My lunch with Bill Gates yesterday at Tech*Ed in Orlando was very cool. His first word to us was "super" as was his second.
After snapping a few photos, we got right down to it. There were about 12 of us from the community who were invited and and we were eager to chat. First question: "Hey Bill, what are you going to do with your free time?" Bill indicated that he is going to be "super" busy and will be working full time on his foundation.
We then got into talking about schools and how he envisions most schools around the world to be textbook free and just use computers. Then about how university level learning will be done via the Internet for lectures. In poor countries "best of breed" lectures can be put on DVD and repeated. Bill was blown away by the organic chemistry distance learning made available by MIT and wants to bring this model to everyone. He said that the traditional lecture will die at the university level. He was extremely passionate about teachers, schools, and education in general.
Andrew Brust asked about the UN, and Bill complained that there were too many agencies with more TLAs than Microsoft. (WHO, WFP, etc..)
I got to finally get a word in edgewise. :) I had lots of questions sent to me by readers of this blog ranging from "What's next" to "Why not just buy the Mets, that is charity at this point."
I asked about Microfinancing. The answer surprised me. While Bill's foundation gave $300 million in total to microfinance, Bill said the micro-financing had too high of interest rates and the opportunities to make loans were not as abundant as you would think. Bill had a passion for micro-savings.
He said that too many poor people have no access to banks due to distance and bank fees. So banks become something only the rich can have access to in many countries. (Including the US in many regards too, witness check-cashing shops in the inner city.) Bill went on to say how most poor will stash their currency somewhere or buy jewelry, only to get stolen or inflated away. Or some will buy livestock as a way to store their wealth and save only to be stolen or come down with disease. Bill described a system that he worked on that will allow poor people in remote areas to make microdeposits in the bank via a local retailer. Then they can view their balance via that retailer or on their cell phone if they have one. Then can spend the money via local retailers or via an ATM. He also spoke about the need for a quality interest rate for the microsavings. This was really amazing, all you hear about these days is micro-loans, but Bill turned the tables on everyone wants to combine micro-loans with micro-bank accounts. Makes complete sense.
The last question by Kate Gregory, was on how does Bill deal with the public sector/volunteer sector's non type A personality. Bill basically indicated that he was results oriented and brings the same passion and project management skills to his non-profit work.
I can't say that I had lunch with Bill Gates since he did not really eat, we just kept asking him questions and he never really got to eat his lunch. All in all he spent about 1.5 hours with us and it was great. I have to say that it was really inspirational to talk the whole time with him about non-technical issues (not a single techie question was asked). Here is a man who is one of the greatest technical minds (still!) around, the chairman of a Fortune 500 company, and we talked about his passion for his foundation. I am looking forward to what his foundation will do with him working there full time.