Preview: Bill Gates makes the case for optimism

Exclusive extracts from Bill Gates' column on the wonders of innovation. in this week's NS.

The Christmas issue of the New Statesman, guest-edited by Richard Dawkins, includes a column by Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, about the positive shift towards innovation in the field of development.

In it, he draws on his own experience, saying: "my whole career has been inspired by the conviction that breakthroughs can make the impossible possible."

He explains how development has traditionally been lacking in innovation:

When my wife Melinda and I created our foundation and gradually started learning more about global development, we were stunned by the underfunding of innovation targeted at the needs of the poor. In information technology, the challenge was to see 20 or 30 years into the future. In development, the task at hand was very different: to catch up with the present.

. . .

What explained this shocking lack of innovation? When I was born, the world was roughly one-third rich and two-thirds poor. The rich portion had an amazing capacity to innovate, but it didn't have tuberculosis, or harvests destroyed by flooding. The poor had the disease and the hunger, but they didn't have the technological capability to develop solutions. And so most of the world's innovation was directed at the world's least pressing problems, relatively speaking.

However, he expresses optimism that this is changing with the ascendancy of developing nations:

Now, however, that tragic misallocation of resources is changing, because the world has changed. The number of dynamic, healthy and highly educated countries is much higher. In the past 20 years, China has grown by an incredible 9 per cent annually and slashed its poverty rate by 75 per cent. In the past ten years, Brazil has lifted 20 million people out of poverty. This group of rapidly growing countries, which also includes India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey, can drive innovation for the poor in ways we never imagined, because they provide a bridge between what used to be the rich and poor worlds. These countries have both a sophisticated understanding of the challenges that developing countries face and the technical capacity to innovate to spur development.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.