The first I heard of Bill Gates, it was the day I came to associate his name with the little logo plastered at the bottom of every Xbox game: Microsoft Corporation. He was the software mogul who made the Halo series possible. When I learned he was indirectly responsible for years of LAN parties in front of dusty CRT televisions with my friends, needless to say it was love at first sight. Over the years I developed a deep appreciation for Bill. As time went on, I realized his defining trait as the wealthiest man on the planet did little to encompass who he is as a person.
Ever since the year 2000, and perhaps earlier, he diverged from that reputation, where insane wealth correlates with personalities on par with Scrooge McDuck. Now he brings new meaning to the term charity.
His evolving identity and its effect on the public can best be exemplified by a somewhat humorous romance with Reddit—an entire platform that seems, for the most part, infatuated with Gates’ persona. From participating in Reddit’s annual Secret Santa event to hosting numerous AMAs (Ask Me Anything), he has won the hearts of so many by frequenting the news aggregating website. He has developed a pseudo-personal relationship with its users. The site’s interface creates an aura of intimacy, as though whenever Bill interacts with the masses, he is sitting on the sofas in our living rooms. His PR skills with the common man are on point, to say the least.
More Than Just Talk
But talking the talk is one thing (which he does extraordinarily well). What exactly has he done to warrant the love of so many? While it’s hard to think of Microsoft without bringing up the man who started it, he has not been an active member of the company for more than 10 years. His day job is now philanthropy. A man who spent decades creating an empire now focuses his energies on the betterment of mankind, having followed this path longer than many expected. Most say he fanned the flames in 1998 with the creation of the Gates Foundation, the crescendo starting in 2008 when Bill stepped down from Microsoft. Since then, he has only gained momentum.
So in what ways has Bill’s efforts manifested into real-world impact?
Money makes the world go ‘round. It’s an unfortunate truth, considering currency is an entirely manmade convention. But a large-scale civilized society couldn’t exist without some sort of standard for trade. We also know the top 1% of our population owns a ludicrous amount of wealth. Even with extravagant spending, it would take an individual multiple lifetimes to put a dent into the fortunes some of these people have accrued. It’s simply too much wealth for one person.
In 2010, Bill Gates, working alongside Warren Buffett (another magnate I look up to) began The Giving Pledge. The movement sets its sights on the world’s wealthiest. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and friends have all chosen to give up half of their net worth by the end of their life. Since 2010, the movement has picked up giants like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, among almost 140 others. Combined, $732 billion has been pledged toward philanthropy.
But money is just the middle man to change. Gates has also permeated the global health field with his efforts. The Gates Foundation aims to diagnose, treat, and even prevent infectious diseases ravaging much of the developing world. This includes HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal diseases, and others—afflictions we wouldn’t consider a remote threat in the developed regions of the planet. For many from Central or South America to Africa, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, these problems are a daily risk.
With so much despair, there comes hope in the form of the Omni Processor. It’s an invention that turns feces into clean drinking water. While the idea sounds nauseating at first glance, the method is ingenious. Up to 700,000 children die every year due to contaminated water. Not only does this machine provide water, but it is a means of removing waste as well.
Smallpox is an affliction that haunts human history, and in 1977, humanity drew a collective sigh when the last naturally occurring case was recorded. Outside of select medical laboratories, smallpox is now a memory. Bill wants to raise the bar by putting polio next on the chopping block. A disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children as recently as 30 years ago, Bill plans to eradicate as early as 2018.
3. Developing Infrastructure
Improving health isn’t the only area on Bill and Melinda’s plate. The Foundation plans to nurture multiple support systems. They include helping small farmers in developing countries increase their production to sell more crops, and providing emergency responses to natural disasters. They also want to broaden the reach of digital payment systems, as well as the range of services available throughout these systems. On top of that, the Gates Foundation has teamed up with people in the Middle East—a thought tank, if you will—to discuss and debate the most pressing issues in the region.
4. The Homefront
We’ve discussed Bill’s plans to help the rest of the world catch up to the kinds of benefits Americans take for granted. But Bill’s efforts extend to the domestic front as well, where education is his target. Our current system has received plenty of scrutiny for its futility. Initiatives like the No Child Left Behind policy launched by George Bush were meant to fix the systematic issues underlying large-scale education, but fell short. Gates intends to support innovative programs for both K-12 and postsecondary school programs. He wishes to dramatically increase the number of people who earn college degrees, and help K-12 teachers better prepare their students for higher education.
It’s easy for us to say that if we had more money or more power we would do everything we could to help those less fortunate. However, money often corrupts an ideal mindset. It’s a truly inspirational thing to watch not only an insanely wealthy person—but the wealthiest person—set the example in an attempt to raise up the poor and convince the leaders of his caliber to do the same.