By Mick Krever, CNN
To look at news headlines, it’s easy to get an impression that there’s nothing good in the world – it’s all protests, and car bombs, and civil wars.
To Bill Gates, the world’s foremost philanthropist, the headlines are hiding the truth.
“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been.” he writes in his annual Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation letter.
“The good things are kind of quiet,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday.
“For example, poor countries getting richer – when I was born, most of the world was poor, and the rich countries were the exception. Now most people live in countries that are middle income.”
The world’s elite are gathering this week in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum to discuss the globe’s most pressing issues.
At the top of that elite list is Gates, once again the world’s richest man.
Through his foundation, he and his wife have almost singlehandedly rewritten the book the philanthropy.
He’s taken the data-driven, analytical thinking that made Microsoft a success and applied it to the world of giving. Their focus on results-oriented aid has poured billions of dollars into initiatives like the eradication of polio.
That work is particularly noticeable in India, which just marked three years without a single person contracting the disease; 30 years ago, polio claimed 150,000 lives a year in India.
“India has over 20 percent of the kids born in the world,” Gates said, “And they move around a lot.”
“So it was going to be the hardest country. For a long time, it was where the most cases were.”
The eradication, he said, was a triumph.
“That required unbelievable dedication by teams to go out to every house, convince parents that the vaccine was okay, find people – even people moving around.”
In Pakistan, which is still battling polio, aid workers have to deal not only with the disease but with assassinations; on Tuesday, three polio workers were killed by extremists in Karachi.
“The truth is on our side: Vaccine drops are there to help kids not be paralyzed,” Gates said. “We've faced those kind of bad rumors in many countries. It’s particularly tough in Pakistan and Nigeria. But we do have the religious leaders, the political leaders, coming together and saying this has got to get solved.”
The focus of Gates’ letter this year is what he calls the “three myths that block progress for the poor.”
“First,” he told Amanpour, “is that poor countries stay poor – that's not right; progress there is unbelievably good.”
“Second is that aid is wasted,” he said. “Well-spent aid money is saving lives for a few thousand dollars per life saved.
And governments spend much less than most believe, he added; the U.S. spends less than 1% of its federal budget and Norway, the most generous country in terms of foreign aid, just 3%.
“And finally, my wife Melinda writes about the fact that if you improve health, you don't get population explosion. In fact, by improving health, empowering women, population growth comes down. And so solving problems actually gets a lot easier.”
While Gates’ day job – and passion – is undoubtedly his philanthropy, he remains chairman of the Microsoft’s board.
A central issue for tech giants of late has been the government surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden.
“It's an important issue,” Gates said. “At the end of the day, you've got two goals: protect privacy and to stop war, and in particular the biggest threat going forward is terrorism.”
“Somebody can get a lot of knowledge about nuclear weapons, biological weapons.”
No one, he said, is suggesting that governments should have “no ability” to pursue terrorism and know about their communications.
“So it's striking the right balance.”