Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement


Gates, William H., III (Bill Gates)

By Andrea Berry

Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University


Biographical Highlights

William H. Gates (1955- ) may be the greatest philanthropist of our time, if the sheer sum of wealth donated to philanthropic causes is the measure. By 2002, Gates had given sixty percent of his wealth to charity and contends that, over his lifetime, the total will be ninety-five percent. He is viewed as the twenty-first century's Rockefeller or Carnegie. He earned his wealth as co-founder (with friend Paul Allen) and chief executive officer of Microsoft (a major software company and one of the largest corporations in the world). Regardless of his monetary value and the profound impact he has had on the technology industry and philanthropic sector, Gates sees himself as a normal person. He drives an affordable mid-size car and goes to work everyday.

To date, Bill Gates has given $24 billion to the private foundation he began with his wife, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Microsoft 2003). The main focus of the Gates' foundation and their public awareness work includes global health and population control programs, increased library technology, minority scholarships, and education reform (Crowley 2000). With his almost urgent attention given, specifically, to the issues of global health and library technology, Bill Gates has made a greater impact than many of the tycoons of the twenty-first century by recognizing the importance of giving assistance now rather than after his death. As one example, Gates educated himself about the measles epidemic that is rampant in many third world countries and determined that a twenty-five cent vaccine is needed now (Byrne et al. 2002).


Historic Roots

William Henry Gates III was born into a family with a history in politics, business and community service. His great-grandfather had been a mayor and father was a prominent lawyer. It was apparent, at an early age, that Gates had inherited many of his family's traits (Mirick 2003). Being a very intelligent individual, his family enrolled him at Lakeside, a private school with an intense learning environment. It was there that he was first introduced to computers.

Computers were quite expensive during this time period and money had to be raised to lease one system. The Computer Center Corporation struck a deal with Lakeside that allowed the students to have computer time. The corporation was based out of Seattle, Washington, and was known for offering computing time at good rates to organizations or schools who could not afford computer systems.

Gates and his friends were inseparable from the new system. They hacked their way past security features and even sabotaged the program that recorded the total amount of computer time being used (Ibid.). Soon after the Computer Center Corporation recognized the students' programming ability, they were offered part-time jobs. One of Gates' first philanthropic moments may have been when he volunteered to find bugs and expose weaknesses in the Corporation's system. Yet, it was not simply altruistic, because he was given free computer time in return.

After the Computer Center Corporation went under, he and his friends found another job where they received free computer use in exchange for creating software for the company. This was with Information Services Inc. (ISI), a local software company in Seattle that sold office-based programs such as the payroll system Gates and Allen created. With this job, Gates was paid royalties for the programs he and his friends created; as a result, they created their own business.

On their way to creating Microsoft, the friends created another company called Traf-O-Data. This was their first big break, the traffic computer that was created under this new company netted the group $20,000. Then, Bill's last big break before going to Harvard was a job at a defense contractor company named TRW.

After Paul Allen talked him into dropping out of college, Gates laid the groundwork for his career at Microsoft. Together, the men created a BASIC program for a new microcomputer and a product of the Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems called Altair. Neither of the men had this type of computer and built the program on a different, more easily-accessible model. This would make or break their careers. Fortunately, their program worked when Allen went to demonstrate it to Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems Company (MITS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With this under their belts, the software market had been born and Gates was the first one on the bandwagon.


Importance

Many important advancements have been made thanks to the drive and intelligence of Bill Gates. Technological advances brought about or envisioned by him have transformed the way that individuals and companies do business. Advances in global health issues, learning opportunities for the needy, minority scholarships, and other community driven projects have been brought about by the philanthropic work of Gates, his wife, Melinda, and their foundation staff.

Early in his career, Gates contributed a substantial amount of money to issues that were important to him. In 1991, a $12 million gift helped to endow a molecular biology research lab at the University of Washington. After his mother's death in 1994, Bill endowed a $10 million scholarship at the same university in Mary Gates' name. One year later, he and his wife initiated a "libraries online" program. Within eighteen months, 200 inner-city libraries had the software and information available to help their most needy citizens.

Beyond all of these endowments, Gates also plays an active role in philanthropy. He has a strategic approach to giving that centers around dealing with issues at their core level, Gates places great importance on making real change. There is also a global focus to his work - he not only wants to deal with issues at home, but to make international strides for change, particularly in the most underdeveloped countries. Finally, Gates demands results and has a hand in designing and implementing his foundation's programs.

The success of the Gates Foundation can be attributed to this strategic approach to philanthropy. It is able to keep the overhead low by making a relatively small number of large grants; this increases the potential impact of each program it funds. It is also important to note that this large foundation (the largest in the world) is able to survive with a fixed income with no stocks in its portfolio (Barrett 2003).


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Having created the "nation's largest philanthropic trust," Bill Gates continually strives to donate money and time for some of the world's most urgent issues (Gates & Gates 2003). His focus on education, health care, and access to information and technology are driven not only by his own interests but also by the needs of the international community.

Gates created multiple foundations to deal with and address these needs. Early in his career, he founded the William H. Gates Foundation. Soon after, an initiative within the Microsoft Corporation was created to connect libraries to the Internet and other resources, an initiative called "library online." The Gates

Library Foundation was soon created to advance the library systems across the world. The last foundation created was the Gates Learning Foundation. This foundation sought to advance learning for people of all ages.

With the help of his father, chief executive officer of the William H. Gates Foundation, and Patty Stonesifer, chief executive officer of the Gates Library Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates consolidated these foundations. With the formation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as it is called today, Gates displayed an understanding that structural changes must be made to efficiently address the changing needs of the community. His interest in helping the global community through time and money, have made him an undying philanthropist.


Key Related Ideas

Many topics of interest surface while discussing Bill Gates. The computer software movement and Microsoft's impact on the computer industry remain Gate's largest legacies, though his philanthropic activity is gaining more public attention.

His interest in certain philanthropic issues has ranked him as one of the greatest philanthropists in the world. If there are initiatives on health, education or information technology, Bill Gates is probably involved. Having stemmed from his family's interest in community service, he becomes involved with programs that get to the root problems of society.

His global health initiatives are trying to reduce the "unconscionable disparity" between the health care of the industrialized and developing countries . One example is the outbreak of measles in third world countries. Such epidemics are not even thought of in America, however one million children die or are disabled in developing countries every year. By improving health in these countries, Gates also hopes to reduce poverty in developing countries .

Another health proposal is to empower women by allowing them access to voluntary family planning . There are 150 million women, in third world countries, who want access to services to delay or prevent pregnancy.

Similarly, the educational interests of the Gates' foundation are far reaching. Educational grants that are made support model school programs and districts. They also provide professional development opportunities for teachers in every state. Lastly, Gates tries to address the high costs of higher education by providing scholarships .

The information technology programs help to bridge the digital divide and educate people all around the world. There have been 28,978 computers installed in communities across North America that reach low-income, needy individuals . It is estimated that roughly 145.3 million people have accessed this resource. Many of the electronic initiatives require Microsoft software. Gates may be seen as a "commercial opportunist," however, of his many initiatives, this program is the only one that directly benefits the Microsoft corporation.


Important People Related to the Topic

Paul Allen , co-founder of Microsoft, has been Bill Gates' friend since middle school. Together, the men's work shaped the early technology industry and became partners in the largest corporation in the world. Years ago, Allen left Microsoft to begin business and technology ventures of his own. In his own right, Allen has also become a leading philanthropist. He began a set of charitable organizations in the early 1990s to make grants to "innovative arts, medical and charitable groups in the Pacific Northwest whose work created positive change in their communities" (PGA Foundations 2003). Recently, added foundations focused on forest protection, music and virtual education, thus bringing its number to six foundations in the PGA (Paul G. Allen) Foundations group.

William H. Gates II , Bill Gates' father, has been an influential person in his life. He instilled public values and commitment to community in Bill from his childhood. A long-time supporter of the United Way as an efficient vehicle for philanthropic giving, Gates passed on this belief to his son whose contributions to the organization have been large and consistent. The senior Gates also continues his own philanthropic mission as chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through this work he directs the foundation while keeping his son's vision for the future intact.

The "Microsoft Millionaires" have also benefited from Gates' creativity and innovation. There were hundreds of individuals who cashed in their stock options to become millionaires. Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell are two of the individuals who cashed in their stock. Instead of retiring (or buying farms and restaurants like some of their cohorts), these twenty-five year-old software developers created a company to produce action games for computers (GameSpot 2003). Many of the millionaires could not stand to retire at such a young age, so they are still working hard at things they love to do.

John D. Rockefeller was also an important person in Gate's life. Although he had never met the man, Bill knew that he wanted to follow in his footsteps and give away most of his fortune in a strategic manner. Rockefeller's work with hookworm is also an inspiration for Gate's as he tries to eradicate disease from developing countries and the world.

Patty Stonesifer has been a major influence on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As co-chair and president of the foundation, Stonesifer provides leadership to achieve its mission - to improve access to advances in global health and learning for all people as we move into the twenty-first century. Prior to being asked by Bill and Melinda Gates to initiate the work of the Gates Learning Foundation in 1997, Stonesifer was a senior vice president at Microsoft.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

Gates' philanthropy reaches beyond the William & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its beneficiaries are numerous, and include the following two major recipients of the couple's commitment.

The Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) has been a major recipient of funds through Gate's foundation. It exemplifies the ideals and programs so important to Gates. With the help of grants, PATH has launched Children's Vaccine Program (CVP) worldwide. CVP seeks to partner with leading experts to repair unsuccessful immunization programs, build financial and human capacity and introduce the latest vaccines and immunizations to people all around the world (Children's Vaccine Program 2003). PATH partners with many organizations to achieve its mission, particularly United Nations Children's Funds (UNICEF).

The University of Washington has also been a beneficiary of Bill Gate's philanthropy. Millions of dollars have been donated to better the university including endowed scholarships (named after his mother) and grants to build a new law building (named after his father). To date, the Gates' have donated $57 million to the university (University of Washington 1999).


Related Web Sites

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Web site contains information about the foundation's history, the accomplishments of its various grant initiatives, and extensive resources related to its areas of funding (including research, program information, and scholarships). The foundation's areas of funding are: global health, education, libraries, the Pacific Northwest and special projects. The site's address is http://www.gatesfoundation.org/default.asp .

William H. Gates III Before Microsoft Web site contains information about Gates' family history and early academic and professional lives. Visit the site at http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Gates.Mirick.html [no longer available].


Bibliography

Barrett, William. "Unlocking the Gates Foundation," Forbes (30 January 2003): 130.

Byrne, John A., Julia Cosgrove, Brian Hindo, and Adam Dayan. "The New Face of Philanthropy," Business Week (2002): 3810, 82.

Children's Vaccine Program. Our Vision . [cited 31 January 2003]. Available from http://www.childrensvaccine.org/html/a-vision.htm .

Crowley, Walt. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - A Snapshot History. Seattle/ King Co. HistoryLink.org. (26 December 2000). [cited 24 January 2003]. Available from http://www.historylink.org/output.CFM?file_ID=2907 .

GameSpot. Part 2: The Microsoft Millionaires . [cited 31 January 2003]. Available from http://www.gamespot.com/features/halflife_final/part2.html .

Gates, William H. and Melinda F. Gates. Letter From Bill and Melinda Gates . Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. [cited 20 January 2003]. Available from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/
AboutUs/LetterfromBillMelindaFrenchGates/
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Microsoft. William H. Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation. [updated September 2002; cited 24 January 2003]. Available at http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/bio.asp .

Mirick, John. William H. Gates III Before Microsoft. [updated 29 September 1996; cited 24 January 2003]. Available from http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Gates.Mirick.html [no longer available].

PGA Foundations. Founder's Letter, The Paul G. Allen Foundations Opening Doors . [cited 20 January 2003]. Available from http://www.pgafoundations.com/letter.asp .

University of Washington. "New Gift Makes Mary Gates Endowment the UW's Largest." University Week 17 (4 November 1999): 6. [cited 31 January 2003]. Available from http://depts.washington.edu/~uweek/archives/
1999.11.NOV_04/article7.html
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