Exclusive interview: Bill Gates

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has shaken up the world of philanthropy. Leonard Stall meets the man himself at his headquarters in Seattle to find out about the primary goals of the Foundation and how Gates intends to achieve them 

As the entrepreneurial force in the PC revolution, Bill Gates’ Microsoft fundamentally changed the way we live, work, play and learn.

Unquestioned genius, together with his ability to focus on what counts, his determination to win and, perhaps, a touch of luck, helped make Gates the world’s youngest self-made billionaire in history, at just 31.

In June 2008, he retired from the day-to-day running of Microsoft and began to devote his time to philanthropy and the distribution of his fortune. With his wife, Melinda, he expects to give away nearly all of his wealth through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Having been a catalyst in the lives of the rich, Gates is now a catalyst for improving the lives of the poor.

The already significant funds available to the Gates Foundation were further swelled by an estimated US$31bn pledge from their friend Warren Buffett. The donation of most of Buffett’s shares in his investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, instantly doubled the foundation’s annual grant making and potential impact and turned it into the world’s largest transparently operated charitable foundation.

Buffett advised them not to go for the safe projects but “take on the really tough problems”. They do. Last year, the foundation gave away more than US$3bn, with every dollar targeted at positively affecting the health and lives of the poorest in society. In total, it has already spent US$26bn on redressing the “awful inequities in the world”, and probably still has funds to give for a further 50 years beyond the lives of its founders.

If the saying is true that people don’t remember you for how you make money, but for how you spend it, then Bill Gates is still writing himself into the history books as the world’s greatest-ever philanthropist, and certainly the one who has had the most impact.

Click on the SoundCloud link to hear the full interview.