NET WORTH: $81.5 Billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Microsoft
FUNDING AREAS: Global Health and Development, Education, and Humanitarian Causes
OVERVIEW: Bill Gates has already given over $28 billion toward initiatives that predominantly focus on health, education. He cofounded the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in 2000 and has made philanthropy his full-time job since 2006, when he stepped down from his full-time position at Microsoft. In 2010, he and Warren Buffett started the Giving Pledge, a campaign that encourages the wealthiest people in the world to give at least half their wealth to philanthropic causes and now has well over 100 signatories.
BACKGROUND: Born in Seattle, Bill Gates attended Harvard University but dropped out. Along with his friend Paul Allen, he moved to New Mexico at the end of 1975 to produce software for MITS. The following year, they started their own company, Microsoft.
GLOBAL HEALTH: One of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's major initiatives is the Discovery & Translational Sciences program, which aims to create and improve preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic interventions for infectious diseases and for conditions affecting mothers, infants, and children. The program focuses on diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries. These diseases include malaria, polio, tuberculosis, pneumonia, gastrointestinal and diarrheal diseases, and HIV/AIDS. Much of the emphasis in these areas is placed on developing innovative low-cost treatments and preventive measures and increasing access to care. Through its global development initiative, the Gates Foundation also supports programs that focus on family planning, vaccine delivery, improved sanitation, nutrition, and neonatal, child, and maternal health, and policy and advocacy initiatives, most notably in the arena of tobacco control.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT: In addition to the health-related programs that also impact global development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports programs that help small farmers in developing countries to sustainably increase production and sell more crops, provide emergency response to natural disasters, broaden the reach of digital payment systems and the range of services available through these systems, and expand Internet access through library systems. In late 2015, it was announced that the foundation would be teaming up with Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum Global Initiatives to launch the Middle East Exchange, a global thought platform where experts from around the world will be able to discuss and debate the most pressing issues in the region.
U.S. EDUCATION: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works with educators, policymakers, parents, and communities to expand and accelerate successful programs and identify innovative new solutions that can help unlock students' potential. They have a particular commitment to children and families in Washington state, where the Gates family has made its home for generations, but they also support innovative K-12 and postsecondary programs throughout the country. K-12 efforts focus on college readiness, while postsecondary efforts seek to dramatically increase the number of students completing college degrees and certificates. Areas of focus include the reduction of economic barriers to postsecondary education, development and use of key performance indicators, teacher learning programs, game-based learning and digital tools, and innovative personalized learning models.
LOOKING FORWARD: At this point, Bill Gates has largely selected the causes he wants to focus on and his strategies for doing so. His foundation wants to make polio the second disease after smallpox to be completely eradicated and hopes to meet this goal as early as 2018. The foundation will then focus more heavily on using the same techniques to achieve similar results with malaria, in particular. Gates hopes that his organization can eventually eradicate extreme poverty and reduce the number of children who die from preventable diseases by more than 85%. One interesting decision Gates has made is that his foundation will continue its work for only 20 years after he and his wife have both passed, although he has not yet made public what will become of the foundation's assets once that period has come to an end.