My Dinner with Bill Gates

My Dinner with Bill Gates

Africa.com’s CEO writes about how she felt after this special invitation

Bill Gates editorial illustration

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 10 June 2022 -/African Media Agency (AMA)/- I was invited to dine with Bill Gates last week during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The terms of the invitation, which was extended to six others besides myself, were that the discussion would be off-the-record. Therefore, I can’t write about anything discussed that evening. What I can tell you is what we ate, and what I thought about after the dinner.

The menu, prepared by chefs at Microsoft House – the temporary headquarters of all things Microsoft at the Davos conference – was superb. The first course was an Asian beef salad, followed by a main course of rack of veal and the most tender asparagus I’ve ever had. The meal ended with a mango sorbet with fresh fruits. It all tasted as good as it sounds.  

What I thought about afterwards was my own cynicism regarding Gates’ optimism that his plan can prevent the next pandemic. His book on this topic, published just weeks before our dinner, was something I spent a good deal of time understanding in preparation for the dinner discussion. I never doubted the wisdom of what he proposed in the book; but I had, and continue to have, concerns about our global leadership’s ability to receive wise counsel and act in concert, in the interest of humanity, absent selfish nationalistic objections. I listened intently as Bill spoke that evening, and initially considered his optimism to be naive. I admit that it took some time and reflection afterwards for me to appreciate that, had he set out with a cynical view, for example, with regard to his bold plan to cut childhood malaria deaths in half, based on a dim view of global leadership, he would never have achieved that goal. His optimism, I came to realize, is not naive; it is a necessary tool in his arsenal to achieve the global impact he desires.

As I continued to mull over his ambitious, yet practical plan to stave off the next pandemic, I arrived at a sense of gratitude that this unusually capable mind has dedicated its resources to solving crucial societal problems. Going into the dinner, I had an appreciation for his intellect and drive. What I discovered over dinner was his passion and commitment for leaving the world a better place than he found it. Given the vastness of his foundation’s work over the last 22 years, that may sound obvious; but some continue to question his motives. After spending two uninterrupted hours with him over a small dinner table, I can declare, to myself at least, that his motives are genuine. He seems excited about this shiny toy – his agile mind – and he enjoys playing with it, and testing its limits to understand its capabilities. He has chosen to do just that with regard to preventing the next pandemic.

His book on how to prevent the next pandemic is an exercise in the use of that great mind for the common good – a gift to society from a unicorn. Who else has the experience of having scaled one of history’s largest efforts to improve public health globally, a deep understanding of bio-science, epidemiology and statistics, unfettered access to the leading, relevant subject matter experts, and the independence to opine without concerns about political backlash? It seems to me that he might even consider it irresponsible to possess this unparalleled knowledge that can save lives, and not couple it with an optimistic expectation that the world will follow.

In his book, “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic,” Gates has synthesized the learnings from the last two and half years into a practical, easy to digest action plan for those who are committed to ensuring that we learn from our mistakes. He has taken an apolitical view of the countries that have had the best outcomes, and examined what they did right in their management of the novel Coronavirus. He notes that Australia demonstrated a deft orchestration of virus diagnostics – they did early testing widely – and executed lock down policies with great effectiveness, leading Australia to one of the lowest death rates from COVID among wealthy countries. From Japan, he notes that the well established habit of wearing masks served the country well in maintaining low transmission rates. South Africa, in partnership with UNICEF, counteracted the spread of misinformation about the pandemic in rural communities with a multimedia truck with huge LED screens to broadcast local stories and information. South Korea did an excellent job using cell phone data for contact tracing, though he notes that this use of private information would not likely be well received in most democratic countries.  

Gates processes all of this information, together with his deep and vast global public health experience, to inform a plan with three key pillars, to be orchestrated by a newly established, centralized, global pandemic response team that he proposes. The three pillars of his plan are as follows:

1.   Invest in better vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. Successful ideas can take years to research before they are actionable, so the time to invest is not after the start of a pandemic; investment must be part of an on-going plan.

2.   Improve disease monitoring with Global Epidemic Response & Mobilization – GERM. This is one of the most important steps to stop the next pandemic. GERM would be a permanent organization of experts who are fully paid and prepared to mount a coordinated response to a dangerous outbreak at any time. A key aspect of their work would be to ensure preparedness by running “fire drills” – exercises to practice the response protocols for an actual outbreak.

3.   Strengthen health systems – the pandemic showed us that until we are all safe, none of us is safe. Health systems need to be strong in low, middle and high income countries and communities. We need well functioning hospitals, clinics and most importantly, health care workers. These resources can not be developed overnight, and also need investment as part of an on-going plan.

After my dinner with Bill, I was inspired to learn more about him and how he formed his ambitious world views. I read a blog he wrote, in which he quoted the great epidemiologist, Larry Brilliant, who said that “outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Listening to those with unparalleled expertise and experience, and adopting their plans to contain outbreaks before they become pandemics should be the strategy of every world leader. And while I continue to have my concerns about whether global leadership has the vision, and the wherewithal, to take the actions proposed by Gates, and implement such plans effectively, I respect his optimism that his plan will be adopted in some form. Without such optimism, surely it would be impossible. And I close with a quote from another wise man, Nelson Mandela, who used his leadership to overcome seemingly unattainable goals: “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”

Distributed by African Media Agency on behalf of Africa.com.


Teresa Clarke, Chair, CEO and Executive Editor of Africa.com since its founding more than a decade ago, was the first African-American woman named managing director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs & Co. Ms. Clarke, an expert on African investment, served on President Obama’s Advisory Board on Doing Business in Africa. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Leadership Council of the New York Women Corporate Directors. A frequent lecturer on the topic of African investment, she has lectured at the following business schools, among others: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Wharton, Stanford, Oxford, and Lagos Business School. Named one of the Top 25 Women in Business, she currently serves on the board of Arthur J. Gallagher (NYSE:AJG), the global insurance brokerage with operations in 56 countries. She is the former board chair of Australian fintech, Change Financial (ASX:CCA) and she served on the board of Cim Finance (SEM:CIM), a financial services company. Ms. Clarke founded the Student Sponsorship Programme of South Africa, which has awarded over $20 million in scholarships to South Africa’s high performing high school students. She chairs the US board of the Legal Resources Centre, the largest public law organization on the continent of Africa, which employs nearly 100 attorneys and staff working human and civil rights matters. Ms. Clarke earned an A.B. cum laude from Harvard College, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.



Laura Joseph

+27 82 332 0473 (mobile & WhatsApp)

Email: laura.joseph@africa.com

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: African Media Agency.

You might also enjoy

[oceanwp_library id="47269"]

Conférence de Presse en Ligne

Les frontières terrestres ne doivent pas constituer des obstacles à la dissémination de votre message. Grâce à notre service de conférence de presse en ligne, nous vous offrons l’opportunité de vous rapprocher des médias africains, chaque fois que vous en aurez besoin.

Nos services comprennent:

Digital Communications

Today, social networks constitute an organization’s first point of contact with a user and a potential customer. At first glance, you need to convince of the relevance and quality of your content to stimulate and motivate the user to go further. We create consistently inspiring online strategy to meet business objectives, engage stakeholders and enhance our client brand’s reputation internally and externally.


Communication​ digitale

Les réseaux sociaux représentent aujourd’hui le premier point de contact d’une organisation avec un utilisateur et un client potentiel. Au premier coup d’œil, vous devez le convaincre de la pertinence et de la qualité de votre contenu pour l’inciter à aller plus loin. Nous créons pour vous une stratégie de communication précise et adaptée sur les réseaux sociaux pour atteindre les objectifs commerciaux, impliquer les parties prenantes et améliorer la réputation de votre marque en interne et en externe.

Promotion​ d’événements

Le succès d’un événement réside en moitié dans sa promotion. Peu importe la beauté de l’événement, la qualité des orateurs et de l’ordre du jour, si personne ne rapporte ou ne parle de votre événement, vos efforts seront vains. Nous vous aidons à façonner votre récit et à créer un engouement autour de votre événement. De l’annonce de l’événement à la tenue de celui-ci, nous accompagnons votre effort de planification et le reflétons sur toutes les plateformes médiatiques.​

Formation​ Médiatique

Nous fournissons à vos porte-paroles les outils nécessaires pour présenter vos principaux messages et répondre avec confiance et cohérence aux questions. Notre formation est organisée soit à distance ou en présentiel, avec des études de cas réels et des répétitions. Nos clients repartent avec le sentiment d’être à l’aise devant les journalistes et d’agir en tant qu’ambassadeurs de la marque.

Veille​ Médiatique

Nous mesurons votre portée en relations publiques et rendons compte des informations de votre industrie et des activités de vos  concurrents en surveillant la majorité des canaux de diffusion dans toute l’Afrique. Une veille médiatique complète et opportune est essentielle pour s’assurer que vous ne manquez aucune référence à votre marque, que vous êtes constamment informé de ce qui se passe dans votre industrie et que vous êtes prêt à saisir les opportunités et à réduire les risques en temps opportun.

Relations​ Média

Peu importe le lieu où ils se trouvent, nous sommes une source d‘informations fiables pour les journalistes qui écrivent sur l’Afrique. Nous nous connaissons mutuellement et ils nous font confiance, car nous leur fournissons un contenu crédible qui les aide dans leurs tâches. Nous nous entretenons quotidiennement avec des journalistes aux quatre coins du continent, ce qui fait de nous l’un des organismes les plus efficaces pour mener des campagnes de relations avec les médias.

Stratégie et développement de contenu

Nous créons des stratégies de communication intelligentes, bien documentées et spécialisées destinées à vous aider à construire un récit fort qui engagera votre audience. Nous travaillons en synergie avec vous afin de rédiger des communiqués de presse et des articles d’opinions qui alimentent le récit de votre entreprise. Notre équipe a une expérience approfondie dans la création de récits et le développement de contenu multimédia.


C’est le service phare d’AMA. Nous avons mis en place des canaux de diffusion des communiqués de presse auprès des journalistes des 54 États africains ainsi qu’auprès des journalistes américains et européens couvrant les sujets relatifs aux marchés émergents.​

​Nos services comprennent:​

Event Promotion

Half of the success of an event lays in its promotion. Doesn’t matter how beautiful the event is, how wonderful the speakers and the agenda are, if no one reports or talks about your event, your efforts are gone. We help you shape the narrative and create a drumbeat around your event. From the announce all the way to the outcome of the event, we accompany your planning effort and echo it through all media platforms

Media Training

We provide your spokespeople with the tools to present your key messages and answer questions with confidence and coherence. Our training is organised either remotely or face-to- face, with real case studies and rehearsals. Our clients leave feeling comfortable being in front of reporters and acting as brand ambassadors.

Media Monitoring

We measure and report on
your PR reach, industry news, and competitive activity by monitoring most channels in North, West, Central, East and Southern Africa. Comprehensive and timely media monitoring is critical to ensuring that you don’t miss any reporting of your brand,
you’re constantly informed on what’s going on around your business, and you’re ready to capitalise on opportunities and mitigate
risks in a timely fashion..

Media Relations

We have become an authoritative source of news for reporters writing about Africa, wherever they are. We know them, they know us, and they trust us for providing them with timely and accurate content that helps them do their job. We speak to reporters on a daily basis in all corners of the continent and this makes us one of the most effective agencies in running media relations campaigns.

Strategy & Content Development

We create smart and localised communications strategies to help build a strong narrative that will engage your audiences. We partner with you to create press releases and thought leadership pieces that sustain a drumbeat for your company’s narrative. Our team have deep experience in shaping narratives and developing media content.


This is AMA’s flagship service. We have set up channels of distribution towards the journalists of the 54 African states, as well as to American journalists and European journalists covering emerging markets issues.
Our service includes:

Editorial advice

Localised editorial piece when needed

Distribution to the major print, broadcast and online publications along with industry-specific publications

Follow-up calls to secure interview request

Guaranteed distribution to Africa.com

Distribution to Bloomberg, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters

Social Media Reach: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram

Full online monitoring and print monitoring when available. Includesreadership stats and Advertising Value Equivalent

Translation in French, Arabic and Portuguese available