September 20

Francisco Noguera

Live @ TEDxChange: Hans Rosling and the Fight against Over-Simplification

The morning got started with coffee and light breakfast with a group of bloggers and development media representatives. We were soon joined by the Directors of Family Planning and Agricultural Development of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and soon thereafter by Melinda French Gates herself. I had two biases as I listened and engaged in the conversation: one was around the role of entrepreneurship, markets and enterprise in leapfrogging the progress that is being made towards the Millernium Development Goals.

My second bias or hope for the conversation was for it to be optimistic, and focused on a positive vision of development challenges. Think of a Heath Brothers’ Switch mind frame for development… finding what works and doing more of it, rather than focusing on what doesn’t. Mrs. Gates delivered. Her brief remarks left the room with a sense of optimism and possibility, and with a hint of what her talk would focus on: the Foundation’s willingness to learn from actors across sectors and adopt their good practices to better serve the poor.

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Hans Rosling was first on stage and started by lauding the mind frame behind the Millenium Development Goals. In particular, he applauded their concreteness and their focus on measurable milestones, which allows stakeholders to steer in a concrete direction over the next few years and adapt their actions to what’s needed at different points in time. He was at TEDxChange, he said, to prove wrong the skeptics out there who didn’t believe progress was being achieved.

Child mortality was the first figure dissected by Mr. Rosling. Indeed, the African average of 1.8% annual reduction in this figure sounds less than promising, but he was quick to remind us of his anti-average and anti-simplification bias to data analysis. “It’s time for us to move beyond seeing sub-Saharan Africa as one single place.” His Gapminder trend analysis showed how great progress has been made by countries like Kenya, and the not-as-fast progress made in other countries where challenges remain, like Congo.

He then proceeded to show the cross-relationship among various development issues, and particularly that between fertility (measured by average family size) and child mortality. His main point was that population stabilization would be critical to achieve development goals like reduction of child mortality, and just as important for environmental concerns and our planet’s capacity to carry over an ever-growing population. For more on Mr. Rosling’s views on population growth, make sure to catch his latest TED talk.

Mrs. Gates was next. An article about her remarks will follow shortly.