The Real Reason The World Will Remember Bill Gates (Hint: It’s not Windows 8) – Forbes

Posted on Thursday, August 7th, 2014 at 3:34 pm
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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 (I own a few shares), which despite certain rivals’ success, remains a significant player in the technology arena, nearly forty years after its founding in 1975 regardless of the wreckage all around it.

Many would leap to the conclusion that Gates will one day be recognized as the most important person of his generation because 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.  One day, Microsoft may not be the significant company it is today; the fall of great companies is so nearly axiomatic that those rare exceptions to the rule become the subject of Harvard case studies.  Certainly, there will come a day when many fortunes dwarf the Gates fortune, making the accumulation of his wealth seem smaller and less meaningful.

So from what do I draw my conclusion that Bill Gates will ultimately be remembered as the most significant person of his generation?  Philanthropy.  Social entrepreneurship.  Philanthrocapitalism.

is famous for asking other billionaires to commit to giving away half their fortunes, reportedly inspired by Melinda’s reading The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and his 14-year old daughter Hannah in 2010, about selling their home, giving half the proceeds to charity, and buying one half the size for their family.  Bill and Melinda have committed to giving 95% of their fortune to charity over time; that is an astounding measure of generosity.

Of course, Gates can afford to give away 95% of their fortune and still make the Forbes 400 list each year, but everything in my experience suggests that it would be just as hard to give away 95% of $60 billion as it would be to give away 95% of $6 million.  The loss of that personal fortune changes substantially who you are.

Now, for a moment, 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.

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.

The annual giving of just the Global Health program of the Foundation is about $800 million and approaches the scale of the United Nations World Health Organization.  One key focus of the Foundation is, in partnership with Rotary International, the eradication of polio.  Combining the tremendous financial and volunteer power of Rotary with the greater financial power of the Gates Foundation, is making the goal to permanently rid the world of the scourge of polio achievable—even likely.

Other areas of focus of the Global Health program include HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases.  Many of the world’s most impoverished countries not only face economic woes, but are also ravaged by tropical or other communicable diseases unknown in the developed world, impossibly hampering economic development.  The Foundation is focusing resources on these forgotten or unknown diseases, like Guinea worm disease, to free impoverished countries from these lead weights preventing them from getting economically airborne.

The Foundation’s Global Development program is focused on improving conditions among countries where the 2.5 billion people who survive on less than $2 per day—and especially the 1 billion who are hungry—are living.  The Foundation focuses on four areas:

  1. ONE: Agricultural development
  2. TWO: Financial services for the poor
  3. THREE: Water, sanitation and hygiene
  4. FOUR: Other, special initiatives

 

One key area of focus within the third area is an effort to reinvent the toilet.  According to the Foundation, over 2.6 billion people lack a “safe and affordable way to poop.”  By reducing the cost and improving sanitation from a reinvented toilet, millions of lives can be saved and countries can reduce the cost of fighting diseases spread through poor sanitation.  Two thirds of the world’s population does not use flush toilets.  More than a billion people do not use toilets at all—they simply go where they can find a spot, creating a sanitation nightmare and spreading disease.

Here in the United States, the Foundation works to improve public education and provides college scholarships.  In the United States, according to the Foundation, only about one third of students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college.  The Foundation’s goal is to get every single high school student to graduate “college ready.”  The foundation follows the principle that teachers matter more in student success “than any other factor inside schools.”

The Foundation estimates that some 4.5 million students over the current decade will not pursue college simply because they cannot afford it.  The Foundation offers scholarships to underprivileged minorities to make their dreams of a college education possible.  Even graduate school scholarships are available through the foundation.  The Foundation focuses on scholarships in areas that will foster “leadership and public service” and that will “benefit local and global communities.”

The well-known author Malcolm Gladwell, recently quipped that “There will be statues of Gates across the third world.”    William H. Gates will leave an indelible mark on the world and will be remembered around the world for his contributions, together with Melinda, in saving lives counted in the millions and improving lives for virtually everyone—to greater and lesser degrees—in the coming generations.

But the Gates cannot solve all of the world’s problems alone—even with the help of Warren Buffet.

The foundation is sponsoring, with a variety of other organizations, the Social Good Summit on September 22 through 24th in New York City.  Organizers are encouraging Meetups around the world to discuss local needs and to create a global conversation.  Meetups will occur in 1700 cities around the world (as the author of a book on social good, I’m helping to organize a meetup in myhometown.)

Get involved in the discussion and tell us what you’re doing to make the world a little better.  After all the dollars are spent, lives are changed one person at a time.  One inoculation here.  A teacher there.  A new toilet over there.  They are all done one at a time.  The one you help matters even in the long shadow of Bill Gates.

 

Devin Thorpe Contributor

I cover social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

 

 

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