That’s health. The second area where I believe China can accelerate global progress is agriculture. Since 1975, Chinese agricultural productivity has grown at a rate of 12 percent per year – four times the annual rate of growth in Africa.
That has not only fed a growing population, but it has led to better nutrition and health, higher rural incomes, falling poverty rates, and more labor available to other sectors to drive Chinese economic development.
There are many factors that accounted for China’s recent green revolution. One of the most significant is its commitment to agricultural innovation and the work of people like Professor Yuan Longping. A crop scientist at Hunan Agricultural University, Professor Yuan developed hybrid rice varieties that increased crop yields over 20 percent.
China’s continuing advances in rice could be of enormous benefit to millions of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom today are barely growing enough to feed their families and who’ll face more difficult weather conditions in the decades ahead.
Since 2008, Our foundation’s supported work by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and others to develop new varieties of rice that – when crossed with domestic varieties in countries like Senegal, Tanzania, Rwanda – will result in high-yielding, stress-tolerant crops that will boost farmer yields and income. But to feed the entire planet, we need to do even more.
One of the most exciting efforts is research by Chinese scientists to supercharge the basic process of photosynthesis itself. This would significantly increase crop yields while reducing the demand for irrigation and fertilizer.
We are also supporting research by Chinese scientists to improve the health of livestock, which plays a vital role in food security and the rural economy of developing countries. We are working with the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and the Ministry of Agriculture to promote sustainable agricultural development throughout Africa.
That brings me to what I think of as China’s third global opportunity: energy innovation. China is already one of the world leaders in renewable energy. And it recently announced that it will spend $360 billion on renewable power sources by 2020. This will pay off handsomely for China domestically, and it’s a great, long-term business opportunity.
There are challenges: sorting out the right mix of technologies, managing the reliability in the new large transmission grid. All of these will be needed to manage in a very complex way to meet the growing energy needs.
One element of the system would be the next-generation of nuclear technology. This, for generation, can be dramatically safer and substantially cheaper and solve a lot of the challenges with today’s nuclear energy. I work with a company, TerraPower, that is partnering with China National Nuclear Corporation and other Chinese companies to provide one way to make this a reality.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet several times with President Xi and I am encouraged by his commitment in a number of barriers – including his leadership at the Paris Climate talks. China was one of the 22 countries that committed to doubling their investments in clean energy innovation over the next five years.
I’m also working with Jack Ma and other Chinese investors who have pledged to invest $1 billion in the development of early-stage energy technology so we can move the best ideas from the labs to the marketplace.
A fourth area where I know China has great potential is software. During my time at Microsoft, we were so impressed by the quality of computer scientists and developers coming out of the universities here that we established one of our first research labs in Beijing almost 20 years ago.
Today, it’s Microsoft’s largest research center outside the United States. It’s a phenomenal place, with 200 of the world’s top researchers and developers and more than 300 visiting scientists and fellows.
The best thing is that researchers are free to explore what they’re most passionate about, which leads to breakthroughs like Xiaobing, a natural-language chat bot that simulates human conversation.
Some of you may have had conversations with Xiaobing on Weibo, or seen her weather forecasts on TV, or read her column in the Qianjiang Evening News.
Xiaobing has attracted 45 million followers and is quite skilled at multitasking. And I’ve heard she’s gotten good enough at sensing a user’s emotional state that she can even help during a relationship breakup.
Besides developing new technologies for Microsoft, the Beijing lab also helps software entrepreneurs who have a great product ideas and need help scaling their business. In the last two years, most of the 125 companies that graduated from the Microsoft Accelerator program were able to secure additional funding. And three of those startups have gone public.
The Beijing lab also supports up-and-coming software developers. We’ve hired more than 5,000 interns here. And you’ll be happy to know that we’ve recruited more students in the last three years from Beida than from Tsinghua. But it’s a slim lead, so those of you here in computer science will have to keep up your good work!
Technology is also helping to power the philanthropic sector in China. It’s a growing sector and one with immense potential. In 2015, people contributed 966 million RMB to causes they care about using the four largest online donation platforms.
And the success of 9/9 Charity Day, started a few years ago by Tencent, shows what is possible when people have an easy way to get involved and give back. In just three days last year, 6 million people – people like you – raised 305 million RMB in support of more than 3,600 projects. So this is just one example of how philanthropy is beginning to blossom here in China.
A lot of the most successful entrepreneurs, like Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Charles Chen Yidan and Niu Gensheng, have helped create the world’s second largest pool of individual wealth. And now they’re taking, some of their time to get involved and start giving back.
The new Charity Law that took effect last September begins to open up more opportunities for people to be engaged. People are coming together at events like the China’s Sixth Social Good Summit held at Beida last fall.
Some of you may decide to work for NGOs that are making life better for the most vulnerable in society. But even if you don’t end up doing that, or make big financial donations, there are many other ways of getting involved. Just learning about something, lending your voice, or volunteering your time is important.
What an incredible, motivating thing that is – the belief that you can make the world a better place. And there has never been a better time.
As the geopolitical currents shifts, China has an opportunity to advance progress on the most urgent challenges the world faces. China’s leaders are embracing this opportunity, but it will be up to China’s youth to carry it forward.
In the last few decades, millions of people in China have achieved professional and financial success. I’m sure all of you will too, and that’s a great thing. I certainly enjoyed all of my work at Microsoft and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But now I’ve also had the opportunity in my philanthropic work to meet people who apply their talents and passion in giving-back ways. Many of these people are impatient to see the world improve, but there’re optimists as well. People who believe in the possibility of change and are eager to do something about it.
Doctors courageous enough to risk their own lives to save the lives of others suffering from Ebola. Entrepreneurs using their ingenuity to deliver life-saving drugs to remote villages by drone. And people of all walks of life who volunteer their time to help the homeless or mentor a child at risk.
Maybe you are the person who wants to ensure that every child growing up in poverty has the nutrition they need to do their best in school. Maybe you want to develop the next vaccine that protects everyone from malaria. Maybe you want to design the battery that lights people’s desks at night, or the mobile technology that will allow people to start new businesses.
No matter what your ambition is to improve the world, this is the best time and the best place to do it, and all of you have a great opportunity. I look forward to seeing what you’ll achieve.