Bill Gates, Hans Rosling, and the 2012 Global Poverty Ambassadors

I’ve been absent from this blog over the past month, but what better way to kick off the new year than with the news that I’ve been selected as one of The Global Poverty Project‘s 2012 Global Poverty Ambassadors! This means that I’ll be raising awareness about extreme poverty within my community and will be trained to deliver the 1.4 Billions Reasons presentation, the very thing that got me blogging about extreme poverty.

My selection also meant that I was invited to hear Hans Rosling, a professor of global health from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and co-founder of Gapminder, and Bill Gates speak at the 2012 Global Poverty Ambassadors launch event.

The enthusiasm in the Shaw Library at the London School of Economics was palpable as 70 freshly recruited Global Poverty Ambassadors gathered together for the launch of the 2012 Global Poverty Ambassador programme. Upon walking into the library we received Fairtrade certified cotton t-shirts from Epona Clothing and after a few introductions from The Global Poverty Project team we were huddled together in formation, making small talk with the man who also photographs the Royal family while we waited for Bill Gates to arrive. He was whisked in, gave us a quick “hi,” and after a few quick flashes he was whisked off to squeeze in one more appointment before delivering his annual letter outlining the priorities for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the upcoming year.

The auditorium was abuzz as students, ambassadors, and others community leaders talked and tweeted about extreme poverty, #billsletter, and #gppambassadors. Hans Rosling spoke first and, true to his usual presentation style, used data in interesting and entertaining ways to explain that ending extreme poverty will not cause the world’s population to continue to sky-rocket as it has done over the last fifty years, but will actually cause the world’s population to level off at about 9-10 billion people. He explained that the average number of children per household decreases as a country moves along the spectrum from developing to developed, which is evident in the Western world where the average number of children per household is 2.5. Rosling revealed the importance of using data to disprove the myths we all believe that keep us from achieving major progress and ending extreme poverty. Rosling also highlighted a crucial point: “People say we need to educate the poor. No, it is more important to listen to the poor.”

Bill Gates’ annual letter was hopeful and highlighted the importance of agriculture and vaccinating against disease in the effort to end extreme poverty. “We are making incredible progress,” he said and noted the importance of sharing the positive stories about the progress being made, especially during the present economic downturn. One of the most recent success stories comes from India, which celebrated one full year without a case of polio earlier this month. India was considered one of the most difficult countries in which to tackle and eradicate polio and now it is well on its way to complete eradication. You can read Gates’ annual letter in full here.

The official ambassador training won’t begin until the end of February, but I think that at the heart of the role is sharing these good news stories. As Gates said, “there’s a lot of reasons to be hopeful” and I’m looking forward to sharing that hope in the year ahead.