September 19, 2019

5 Unforgettable Lines from Gates Goalkeepers

By Atul Tandon

Each year, Bill and Melinda Gates release a report that compiles data on our collective global progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. This Goalkeepers report is a touchstone for those of us in the development community. It reminds us of the progress we have already made, and that optimism is supported by overwhelming data that the world is indeed getting better. At the same time, it calls us to action—pointing to the wise investments, critical changes, and big opportunities the Gates Foundation has identified.

As I read the Gates Goalkeepers Report this week, it only reinforced the importance of Opportunity’s work and our areas of focus.

I encourage you to read the full report, but in the interim, here are the five points still on my mind:

1. “This lack of access to education and jobs [for women and girls] is destructive for everyone. It keeps women disempowered, limits their children’s life chances, and slows down economic growth.”

At Opportunity, we have seen the truth of this statement time and again. Women and girls are central to our ability to make lasting progress in the fight against extreme poverty. Without empowering, educating, and investing in women and girls, we won’t get anywhere.

There are still 130 million girls out of school; women perform 66% of the world’s work yet only earn 10% of the world’s income; and 95% of the world’s economies have at least one law that impedes women’s economic opportunities. These are the challenges we still face, even though we have the solutions and the means to address them. Our motivation is closing this gap and ensuring that girls stay in school and women are able to build better futures for themselves and their families.

It’s why I traveled to the United Nations last week to speak at Ideagen’s Global Goals 2030 Women & Girls Summit—because a woman’s lack of opportunity isn’t just a miss for her, it’s a miss for all of us. 

2. “In the case of health, the priority needs to be primary care.”

In my home country of India, Opportunity has seen the importance of primary health care through our network of Community Health Leaders. Armed with the same knowledge Bill and Melinda Gates share in their report, we noticed that the most cost-efficient and effective way to make strides on health was to prevent people from becoming sick in the first place.

Women like Phool are trained as Community Health Leaders, learning to provide basic health services in their communities. They teach their neighbors about hygiene and healthy behaviors like breastfeeding and using mosquito nets. These local leaders prioritize primary care at the village level, thus reducing the need for larger, more sophisticated medical facilities.

3. “…most countries in the world are approaching universal primary school enrollment. The priority now is to make sure that all schools provide a high-quality education.”

This is the very same philosophy held by Andrew McCusker, our head of Education Finance who regularly reminds me that it’s not just access to education that we’re after—it’s the quality of the education once students are in the classroom.

At Opportunity, we’ve begun to address this challenge at scale through our EduQuality program. Through a series of self-evaluation tools known as “Pathways to Excellence,” educators create holistic school improvement and development plans. As proprietors utilize digital tools and resources, they are also supported at the local level through School Clusters—small networks of schools that meet regularly to share challenges and best practices. It’s our way of improving the quality of education with the people who know their students' needs better than anyone else.

4. “Now comes the turning point of this story: India’s pioneering of what is known as ‘the JAM trinity.’ The J stands for Jan Dhan Yojana, an Indian government program to help poor people open bank accounts. The A stands for Aadhaar, a program to provide every Indian resident with a unique ID linked to biometric authentication like fingerprints. And the M stands for mobile phones, which are quickly becoming ubiquitous in India.”

Just this week, our Head of Digital Finance, Rosa Wang, posted a blog that shared the stories of two women she had met in India for whom technology had changed everything. And while she didn’t use “JAM trinity” language, the same truth was evident.

In India, and in Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, and countless other countries, too, technology is changing the story.

Around the world, bank accounts, biometric identification, and mobile phones are transforming the way people—women especially—participate in the global economy. At Opportunity, we are now serving 4.5 million clients with digital solutions—opening doors and connecting people to the tools and resources they need to create opportunities.  

5. “Every calculation a farmer makes is based on weather. Smallholder farmers are very good agronomists…”

In a recent conversation with Tim Strong, who leads Opportunity’s Agriculture Finance program, we discussed what it looks like for smallholder farmers to be successful. First, an increase in farm productivity, yielding more food now. Second, an increase in both the price and income they receive from their produce, so that farmers have more savings for the future. And third, a level of predictability and stability in farming so that smallholder farmers can go from simply surviving to becoming change agents in their communities.

As I read this portion of the report, I was reminded that success for farmers is both absolutely critical and incredibly difficult to control. We are increasingly reaching out to rural communities because we know that’s where the need is—but at the same time, this creates complicated, highly variable work. What an important note from Gates to value both the skills of our agriculture clients and the tremendous challenges they face.


I encourage you to read the Gates Goalkeepers Report. I hope it will both inspire and challenge you, as it did me. Because, yes, we have made significant progress that deserves celebration. But there are also countless inequalities that we still face.

I’ll leave you with one last line from the report that I hope you will seriously consider: “No one’s life should be a roll of the dice. Were you born, as we were, with the odds in your favor? Or are you one of the billions of people born with the odds against you? Our goal is to even the odds for everyone.”

We can help even those odds. I invite you to join us.

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