FUNDING AREAS: Global health and development, education, and humanitarian causes
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Microsoft
ESTIMATED WORTH: $78.9 billion
OVERVIEW: Bill Gates is one of the world's leading philanthropists. Having already given more than $28 billion toward initiatives that predominantly focus on health, education, and economic development in developing countries, he is second only to Warren Buffet in the amount he has donated to charitable causes. 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 Buffet 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: Taking an interest in the still nascent world of personal computing at a young age, and showing an aptitude for software coding, Gates formed Microsoft when he was a sophomore in college. He decided to drop out of Harvard to focus on building his new company. A partnership with IBM and the development of DOS set the stage for Microsoft to become the computer giant it is today and to make Gates the richest man in the world. After spending 25 years as the company's president and CEO, Gates eventually transitioned out of his role at Microsoft so that he could focus on philanthropy. In 2000, he stepped down as CEO and founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife. He stayed on at Microsoft as chief software architect for another six years before becoming part time and eventually leaving altogether so that he could focus full time on the Gates Foundation. Although he now devotes his time to running his foundation, he still serves as Microsoft's chairman of the board.
PHILOSOPHY: With such a vast fortune, Gates has a chance to create an impact on a truly global scale, which is why he has chosen to focus on challenges that can be addressed at a global level and then scale the solutions down to a local level. Gates takes a very strategic approach to grantmaking, first identifying a particular problem and its potential solutions, defining a long-term goal with specific results, and determining the best course of action and resources the foundation can bring to bear. Through his foundation, Gates then seeks innovative organizations that are willing to take risks and offer bold solutions. He works collaboratively with them to define what success looks like and the measurable outcomes that can be achieved. As Gates as said, "Some of the projects we fund will fail. We not only accept that, we expect it — because we think an essential role of philanthropy is to make bets on promising solutions that governments and businesses can't afford to make. As we learn which bets pay off, we have to adjust our strategies and share the results so everyone can benefit."
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.
- Melinda Gates
- Nina Russell – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Deputy Director, Global Health
- Brian Arbogast – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Director, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene
- Trevor Mundel – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation President, Global Health Division