There are billionaires and then there is William Henry “Bill” Gates III. Come to think of it, how many billionaires have “Bill” as their nickname? His parents sure knew what they were up to when they named him William. There is a good reason that Bill Gates is the richest man on earth today. The Creator figured there would have been no better heart or a more resolute mind to entrust such riches with. Gates brings the same steely aggression to philanthropy that helped him build Microsoft into an operating system powerhouse. Albert Einstein might have had Bill in mind when he said, “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.” Improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and ensuring that all people have access to opportunities they need to succeed in school and life are the key goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is among the handful of colossi who want to leave behind a much better planet than they found it. In this exclusive interaction with N Mahalakshmi and Rajesh Padmashali, he shares his thoughts on why he is doing what he is.
Why did you decide a personal involvement in the foundation was necessary? You could have continued to write cheques but you decided to plunge in full-time.
Yes. My full-time work now is here at the foundation. It is very exciting work and I enjoy it. I felt that my work at Microsoft prepared me in terms of being willing to learn science in a deep way, work and bet on the best scientific teams, figure out what we would do to actually get the products to be used out in the field. So we built an institution, hired really good people, figured out how to do partnerships, how to work with governments, how to get things down. We do a lot of work in India and in Africa. For this phase of my life, it is the perfect thing. It has allowed our resources to have far more impact than if we had just done it passively. Some philanthropists are still tied up doing their business work, like Warren [Buffett] is at Berkshire. That is a perfectly valid model. For me, I felt I wanted to switch over and make this my primary work.
You have said what you did at Microsoft during the first 20 years helped in preparing for this. What transferable skills have come here?
Well, Microsoft was about technology a