The One Problem That Bill Gates Could Not Solve

Lance Ng
5 min readSep 23, 2019

Gates and Buffett spent their fortunes tackling world problems. But there was one that even men of their brains and wealth couldn’t overcome.

Source: Netflix documentary “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates

I am 42 this year. When I was a kid, I looked at the world’s problems and decided that only a huge amount of wealth and influence could solve them.

Growing up further I begun to feel that global issues like climate change and poverty could only be eradicated by big business, since the motives were much more straightforward than politics and politicians. Give a businessman enough profit, and he will act on solving the problem.

I never got there to do all that. But Bill Gates did. And he proceeded to try and change the world with his massive wealth, spending some 5 billion a year on various philanthropic efforts through his foundation.

However, watching a recent Netflix documentary on Bill Gates, I begun to wonder if I was wrong all these years.

200 million down the toilet

“When Bill Gates stepped down from Microsoft in 2008, he was worth more than 58 billion dollars”

Shortly after his retirement, Gates’ wife Melinda read an article about how children in the developing world were dying at the rate of three million a year from diarrhea. She had a young daughter and sympathized with the mothers who lost their children to a condition that was considered so trivial in the developed world.

They proceeded to spend 200 million over the next seven years to overcome the problem of providing self-sustaining, cost-efficient sanitation systems and modern toilets for half the world’s population that still lacked proper toilets. This was the root cause of poor sanitation and hence, diarrhea.

In the end, Gates overcame this problem. Today, one-third of Dakar uses the Omni-processor he created to treat fecal sludge. This compact, self-sustaining mini-sewage plant requires no external power or water source, turning quite literally, the stuff that goes into the toilet into electricity, ash and drinkable water. Self-powered, high tech toilets from Caltech that require no sewerage systems are dotted all over South Africa.