Fighting a pandemic involves many moving parts. That much has become clear to many of us in ways we've never before experienced or understood, as the lives of almost every American has slowed to a standstill. As much as 90 percent of the country is under some form of stay-at-home order requiring millions of people to suddenly figure out how to work from home.
Of all of those parts, one of the most important is the development of a vaccine that can prevent the continued spread of the virus. Bill Gates has some experience in this area, with his foundation already working on infectious disease research and funding vaccines. I wrote last year about how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's work had all but eradicated polio from Nigeria, one of its last remaining holdouts.
In addition to that experience, Gates also happens to have another important resource necessary to help stop a pandemic--the cash to make it happen. And Gates has already been working to slow the coronavirus outbreak, putting money towards testing kits that can increase the capacity for determining who might be infected.
And on Friday, Gates told Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, that the foundation is funding the construction of factories for the seven most promising vaccine candidates, even though they know only one will end up getting picked.
There is something incredible about understanding that most of those efforts will fail. Most of the vaccines that the foundation will build facilities to produce won't ever make it that far. Those facilities will require millions--if not billions--to build, though most will never be used for those purposes.
In Gates's words, it'll cost money but save time. Right now, time is against us.
Before anyone talks about how that money could be put to better use, consider that the amount of money the Gates Foundation is spending is far less than the cost of delaying a vaccine further into next year. Gates even pointed out that a few billion now can prevent a few trillion in economic disaster later due to a prolonged outbreak. That's a roughly 1,000 times return on the investment. I'm not a math guy, but even I know that's worth it.
It's also probably worth mentioning here that this is exactly the same mentality that would benefit every business right now. Everything is up in the air. No one knows how long this will last. Millions of people have lost their jobs and hundreds of thousands of small businesses have closed their doors.
Right now, what we all need are people willing to invest in what will make the biggest difference. That doesn't just mean billionaires with their own private foundations, by the way. It also means every entrepreneur and small-business owner. The challenge is to invest now in what will make the biggest difference for your business, your team, your customers, and your community.
A bunch of the ideas will fail, but that's how we get to the ones that will--quite literally--change the world. That kind of thinking always has a positive return.