Pupils at Deptford Green school in Lewisham were thrilled when an unexpected guest speaker arrived on Wednesday – Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Gates’ visit was arranged after English teacher Keely Wilson applied to Speakers for Schools, a project founded by the BBC’s Robert Peston that aims to provide inspirational speakers for state schools.
Ian Pace, assistant headteacher at Deptford Green, said the school’s international links, which include a partnership with St Kizito School in Kampala, Uganda, had helped secure the visit.
“We couldn’t believe it,” he said. “The students were incredibly excited – [they’re] all still really buzzing about it.”
Listed by Forbes as the world’s second richest man in 2011, the billionaire told students about his early career and the path that took him from Harvard drop-out to world-renowned software magnate.
He went on to discuss his current philanthropic work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity set up by Gates and his wife. The foundation has committed over $25 billion in funding for a range of projects, focusing on fighting disease and alleviating poverty in the developing world.
“The goal is equity,” said Gates on his work to combat diseases like polio that have been eradicated in the western world. “If we don’t have these diseases, why should people in Africa or Asia?”
He then took part in a special edition of the BBC’s ‘World Have Your Say’ podcast with pupils from Deptford Green and schools in Uganda, Russia, Kenya and Libya, who asked questions via video link.
Gates said diseases like HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoea disproportionately affect the world’s poor, but real progress has been made in fighting them.
Speaking about the foundation’s work fighting HIV, he said: “HIV has really gotten people to think about the world as one place. Why should people in our country get [antiretroviral] drugs, and just because you were born in another country not get those drugs?
“We want to make sure that everybody who needs them gets those drugs, and then over time we want to get less people to be infected – we need to invent a vaccine so that we can stop this disease.”
He spoke about his optimism for the future, saying: “We have this economic crisis that creates some real budget challenges, but every year things are getting better – less malaria deaths, new vaccines, new drugs. The world is getting richer.”