He described his frustration at being on a global health panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, several years ago and being bored rigid. "It was so boring even I couldn't bear it," Gates quipped. The contrast between that panel and a Microsoft launch event he'd just attended were stark where people were really excited about version 13 of a new piece of software. "I love getting people excited about software," he said. "But why can't we generate even more excitement for saving lives?"
The issue isn't that people don't care about the world's ills, Gates argued, it's that they don't know what to do to resolve them.
"Even with the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news, it is still a complex enterprise to get people to truly see the problem," he said. Using computers, the Internet and breakthroughs in biotechnology, Gates believes that people can begin to cut through the complex problems of poverty and disease and start to improve lives.
Gates challenged both Harvard University and its graduating students.
For Harvard, he encouraged the academics to think about applying more of their resources to dealing with the world's issues and to ensure that their students left the college educated about global poverty, hunger and the prevalence of curable diseases that continue to kill millions of children.
For students, he exhorted each of them to embrace one of the world's complex issues and become a specialist on it, whether that issue becomes the focus of their career or more of a part-time passion. "Don't let complexity stop you. Be activists," Gates said. "Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives."