Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrHere’s a paradox: In these brutal economic times, one of the leading advocates for the world’s poorest people is one of the richest.
So begins Nicholas Kristof's January 24 op-ed piece in the New York Times. Kristof visited Gates in advance of Gates' 2009 Annual Letter, his first. You can watch part of the conversation between Kristof and Gates below.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the world's largest philanthropy, with assets of approximately $38.7 billion - and that is after a 20% decline in value last year (referenced in Stephanie Strom's article in the NYT). In 2009, the Foundation plans to give $3.9 billion to improve health in the world's poorest countries and to improve education in the US. That's some serious coin!!! It is extraordinary to think that one man (and those who work with him) has the power, quite literally, to change the lives of millions of people throughout the world. It's hard to comprehend!
The Gates Foundation gives financial gifts to many organizations throughout the world. However, the real power of the Foundation, because of its enormous scale, is its ability to make very large, concentrated gifts in areas where significant, systemic change is possible. Gates' describes them: "These investments are high-risk and high-reward. But the reward isn't measured by financial gain, it's measured by the number of lives saved or people lifted out of poverty." For instance, approximately 50% of total giving goes to the Foundation's Global Health Program that focuses on the prevention of disease - including "diarrheal diseases (including rotavirus), pneumonia, and malaria—which mostly kill kids—and AIDS and TB, which mostly kill adults."
The world desperately needs people like Bill and Melinda Gates - people who put their vast resources to work helping the neediest among us. But what about the rest of us - what can we do that matters? It would be misguided to think that the Bill Gates's of the world can solve these problems alone. Kristof asked Gates what those of us with tens or hundreds to give rather than billions could do. His answer: pick a cause that interests you and get some in-depth knowledge. Travel to see the problem firsthand. Then find an organization that does the kind of work that you've learned about and care about. Support it with your time and dollars. As Kristof says, "So try it. The only difference between you and Mr. Gates is scale."