Promoting equity for all peoples of the world

Brief of an article by Jeff Raike, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

One of the questions I’m often asked as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is what issues we invest in and why. To answer, it helps to understand a little about the foundation’s history.

More than a decade ago, Bill and Melinda read a newspaper article about the millions of children dying in poor countries from diseases that most people in the United States don’t have to worry about. One disease in particular—rotavirus—caught their attention, and it was killing half a million children a year. They’d never even heard of rotavirus. They thought it might be a typo.

Rotavirus, they learned, is one of the main causes of diarrhea. When kids in the United States get diarrhea, their doctors give them electrolytes. When kids in the developing world get it, they often die.

Reading this helped Bill and Melinda make two decisions: That they would start a foundation right away and that their giving would focus on solving some of the world’s greatest inequities.

The Gates Foundation is guided by the belief that all lives—no matter where they are being led—have equal value.  Whether a child is born in New York or New Delhi shouldn’t pre-determine their access to health, education, and opportunity. Of course, this belief is simple to say, and much harder to achieve. But our ultimate goal is to reduce the world’s greatest inequities, so every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life.

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The real reason the world will remember Bill Gates

William H. Gates, III, shall ultimately be remembered as the most significant person of his generation. It may not be for the reasons you think.

Bill Gates is eligible for consideration by virtue of founding Microsoft. For fourteen out of the fifteen years from 1995 to 2009 he was the richest person in the world. Such achievements, however, will likely seem small in the scope of history.

Consider the scale of the Gateses’ philanthropy.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through which their philanthropy flows is, according to Wikipedia, the largest “transparently operated private foundation in the world.”  Since inception, the Foundation has made grants of over $26 billion, including $15 billion in global health alone.

The annual giving of just the GlobalHealth program of the Foundation is about $800 million and approaches the scale of the United Nations World Health Organization.

A significant contribution to the Foundation was made by Warren Buffet in 2006, but most of the money in the Foundation has been provided by the Gateses. 

Gates is also famous for asking other billionaires to commit to giving away half their fortunes. Bill and his wife Melinda have committed to giving 95% of their fortune to charity over time; that is an astounding measure of generosity.