Bill Gates is the founder of Microsoft and the world's richest man at $56 billion. He is also one of the world's most generous, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gateses started a formal program of giving in 1994 with the establishment of the William H. Gates Foundation., which became the present foundation in 1999. The endowment funds now total $34 billion.
The foundation must donate at least 5 percent of its assets annually to retain charitable status. Thus, it will be in position to make approximately $1.7 billion in grants each year to three causes it has targeted: global development, global health and the United States.
The global development program dedicates itself to eliminating poverty, with most of its efforts to date focusing on Asia and Africa. The global health program works to eliminate the world's most infectious diseases. Most of these tend to develop in poor countries, so the relationship to the global development cause is a close one. The final program deals with issues in the Pacific Northwest, where Gates lives, and with education throughout the United States.
In 2006, Gates announced that he would step back from his corporate activities in July 2008 to focus full time on the needs of his foundation. His passion for the foundation is equal to his love of the technology business. In fact, he's managed to convince his friend, Warren Buffet, the world's second richest man, to pledge 10 million class-B Berkshire Hathaway shares, or approximately $36 billion, to the Gates Foundation. Buffet will give 5 percent of the shares annually until all 10 million are in the hands of Gates' foundation. Should he die before the full disposition, the remainder will transfer. Eventually, the Gates Foundation will receive 85 percent of Buffett's wealth, currently valued at $52 billion.
There are those in the media who feel the need to criticize some of the grants made by the Gates Foundation because they've been for programs in countries with poor humanitarian and environmental records. Unfortunately, when you're trying to the help the poor, sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. The alternative is for the poor to go without. That's definitely not generous.