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Why Bill Gates says he's obsessed with this new website

CNBC logo CNBC 5/10/2018 Sarah Berger

Bill Gates is well known for sharing his favorite books, but now the billionaire philanthropist has revealed his latest obsession is a website, one he says "capture[s] the most complete picture of humanity I've seen yet," according to a Gates Notes blog post published on Tuesday.

It's called Dollar Street, and it's an interactive site that illustrates how life looks similar — and different — for people across different income levels, cultures and countries. It brings this idea to life by urging its audience to "imagine the world as a street ordered by income."

"People from different continents, with the same income, are neighbors on Dollar Street," explains the site's co-creator, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, in a press release.

Created by Ronnlund (the co-author of one of Gates' favorite books "Factfulness") and the independent Swedish foundation Gapminder, the website documents over 264 homes in 50 countries, with photographers taking snap shots of daily life and objects, even things that seem trivial, like toothbrushes. Overall, the website says it has over 30,000 photos and 10,000 videos. It uses them to "show how people on all different income levels meet their universal human needs," according to the release.

An interactive graphic at the top of the page features houses lined up on a street. By sliding the ticker at the top of the page to the left, you'll explore the lives of people toward the poorer end of the spectrum, while sliding to the right sends you toward the richer homes.

For example, on the poorest end of the street is a family in India with a monthly income of $31. Photographs of the household show a makeshift structure created from tarps strung together, with a bed that's simply a tarp on the ground. Meanwhile, on the opposite end is an American family with a monthly income of $4,650. Their bed is large, decorate with a plethora of fluffy pillows.

While it's no surprise that the people living in poverty in India lead very different lives than the affluent crowd in the U.S., the site points out most people live somewhere between "poor" and "rich."

And when you compare household objects (another filter along with income and location), it becomes clear there are many similarities among people of the same income level, even when they live in different countries.

"I found the photos of toothbrushes to be particularly interesting," Gates writes in his blog post. "The families at the poorest end of the street use their fingers or sticks to clean their teeth. But once you reach a certain income level, everyone starts using a plastic toothbrush with bristles."

Adds Gates, "People tend to spend money on the same things once they increase their income whether they live in China or Cameroon."

Gates is well-known for his philanthropic efforts and for taking an interest in the way other people live. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tackles a number of projects aimed at lifting others out of poverty, by providing economic mobility and opportunity, and past blog posts penned by Gates focus on topics like inequality. In his blog post touting Dollar Street, Gates writes that whenever he visits a new location, he looks for clues indicating the income level of locals.

"If I see power lines, I know homes probably have electricity in this area — which means that kids have enough light to do their homework after the sun sets," Gates writes. "If I see patchwork roofs, families likely sleep less during the rainy season because they're wet and cold. If I see bikes, that tells me people don't have to spend hours walking to get water every day."

But for Gates, Dollar street is a great illustration of what brings people together.

"At the end of the day, we all want a solid roof over our head, a more efficient way to get around, and better tools to take care of ourselves," Gates writes. "It's a beautiful reminder that we have more in common with people on the other side of the world than we think."


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