How good and bad news influence global development

Yesterday Bill Gates visited the Netherlands. The Dutch newspaper, NRC next, published a short article about how Gates focuses on the good news rather than the bad. According to the newspaper, one of the main reasons we all like listening to Bill Gates is not because he tells us anything new, but because he tells us something positive.

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The genius, billionaire and philanthropist.. (add playboy and we would be talking about Tony Stark), visited the Netherlands for the Dutch launch of the ‘World’s Best News Campaign’. The campaign started in Denmark, where it has successfully been ‘in the air’ for a couple of years and resulted in an increase in the national trust in developmental aid. Gates himself is no stranger to spreading the good news. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses strictly on the positive progress in global development.

Did Bill Gates read our blog?

It’s not about deliberately turning a blind eye to the ‘negative’ news, but about focussing on development and putting news in perspective. Not only does good news rarely make it to the front page or the evening news, it sometimes get’s completely ignored. When Gates said that the world needs more good news, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Maybe he read this blog? It is, after all, called ‘TheGoodStory”. But then again, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been around longer than TheGoodStory. Maybe it’s just a case of, great minds think alike (pun intended).

But, I couldn’t agree more with Bill. It’s true that there is a lot of ‘bad news’ at the moment which all deserves and needs attention. But by only focussing on the negative news, you will never see the whole picture. In fact, it provides an unnecessary dim view on reality. It’s good to always balance the scale in your intake in positive developments and newsworthy ‘negative’ events.

How does balancing bad & good news affect developing countries?

According to ‘World’s Best News’, the public opinion is that global poverty can not be eradicated and that the Millennium Development Goals are considered unrealistic. When in fact, global development is doing very well. As a result of this focus on bad news, people tend to picture developing countries much more under-developed when in reality many countries are improving.

This unintentional ignorance leads to missed opportunities and unfair judgements. For example, many people would probably not consider Sierra-Leone and Liberia as their ideal holiday destination. True, both countries are recovering from wars but to be fair, these wars ended over a decade ago. And although you may prefer a different setting for your vacation, these same misconceptions lead to missed opportunities for both investors and developing countries.

Instead of focussing on the bad news, investors should balance the positive developments and opportunities in developing countries with current affairs to draw an accurate picture of the investment benefits. According to the United Nations population estimate, Africa will most likely host a quarter of the world’s workforce by 2050.

“By 2050, Nigeria will be the country which is the single largest contributor to population growth globally, and it will be contributing a fifth of all population growth in the world by that point,” says Sarah Walters, a demographer from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Alexander, R. (2013, 25 June). How much of the world’s workforce will come from Africa?. BBC.

So now what?

Public opinion is a powerful tool. Many people tend to overestimate the total developmental aid spending of their home countries and underestimate the amount of good their money does. Don’t get me wrong, the developing world is, in fact, developing, meaning there is room for improvement. But the old thought patterns of poverty, starvation and all together hopelessness are outdated. If we can shift the public opinion from hopelessness to hopeful, a lot can be accomplished. More opportunities will be available, and investments will be made. Creativity will be sparked and bridges will be built.


Try to think of your daily news intake as an appraisal. It’s are only useful when feedback is constructive and good and bad news balanced.

5 responses to “How good and bad news influence global development

  1. Pingback: Bill Gates got our memo… | Blogger's World!·

  2. There’s actually a lot of evidence to back up your claims. A good deal of psychological research has found that when people are inundated with bad news and catastrophic language, they tune out. The stories might grab their attention initially, but they eventually lose both hope and interest.

    In order to motivate people to act, it’s necessary to give them the sense that success is possible. That’s why it’s good that there are people like you and Bill Gates who highlight positive stories. We shouldn’t avoid talking about negative topics if they’re important, but we should also give people hope for the future. This website does a good job of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your reply! I couldn’t agree more. I’m guessing it’s not just me who is noticing a certain numbness when it comes to watching the evening news. It’s not that I don’t care about what’s happening in the world but it is a bit odd that I have no trouble enjoying my dinner while watching news about bomb explosions in Syria or other horrors in Palestine (for example). It is becoming ‘normal’.. when it clearly shouldn’t be.

      I always like to ‘re-scale’ a problem when it seems too big to handle. In this case, it works the same on a personal level. We all need a little positive reinforcement to motivate or inspire us to do something. The same goes for the big issues such as the effectiveness of international aid and its dependency on the public’s trust and support. So instead of giving someone a pad on the shoulder or a thumbs up, we need to up-scale the positive reinforcement to the size of the problem.

      And of course, like you said, we can’t ignore the bad news. News is news and needs to be told. But it’s good to recognize that good news is also news(worthy). Plus, bad news doesn’t always need to be presented as bad news. A setback always comes with opportunities. It’s all a matter of perspective.

      I wanted to add a picture but that seems to be impossible.. so here is the link:


  3. I suspect the numbness you described partly explains why people would rather hear about what some celebrity tweeted than issues that actually affect the world. It’s also part of the reason I now watch all my news in Spanish. Apocalyptic stories are much less overwhelming when I’m not sure what’s happening.

    Breaking up big problems does help to make them seem less unmanageable, and it helps identify strategies for dealing with each segment of the issue. Once those sub-goals are identified we can then tell people exactly how they can contribute to each one, and like you said we need to make them feel like what they do matters. I think we need to make it explicitly clear that public support forms the basis of all meaningful progress, and provide them with concrete examples to illustrate that point. For instance, participatory conservation approaches are much more effective (both at enhancing conservation success and reducing negative intergroup dynamics) when stakeholders feel like their contributions matter. I also think that when a certain individual donates a significant amount of time and resources to a cause they should be publicly recognized for their efforts and/or given free admission to NGO events.

    Lastly, you’re right about bad news not needing to be “bad.” The severity of a problem should not be understated, but nor should it be overstated. When delivering alarming information it’s necessary to explain why it’s happening, what the individual(s) can do about it, and what can be gained from successfully overcoming the challenges. The picture you linked to does a good job of illustrating what can be gained by taking in a homeless youth.


  4. Pingback: How good stories can cure a Westerners poor perception of Africa | HumanKind·

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