with some of you because I have great faith in you just as I know Bill and Melinda have great faith in you and I’m certain that if you keep pushing forward then America and the world are going to be just fine thank you very much [Applause] [Music] you have some theme music here that’s good one of the things that strikes me in the conversations we’ve had in this room today as you know earlier as you said you know he started with youth movement his own country and rose to be the prime minister and you started with as a community organizer and so and rose to be President you understand the power of moving people along even people who aren’t necessarily on your bus when you’ll start talk to us a little bit about how you think of movements around the world and the power of those now and what leaders can learn from them well I’d make a couple of observations number one is that most big change most human progress is driven by young people who don’t know any better and figure why can’t we do something different old people get comfortable or cranky or protective of their status or set in their ways there is a reason why if you look at for example here in the United States the civil rights movement the leaders of those movements were in their 20s dr. King was 26 when he started 39 when he was killed and if you if you canvassed the world oftentimes that is the the impetus people asking in in ways that I think are familiar to many not why not but not why but why not why do things have to be the way they are so so that’s point number one that the young people I think can make an enormous difference number two is that because most of us now either live in democracies or countries that purport to be democracies because we we have won the the battle of ideas that says governments and our common efforts have to be rooted in the legitimacy of people there is more power than ever in people being able to band together and collectively push for initiatives that are gonna make change in their lives that’s something that for most of human history was unimaginable that is one of the amazing transitions that has taken place and you will notice that even in autocracies today there is the at least the pretense of democracy because people believe that governments that are rooted in people are more legitimate and we that’s a battle we won and now have to make real wherever we can that’s point number two point number three is simple math in most places if you want to get something done whether it’s a smarter climate change policy or health care for people or more funding for girls education you’ve got to have a majority of people supporting it you got to have votes you have to have the allocation of resources and that requires mobilization and a game of addition rather than subtraction so and and the fourth point I would make would be the internet now has turbocharged the capacity for us to develop movements in ways that we had not imagined before now the last thing I’ll say so that I don’t sound like the still in the US Senate and filibustering is is I guess a smaller point but a profound one that I tried to reinforce with my staff at every level of my public work and and continue to do to this day I actually thinks organizing mobilizing starting movements starts with a story and you can’t create a story that moves large numbers of people unless you are able to listen and hear to the story of the person next to you the story of your neighbors the stories of your co-workers the stories of your community the story of people who are not like you and so one of one of the things that I think is is important is for us to learn how to listen to each other and learn how it is that we came to be who we are think the way we do because that understanding of other people’s stories is how you end up ultimately forging bonds and creating the glue that creates movements Montgomery in India it started with his understanding of India’s story and his own story and seeing Indians in South Africa discriminated against and recognizing that there were traditions and myths and a power in those stories that ended up driving out the most powerful empire on earth it wasn’t guns and increasingly that will be the case and certainly that will be the case if we’re able if we want to move forward the sustainable development goals that we’re talking about is we’ve got to be able to tell a story not only to big donors or politicians but also to for example people here in the United States who may feel like look I’ve got my own problems why should I be worrying about somebody on the other side of the world you have to say when we got in the philanthropy ins particularly studied global health we were stunned at the progress we had we’d had no idea and it’s it’s kind of amazing if you ask even very well-educated people you know what’s happened with vaccinations what’s happened with HIV they don’t know the the positive story and a little bit the news is always gonna focus on the setbacks because that’s what happened that day the gradual progress doesn’t fit that paradigm and even people who raise money for these causes I have to say you know sometimes even some of the material we create is talking about the piece that remains as though it it it’s never improved do you have any thoughts on how we get this more positive sense of progress going and what how we would get that word out well look you’re talking to somebody who for seven years tried to get the word and nobody at least about 40% of country didn’t believe me until I was gone and then suddenly they believed it so with that caveat I’d make a couple observations one your right build there there is the the nature of the media and maybe just the human brain is to fasten on what’s wrong not on what’s right and I’m not sure we’re gonna be able to change that right visual displays of a fire are much more interesting than just a building sitting there and so the fire is gonna make the news the building sitting there nicely and people are walking their dogs in front of them stuff that will not make the news so so I don’t think that we can count on conventional media necessarily to spread the word this is though where the power of the Internet has not I think been harnessed the way it needs to be particularly when we think about young people and young audiences Malia and Sasha consume information differently than I do and I think that those of us who’ve been involved with policy work are still putting out these reports with pie charts and this and that and that’s not interesting to them but stories and visual representations of progress can go viral there’s a hunger for it it’s just that we don’t systematically think about it and and so I think when the three of us were talking a while back I mentioned that one of the one of the areas that I’m deeply interested in is how do we build serve in a digital platform whereby people can go to find out what’s happening that is moving the progress on issues and then activate because I heard somebody I think maybe Trevor saying an important point one of I’m very interested in how online communities can move offline how this incredible power to convene through hashtags and tweets and this and then the other eventually leads to people meeting each other and talking to each other and I I think that we have not fully tapped that as a way of spreading the word about progress that has been made I also think it is important for us to put some friendly pressure on leaders to tell good stories and to make sure that we don’t that we aren’t so rigid in our partisanship or ideologies that we are not willing to acknowledge and share when somebody who might be of a different political persuasion has done something really good even if it runs contrary to our short-term political interests I mean I always used to say as as big as the differences were between me and my president predecessor George W Bush that what his administration initiated with PEPFAR was a singularly important achievement that we needed to sustain and build on and I didn’t think that somehow detracted for me to say that somebody from another political party did something really smart and really good and deserve credit for it and and and I feel as if these days with within our political circles that’s a hard thing for people to bring themselves to do [Applause] one of the things that bill and I had the great privilege of doing when you were in the White House late in your presidency was spending a little bit of casual time on a Saturday night and your daughters were in and out of your home Willie and Sasha and you’ve been to our house earlier this summer and saw Rory and Phoebe two of our three in and out of our house our daughter Jen is here in the front row tell me about Jen’s like thanks mom that’s our job to embarrass you that’s what I do job none right there but you know Jen’s about the age of your girls a little bit older but how have you and Michelle thought about talking to your children about being leaders in the world and taking up this mantle of what needs to be done in the world well what we’ve tried to communicate their entire lives is that each of us has responsibilities when they were small the responsibilities were small my say when you Margeaux potty and then as you get older your responsibilities grow and and but but part of what we are think try to communicate is is that being responsible is an enormous privilege that’s what marks you as a fully grown human is that you that other people rely on you that you have influence that you can make your mark that if you do something well that that will improve other people’s lives that the kinds of values that we’ve tried to instill many of them your basic homespun values like kindness and consideration and empathy and hard work that those are our tools by which you can shape the world around you in a way that feels good and so what we’ve what we’ve tried to encourage is that the sense that it’s not somebody else’s job it’s your job and I think that is that that’s a epic that they’ve embraced now they will choose to participate in in different ways because they have different temperaments and different strengths I think one of the mistakes that we sometimes make is to think that there’s just one way of making a difference or being involved you know if you are a brilliant engineer you don’t have to make a speech you can create an app that allows an amplification or the scaling up of some something that is really powerful if you are somebody who likes to care for people you you don’t have to go out and lead the protest march you can mentor some kids or work at a at a local health clinic that is going to make a difference so there are a lot of different ways in which to make a contribution and we try to emphasize that that to them as well and then the third thing that we try to try to encourage is what I mentioned in my earlier remarks which is that you have to be persistent I I always tell people that my early work as a community organizer in Chicago taught me an incredible amount but I didn’t set the world on fire you know I got some public parks for communities that needed them I started some after-school programs we we helped set up a job training program for people who had been laid off of work that those communities weren’t suddenly transformed do they still had huge problems but I took that experience and then I was able to build on it and I think so often we get impatient because change does not look as if sometimes it’s not as discernible or immediate or impactful as we had imagined in our in our minds and we get disappointed and we get frustrated and for for me by the way that’s advice in life and not just in social change I assume occasionally there was a bug in the software Melvyn every once in a while you know and we got a patch it again this is annoying but but that’s how I was I wasn’t known for my patience bill did you have one yeah so this week part of the reason we’re all in New York because the United Nations is meeting and you know some of these global institutions were created right after World War two World Bank World Health Organization UNICEF they’ve been key partners for many of these causes and yet there is definitely a cynicism about their bureaucracy their efficiency and their ability to change in fact a very few exceptions like Global Fund and gobby we haven’t had any new one so over the next 10 or 20 years do you think these global institutions in terms of reform or creating new ones it for pandemics and climate change can they step up to play the role we need them to play well let me first of all say that the biggest problems we confront no one nation is going to be able to solve on its own not even an as powerful as the United States of America there are times during my presidency where I was attacked for not claiming that we could go on our own as if that was an expression of weakness no I I believe that the United States is in fact an indispensable nation and that many of the initiatives and much of the progress that we’ve made could not have been done unless we underwrote those efforts and I’ll use as an example of our handling of Ebola which in retrospect I think a lot of historians would argue was one of the if not the most effective emergency public health intervention in history we we had to create the architecture and the infrastructure and send our military in to create runways where the Chinese could then land planes to deliver goods and we had to provide guarantees to the Europeans so that if they sent health workers they could feel some assurance that they could be medevacked out if they got infected so so so I take great pride in what the United States can do but if we’re talking about climate change or global migration spurred on by drought or famine or you know ethnic conflicts we’re not going to be able to solve those things by ourselves and as you as you indicated don’t some if we get an airborne pandemic unlike a slow-moving slow disease that’s difficult to transmit like Ebola if we hadn’t built ahead of time some some structures to do with this millions of people could be adversely impacted so so number one you have to start with the premise and believe that multilateral institutions and efforts are important and you don’t have to cede all your sovereignty or it doesn’t make you less patriotic to believe that you just have to have some sense and read so that’s point number one point number two is that in fact there are problems with existing multilateral institutions not surprisingly they were designed post-world War two for the most part and they couldn’t have anticipated everything that’s happened there is bureaucracy and inertia and resistance to reform so it is important for every country every leader to be honest about the need for reform and not simply think narrowly about well I want to keep certain numbers of slots or votes or this or that at least on many of the issues where there shouldn’t be a big ideological controversy look reforming the Security Council that’s something that goes to core geopolitical interests and is a huge difficult and perhaps unachievable goal any time soon on the other hand making sure that the WHL works well and that we have a sufficient security trigger when a pandemic or something else happens that is achievable and it shouldn’t be controversial it’s just a matter of digging in and getting the work done when it comes to girls education there may be cultural resistance in some places to actually getting it done but generally speaking there’s not a there aren’t that many folks who will explicitly say I’m sorry we don’t want to educate our girls and women as a practical matter they may you may see that in in certain countries but at the level of our multilateral institutions there should be a broad consensus and so what what I would hope for is that we come up with concrete plans in those areas oftentimes with respect to the the sustainable development goals our areas where there is a consensus on at least the aims if not always the means and think about how can we improve delivery systems how can we improve their operations on a day to day basis but ultimately the last point I would make that requires leaders to feel as if it matters and is important that in turn requires the public think that it matters and is important because unfortunately what you discover is is that most politicians and elected leaders are followers and not leaders they they’re called leaders but most of the time they follow they they see what do their constituencies care about and they respond and one of the biggest challenges that we’ve had is that and I speak most intimately by the United States the general public responds with enormous generosity when they see a specific story of a child who’s hungry or somebody who’s been stricken by you know a flood but when it comes to just a general knowledge or interest in development funding not only do they not know much but they oftentimes have a negative reaction because their view is we’ve got a lot of needs here at home why are we sending money overseas sadly it is one of the areas the only areas where Democrats and Republicans agree in this in the United States is on foreign aid and repeatedly you’ve seen public opinion surveys where people wildly overestimate what we spend on foreign aid they think 25 percent of the federal budget is going to foreign aid and helping people other than folks in their towns and their communities so the need for public education in the way as we talked about that promote that that tell a good story that point out that this is actually a bargain that connect what we do with respect to development to security not in a perfect correlation but to say that look if you’ve got failed States and generally some of that’s gonna spill over on us if you have economies that are failing ironically if you are concerned about immigration and mass migration it’s really a good investment to make countries work so that people can eat because then it’s not like they’re dying to get on a dinghy and float across an ocean if the place the country where they were born and they loved was functioning so so thinking about ways in which we describe this both as an economic imperative a environmental imperative a security imperative the more we can influence public opinion the more you’ll see politicians respond that doesn’t mean that there is not an enormous role to play for NGOs philanthropy and so forth but and I’ve said this to both Bill and Melinda even with the incredible generosity and enormous skill with which they’ve deployed their their resources over the years the u.s. budgets still bigger a lot and you know you there’s this notion that you can that I hear sometimes from young people that you can work around government and work around politics because it’s too messy or it’s corrupt or it’s you know I just don’t like those folks or what have you I’m sorry guys that’s not gonna work if you want to get done what you’re talking about you will have to combine effective philanthropy and technical know-how and you know smart policy engineering with getting your hands dirty trying to change public opinion and trying to ensure that the people who are in charge of the levers of power are responsive and and that will require work and I guarantee you you will be disappointed at points but what a glorious thing it is to be responsible for saving the world that’s your responsibility and arm thanks thank you so much

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