It was a bit like being at a rock concert, except that the one bona fide rocker, Bono, was in the audience. The occasion was Bill and Melinda Gates speaking at the Science Museum in London about their collaboration with ONE.org, called Living Proof.
Living Proof is about documenting and celebrating the successes of international aid. The Gates' certainly have convening power. There were about 400 people from the UK development community in attendance plus a sprinkling of altogether more glamorous folks lending their support.
Bill and Melinda, self declared impatient optimists about the role of aid, talked for over an hour. Their presentations were interspersed with short films about childbirth, farming and vaccines. The presentations were not quite at the right level for the knowledgeable audience, nevertheless they were very well done. These are people who can make a pitch.
What about the content? Melinda started off by acknowledging how complicated development is. This was followed, somewhat incongruously, by a long section on vaccines. This is where a foundation like theirs really hits what Americans like to call "the sweet spot" - something that really plays to their comparative advantage and which is important. We then moved to agriculture, which is a lot more complicated than vaccines, and then to maternal care - pre, during and post pregnancy - which is perhaps the most complicated challenge of all in terms of behaviour change, systems change and power balances. There was not the barrage of interesting new numbers and findings about aid effectiveness that I was expecting, but that will probably come later with the launch of the full Living Proof report. Unfortunately there was no Q and A although the Gates' did spend time during the reception talking to the audience.
Living Proof is about unearthing, highlighting and communicating the good things that aid can do. I was left wondering if Living Proof would help to communicate on aid. I really hope it does. But as Melinda herself said, it's only through visiting, listening and talking with people living in tough conditions do you connect with their reality and do you see the possibilities for supporting and working with them as well as the complexity of doing so. Helping citizens of rich countries understand the situations of those living in deprivation without depriving either of their dignity remains a difficult challenge.