ABU DHABI // The region should use its new technologies to help the poor rather than the rich, the Microsoft chairman and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said yesterday.
"For too long, we in the West worked almost exclusively to develop and apply technology to meet the needs of the rich world, only for those who could pay," Mr Gates told delegates to the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.
"The highest impact, most neglected area of human ingenuity is innovations for the poor. Whether it's vaccines that can save lives, health tools that reduce infant deaths or new seeds that get six times the yield in harsher conditions - they are the pivot that can change the world. And the UAE is making massive investments in technology and innovation."
Last year the UAE donated Dh7.74 billion, more than US$2bn, in aid to countries in need.
Most of the 34 donor organisations assigned the aid to projects and programmes working towards meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals set out by the UN. These include poverty, universal education and child and maternal health.
Speaking at the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island, Mr Gates told the summit delegates that the region's roots in Islam already propelled it to be a "natural leader" in solving the problems of the poor.
Referring to the UAE's charity efforts, Mr Gates highlighted the success of Dubai Cares, a philanthropic organisation that works in 28 developing countries to provide universal access to primary education and promote gender equality.
He also praised the work of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, in organising a group of doctors from the UAE to travel to Pakistan to help negotiate access to difficult areas to deliver polio and measles vaccinations.
"This was a fantastic thing for those children and mothers and fathers, and for the cause of global health.
"The leaders and citizens here can reach out as partners to countries to where they have special access and special kinship - areas where the rest of the world doesn't have the standing to intervene in the way that leaders here can do."
At a majlis at the Crown Prince's Court later in the day, Sheikh Mohammed applauded Mr Gates's work in Muslim countries and recounted the moment philanthropy was instilled in him.
Sheikh Mohammed told the audience about a visit to Tanzania in the late 1980s. His late father, Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE, asked the Crown Prince about the situation of the people.
"He asked me, 'What did you do for them?' I told him, 'I did not do anything for them. They are not Muslims'. He then grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye for 10 seconds and said: 'The one who created you is the one who created them'."
Sheikh Mohammed then asked what he could do to help, and his father suggested he build a well.
"Now we have done 29 wells. There are 27 villages where families live. Each one has a well, a clinic and schools."
Sheikh Mohammed pointed out that "Bill Gates is not a Muslim" and yet he has helped three Muslims countries to eradicate polio.
"He spends two billion dollars on Muslims," the Crown Prince said. "This is a beautiful project that he should be thanked for, and I believe we are very lucky to be part of it.
"I would like to thank my friend Bill for this initiative."
* additional reporting by Haneen Dajani