It’s been 18 years since Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they intended to give away their fortune—now an estimated $91 billion—to better the planet, along with the lives of its most vulnerable inhabitants. Since then, they’ve hired over 1,400 employees and spent $40.3 billion to tackle some of the hardest-to-solve problems—like healthcare, poverty and education—in both developing countries and here at home.
“The human condition, by all key measures, has improved dramatically,” says Bill. “People are living longer and less children are dying; the death rate for children under five has been cut in half over the last 15 years.” Adds Melinda: “Last week I was in West Africa and Kenya. The amount of entrepreneurism and people lifting themselves up is palpable. The world is changing for the better and we want people to know that.”
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Bill: Global health is our biggest area, and it’s going well. With any luck we’ll have the last polio case this year.
Melinda: There are literally millions of children alive because of the vaccines that we’ve been involved with.
Bill: And there are things that are much longer term, like getting an HIV vaccine done, which unfortunately will probably take another decade. Eradicating malaria will probably be a 20-year quest.
Q: You often bring your kids on your humanitarian trips to the Third World. What have they learned?
Melinda: All three of our kids have spent a lot of time in the developing world, not just on nice safaris but sometimes living with these families. So it’s become central to our lives and, I’d say, has changed us all for the better. I think it will probably affect the path they’re each on in life. It certainly grounds us in what’s important.