This started out as a node called "If I had as much money as Bill Gates" to which my answer was: I would do exactly what he's doing.
A few disclaimers. I'm not impressed by the amount of money Bill Gates has. I don't think he's the devil incarnate. I don't use his company's products with much enthusiasm since I prefer writing to my computer. I don't think he has super-human powers and should be beatified. I don't believe he is the brightest or sharpest entrepreneur ever. In my view, he was just the right person, at the right place, at the right time. All I'm interested in, for this node, is evaluating how he's using the resources put at his disposal by good fortune.
In 1999 Bill formed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and endowed it with 17 billion dollars. The programs he is concentrating on are the ones that provide the biggest bang for his philanthropic buck. Lack of basic health-care and sanitation are the primary cause of death and disease in the world and the Gates' foundation has concentrated its efforts in this area and on education. In 2000 the foundation made a USD 750 million gift to the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines and in 2003 a USD 200 million award to establish the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. There have also been substantial awards to fight HIV in South Africa, develop low-cost housing, and fund scholarships (especially those for the disadvantaged).
The Gates foundation is led by his father William H. Gates Sr. who was a philanthropist (involved with the United Way) long before his son stumbled upon the business opportunity of the century. There is a lot of information on the foundation's goals and objectives on their website, which is worth a read if you're interested. What I admire about the pattern of giving is the keen appreciation it demonstrates for the accident of birth. I've often thought to myself that the worst tragedy to befall our world is that hundreds of poets fail to learn how to write, or worse yet, die of preventable causes. I believe humans have an immense capacity to do good and create beauty, and we should work towards a world where all have a decent shot at a fulfilling life. The Gates' foundation is serving the goal of maximizing individual capability without regard to geography and that is a goal that warms my heart.
The Gates foundation doesn't seem to be all about slapping the Gates name on every building in sight, nor is it a thinly veiled marketing or damage control arm of Microsoft. Gates has said in the past that he will leave relatively small amounts to his children and plans to give away the bulk of his wealth. This seems like something only a mature person who believed deeply in overcoming selfishness would do. It contradicts the image of an obsessed kid playing Quake, intent on wiping out his enemies. I'm sure there's enough of that kid in Gates, but his ruthless competitiveness doesn't seem to have prevented his personal growth when it comes to philanthropy. I'll admit he is probably receiving good advice from his public relations people, but there's only so much double-guessing that can go on here. In the final analysis, the man is gifting significant portions of his net worth to the most worthwhile causes.
Since he probably did nothing morally objectionable to acquire his wealth, appears to be putting it to good use by making the world a better place and seems not to be too flamboyant with his wealth (except for the collection of very fast cars), I'd say Gates is as likeable a richest man in the world as we could hope for.
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