COUR TESY OF THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION
Bill and Melinda Gatesturned to Bill Senior,
alongtime longtime Seattle lawyer who, family friends
s ay, “knewhow togetthingsdone.” Atleft,
Bill Senior is greeted by kids in Delhi, India.
“A fair amount of what we did [as the children were growing
u“A fair amount of what we did [as the children were grow
p] was based on the conviction that, as the expression says,
all in this together’—that we had something to contribu
—Bill Gates Sr. “ing
The mission of the foundation
Bill and Mary Gates set clear examples of
civic responsibility and charitable giving for
their children, but the foundation has become
infinitely larger than anybody ever conceived,
reflecting the visions of Bill and Melinda
Gates. At the heart of the Seattle-based organization is the belief that every life has equal
value. Internationally, the foundation focuses
on healthcare, fighting such diseases as
malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and
eliminating poverty in developing nations.
Domestically, the emphasis is on education
and improving access to technology. To date,
the foundation has committed nearly $20 billion to causes.
The foundation’s giving power doubled in
size in 2006 with the announcement by Warren
Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire
Hathaway Inc., that he would donate 10 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock, then
worth approximately $31 billion, over a
10-year period. The stunning donation was
part of an overall plan for Buffett, a close family friend of the Gateses, to pledge most of his
wealth to charitable trusts.
To date, the foundation has allocated
$655 million to eradicate polio in an effort
spearheaded by the Rotary Club. Another
huge donation is some $400 million in a series
of grants to find a vaccine for malaria, which
claims 1 million lives each year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and mostly children. The
foundation awards more than $2 billion each
year in grants.
Bill Senior says the scale of these efforts
astounds him, but not their existence. His
son’s curiosity, his devotion to deep analytical
thinking and his belief that an answer could
be found to any problem if you just searched
hard enough have never wavered, whether
that meant looking up a difficult word in the
family dictionary or, today, studying malaria.
And giving back was a value in their home.
“A fair amount of what we did [as the
children were growing up] was based on the
conviction that, as the expression says, ‘We’re
all in this together’—that we had something
to contribute,” says Bill Senior. He adds,
laughing, “Of course, I have a hard time translating that into $27 billion.”
The size and scope of the foundation is
the result of a perfect storm of sorts. Bill and
Melinda Gates had massive wealth, personal
commitments to giving a lot of it away and
enough in liquid assets to make a difference.
Determining exactly what problems to target
was a process that continues to evolve today.
“Part of it was sometime after the foundation
was up and running they had this very dramatic exposure to the egregious disparity
between healthcare in the poor world and
healthcare in the well-to-do world,” explains
Bill Senior. “That had an impact on them.
There was an urge and a tendency to think in
terms of disadvantaged parts of society.”
Bill Senior suggests that what drives his
son and daughter-in-law to devote their time
and treasure to charitable causes is no different than what drives ordinary people to “show
up” in their communities, much like his old
scoutmaster or his own father, who was always
ready to help in the neighborhood.
“That wonderful spirit of neighborliness
... isn”t unusual,” he writes. “The only thing
that may have chang ed is
our definition of
the word neighbor.
In today’s world,
our neighbors are not just down the streetoracrosstown ,
they are across th e
world. We”re all in t his
dance together.” C
The CostcoConnection Connection
Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of
a Lifetime, by Bill Gates Sr., is available at all
Costco locations and online at Costco.com.