- Bill and
Melinda Gates have for many years run a major charitable foundation
into which they have put $31 billion.
- It came back
into the news this last week (July 2006) when Bill Gates, the
richest man in the world, announced that he was to work full
time' for the Foundation and only half time' for Microsoft.
- It was followed
days later by an announcement by Warren Buffet, the Sage
of Omaha' and the second richest man in the world, that he was
to become a trustee of and give 85% of his fortune to the Gates
Foundation in annual tranches of $1.5 billion for as long as
Bill Gates personally is running it.
- The secret
of Mr Buffet's incredible success as a professional investor
is always to make his money work hard - and that requires good
ideas and the best management you can get. The same principles
apply to running charities.
- And so this
mega-foundation will now have double its original worth. It will
be able to make grants of $3 billion per year and on its own
will be able to tackle some of the biggest and most intractable
problems the world has. As some measure of its importance, it
now has five times the disposable income of Unesco. Accordingly,
it can take forward its plans to finance improved education and
the finding of cures for illnesses predominating in the third
world, such as aids, malaria, and polio, for which there is no
profit motive amongst the drug companies. After all, the poor
of the world simply cannot afford to pay the prices which the
drug companies normally demand for new drugs. The Gates Foundation,
though, finances research by the drug companies in order to have
their undoubted expertise, but at the same time ensuring that
the new drugs produced are affordable.
- Bill Gates
was and is the man whom computer geeks love to hate, even though
he was once of them. Why? Because he has built his evil
empire' on software which was not very good, but which through
very far-sighted marketing strategies obtained for him a quasi-monopoly
in key sectors - and in the process killed many products which
were in fact a lot better. Geekworld by contrast always wants
the very best software from a technical point of view and all
at zero cost. Perhaps neither attitude is ideal.
- But now we
have the biggest charity in the world run by someone who is not
known to be particularly religious and so does not have the hang-ups
both of many religious charities and which are to be found in
the aid criteria of the religiously constrained American government.
The US government, for instance, refuses to back AIDS programmes
which rely on the use of condoms as a first line of defence,
preferring instead to promote the futile policy of encouraging
sexual abstinence. The Catholics and the Muslims are also against
condoms and so indirectly responsible for countless deaths.
- It will be
something of an irony, therefore, if the former head of the evil
empire known as Microsoft, together with the most successful
investment capitalist of our era, become the real saviours of
mankind. What will the religious community do then? Blessed are
[With acknowledgements for the
cartoon to Matthew Martin, the Times 3rd July 2006]