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Face Time with Bill Gates

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  • Founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates was at the World Economic Forum 2008 in Davos
  • He implored world leaders to do more to bridge the gap between rich and poor
  • "I think we can do a better job of taking this rapid innovation... to the bottom two billion"
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(CNN) -- This week, Bill Gates made his annual pilgrimage to Swiss skiing resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at the second day of the World Economic Forum 2008 in Davos.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at the second day of the World Economic Forum 2008 in Davos.

The founder of U.S. software giant Microsoft is a familiar face at the global talkfest, where in past years he's implored world leaders to do more to bridge the growing divide between the world's rich and poor.

This year marks the end of an era for the company, as Bill Gates steps away from full-time duties in July to focus on philanthropic projects.

Microsoft has had a growing presence in the Middle East since 1989.

It employs 1230 people in the region, and supports 220 academies to promote information technology.

This week, Bill Gates spoke with MME's John Defterios about Microsoft in the Middle East and how technology can be used to foster growth in the region.

(BG): Well, technology, I think, is very important now. Whether it's to broaden the economies of these countries or just help them be more efficient in things they're doing now. Certainly if you look at the scale of investment there, making sure that the right software is done for banking, for tourism, for energy. That's creating a lot of partner success for us and we have over 4,000 companies in the Gulf who take Microsoft products, add value and in fact we have a study coming out that shows that their value added for every dollar of our products is over $15.

(JD): As you know there is unemployment of about 10 percent throughout the region and double amongst youth. There's all this capital from high energy prices, but is it really denting the unemployment amongst the youth, because this is the real danger that's underway right now. What's your perception of the region?

(BG): I think its critical that the youth be given the right educational opportunities, that they be motivated to get through schools. Throughout the region we reach out to each government and say "How would you like us to step in and get involved in your educational sector; for your young children, for your colleges?" How do we make sure that they're having IT fitness, because a lot of the jobs require those skills.

(JD): There is a big, big discussion about a U.S. recession here at Davos this year and it seems to be almost overblown. And you lived through the 2000 tech bubble and then the 2001 recession which was not that deep. From your vantage point as you can see right now, are we due for a very long, prolonged deep recession in the States?

(BG): I certainly don't think so. All I really know is that the pace of innovation, the way that we're improving computers -- making them more effective, allowing people to see and share information in new ways -- that is actually faster than ever before. And so, although you can get financial excesses and have a few years like 2002 that was not that rapid, for us we keep our high level of R&D spending up, because you take a five to 10 year period the world economy; I see nothing but positive possibilities.

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(JD): There's been quite a healthy debate about Sovereign Wealth Funds, the capital coming from the Middle East and China coming into the United States. And in fact President Bush signed an executive order to take a closer look at some of that investment. Do you think there's a danger that they're going to start restricting that capital flow?

(BG): Well I'm again not an expert, but when the U.S. is importing at a much greater rate then it's exporting eventually people end up with money. And I think it's probably fair to let them spend that money at some point and if they're backing up financial institutions, providing more capital to them, I think then we see capitalism at work. So I'm not sure of what they're going to take a closer look at, but the fact that you're going to have cross-border flows of large investments shouldn't be a surprise to people.


(JD): This is, I understand, the first time you've asked to give a speech. This is what Klaus Schwab told me here at the World Economic Forum, addressing creative capitalism. You think that capitalism falls short dealing with the lower third of society, what exactly are you talking about here?

(BG): Well, it's mostly good news, which is that capitalism does a great job for most people. And what I'm saying is that without taking away from that, by having more recognition, in more places where profit is brought to bear. I think we can do a better job of taking this rapid innovation whether its in computers or medicine or cell phones or finance and bring that to the bottom two billion. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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