The Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Bill Gates, has urged young innovators and funders to prioritise equity in distribution of proceeds and benefits of science and innovation.
Gates, who said this yesterday, at a forum with students and young innovators from Nigeria and across Africa, spoke on, ‘The Power of Youth in Science and Innovation’ and how it could accelerate positive change and contribute to a brighter future for Africa.
Themed ‘Advancing Africa: Unleashing the Power of Youth in Science and Innovation’, the hybrid event was co-hosted by the Lagos Business School and Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), in partnership with Africa.com and Channels Television with support from Centre for Communication and Social Impact (CCSI).
In his speech, Gates said: “I am a huge believer in the power of science and innovation to help people lead long, healthy lives.
“But one of the big lessons I have learned is that the benefits don’t automatically reach everyone.
“To do that, the people creating new breakthroughs, the people funding them, and the people getting them into the world all need to prioritise equity.”
Noting that progress had not been equally distributed, he highlighted examples such as poor digital access for many Nigerians and inconsistent availability of health services, education, and employment – especially for women.
This is because in Nigeria, the gender gap in employment has increased 25 per cent in the last five years where men are twice as likely as women to have mobile money accounts, he said.
Gates, who was visiting Nigeria for the first time since 2018, also commended Nigerian youth and many Nigerian partners whom the Gates Foundation had worked with for more than a decade.
These included scientists who are scaling up new interventions that save mothers and babies, researchers who are helping smallholder farmers thrive in the face of climate change and grow more nutritious foods, and companies that are expanding access to digital financial tools.
“When it comes to making the world a better place talented young people are the world’s most important asset,” Gates said.
“Nigeria has one of the biggest youth populations in the world, and it’s growing fast. That represents a lot of potential skills and passion to solve big problems,” he added.
Going down memory lane he said: “Ever since I was a teenager, writing computer code on a terminal at my high school, and later at Microsoft, I have loved the feeling of innovating to make something a little better for people—or a lot better.
I’m sure you know this feeling too.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for you to continue to make a difference in the world, because of the unprecedented potential of new technologies.
“Even though Nigerians are still facing many of the challenges I talked about five years ago—and you’re having to contend with economic instability and security threats—I have a lot of faith that your generation will persevere and improve lives throughout Nigeria and beyond.
“When it comes to making the world a better place, talented young people are a powerful asset.
“Nigeria has one of the biggest youth populations in the world, and it’s growing fast. That represents a lot of potential skills and passion to solve big problems.
“Yesterday I met some impressive Nigerians whom the Gates Foundation has been partnering with for years. These scientists are improving seeds, fertilizer, and biopesticides so farmers can thrive in the face of climate change and grow crops free of toxins.
“And I met with a researcher scaling up an effective way to reduce anemia in pregnant women.”
Therefore, for young people to shine like this, he said they needed support, starting with a great education.
“In this capacity, Nigeria has a strong foundation, with some of the best educational and research institutions across the continent. In Africa, Nigeria is a hub for venture capital and financial technology.
“There are also many exciting innovations in the global pipeline that are going to improve lives here in Nigeria. They’re going to prevent infectious diseases, provide life-saving interventions for mothers and babies, make food more nutritious, and give women more convenient contraception options.
“Down the road, artificial intelligence will be applied in ways that will bring quality health care and education to more people,” he added.
Gates’ remarks were followed by a Q&A session with the audience and in his responses, he emphasised ways he sees Nigeria’s youth collaborating across sectors and encouraging the country’s leaders to follow through on commitments to make life in Nigeria better for everyone.