While 2016 has been a pretty terrible year on many fronts, Bill Gates is choosing to focus on the positive. Reflecting on the year that went by in a newsletter to subscribers of his blog, Gates says that 2016 held some “incredible experiences” for him.
Here’s what made 2016 “a year to remember” for Gates:
During a tour of Firmenich, a perfume company based in Switzerland, he sniffed the particularly unique odor of a pit latrine, which he describes as “a potent combination of sewage stink, barnyard sweat, and bitter ammonia topped off with vomit.” Firmenich then demonstrated how it was able to combine that same fragrance with other smells to blocked the olfactory receptors that allowed him to detect that first smell of crap, turning it into a “pleasant floral scent.” In November, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it has partnered with the company to see if odor-blocking fragrances can help makes toilets more appealing in communities with poor sanitation.
Or several, it appears, through his work with his Foundation, meeting “many people in poor countries who raise chickens.” It was this process of learning “a lot about the ins and outs of owning these birds” that made Gates realize how much of a positive impact raising chickens has on the lives of those subsisting on $2 a day. Dr. Batamaka Somé, an anthropologist from Burkina Faso, who works with the Gates Foundation, argues that raising chickens gives a livelihood to those who are very poor and empowers women. In June, the Gates Foundation announced that it would donate 100,000 chickens to help sub-Saharan Africans living in extreme poverty.
In February, Bill and Melinda Gates were asked what superpower they would like to have by a group of high school students in Kentucky. They wished for more time, and more energy—and decided that those two things, in the hands of the poorest, could make all the difference. Who knows, they might just be rich enough to make that happen.
Gates recalled how his mother forced him to meet Warren Buffet in July 1991, and describes how he was initially reluctant to meet some guy who “buys and sells pieces of paper.” He writes: “‘That’s not real value added. I don’t think we’d have much in common,’ I told her.” Their friendship has since changed the face of American philanthropy. Gates commemorated his 25th anniversary of being friends with Buffet in June with a walk down memory lane on his blog.
Gates picked up some tips from college students on how to execute the dance move on the sidelines of a meeting with college administrators from Johnson C. Smith University and Delaware State University. The universities are experimenting with ways to keep students from low-income backgrounds from dropping out of college.
Or at least, read about it in sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson’s most recent novel, Seveneves.
The newsletter also linked to posts detailing his favorite “fanatics” and books of 2016, and included an answer to a Twitter question about whether he’s grown more optimistic since he was a student. He responded that he has, and attributed it to having a “broader view of the world”— which goes some way in explaining his glass-half-full approach to the year.