The concept of impact investing is beginning to get its share of attention as heavyweights like Bill Gates start to throw their weight behind it.

In a bid to mobilize private capital for public good, Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, urged global leaders to invest in innovations that support progress against poverty.

In his fourth annual letter released today in South London, England, he highlighted remarkable progress in developing countries, and outlined new approaches to help the world’s poorest build self-sufficiency through socially responsible investing.

“The world faces a choice; by spending a relatively little amount of money on proven solutions, we can help poor farmers feed themselves and their families and continue writing the story of a steadily more equitable world,” said Gates in the letter. “Or we can decide to tolerate a very different world in which one in seven people needlessly lives on the edge of starvation.”

Over the past 50 years the percentage of global population living in poverty has fallen from 40% to 15%—that’s roughly 1.5 billion fewer people living in poverty. Gates said with innovative investments in areas like helping small farmers grow more food it is possible to continue the progress.

Impact investing, he said, could go beyond fighting plant disease to treating people with AIDS, or getting a polio vaccine to children in remote areas. Even a modest investment can make a huge difference, he added.

“Our guiding principles for those investments are the same as for agriculture: innovation is the means, and equity is the end goal,” said Gates drawing on a number of successes to illustrate progress.

Tough economic times are making many investors and leaders around the world to re-examine their commitments to social causes. Gates said “it’s more important than ever that we stick to those commitments so we can help people build self-sufficiency and overcome the need for aid.”

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