He was probably the only participant at the World Economic Forum's conference who wore matching silver hoop earrings and blue-tinted shades. But if Bono diverged from the corporate and political leaders attending the meeting in his choice of attire (and profession), he found common ground in his choice of subject matter.

The Irish superstar and debt-relief activist sat between U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo during a standing-room only session on Saturday to discuss third world development--something Bono has been promoting for the past couple of years, with mixed success.

Bono said he finally began approaching politicians last year because he couldn't get on TV.

"I learned they don't want me on Oprah Winfrey talking about debt relief...It's more difficult than you might imagine to get attention to these issues; hence, the unusual juxtapositions," he said, gesturing at Gates, who sat beside him in wire-rimmed glasses and a navy-blue suit.

Despite their differences, the panelists seemed eager to align themselves with the singer in his push for wealthier countries to commit themselves to alleviating poverty and health problems in the Third World. "Now is the time," said Gates. "I hope governments see this as the turning point."

Even O'Neill, who defended the Bush administration's reluctance to substantially increase foreign-development aid, referred to Bono as "my good friend" and agreed that the United States should help close the gap with poorer countries. "If we want to do something really important, we need to help every society in the world to become an income-producing mechanism," said O'Neill. "We have an in-between question of how do we provide potable water and elementary education and HIV treatment and healthcare. But the essential question is: how do we help people create the circumstances so that they become instruments of economic-generation and wealth accumulation?"

For Gates, the first step is keeping them alive and healthy. The billionaire urged the United States to increase the amount it is spending on health programs in developing countries from $6 to $40 a person, enough to cover vaccinations for all children in developing nations and save the lives of millions each year who are dying from diseases that are treatable or vaccinated against in countries like the United States.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--the largest in the world with its $24.2-billion asset base--has placed its focus primarily on improving healthcare and increasing immunizations in developing countries from Thailand to Tanzania. On Saturday, Gates announced that the foundation would award $50 million in new grants to help prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Cases of AIDS have decreased in the developed world. But 15 million Africans have died of the disease and another 25 million Africans are now HIV-positive, threatening to make 40 million children orphans by 2010--figures Bono called "unacceptable."

"It's an everyday holocaust there," said Bono. "These people are too poor to get out of poverty." Bono said he was encouraged by a recent meeting he had with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who assured the singer that Africa would top the agenda at the G-8 meeting he is hosting this summer and said Canada would be the first to open its borders to trade with sub-Saharan Africa. Zedillo echoed that call, urging rich countries to open their markets to exports from developing countries and to increase foreign aid levels. "The bottom line is we still need money," said Zedillo "We need to empower the people to share the benefits of globalization."