A file picture taken on September 24, 2015 shows philanthropist Bill Gates speaking during a press conference for the organization Every Woman Every Child on September 24, 2015, in New York. /AFP
A file picture taken on September 24, 2015 shows philanthropist Bill Gates speaking during a press conference for the organization Every Woman Every Child on September 24, 2015, in New York. /AFP

Wealthy people? Give us more like Bill Gates

opinion August 19, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

The microsoft founder's Latest donation underlines his good intentions for the world

In a world in which so many people are obsessed with how much money they can amass, the big question concerning Bill Gates is how much he can give away. Put another way, his challenge as one of the richest people on the planet is how he can offload his fortune. We cannot say he hasn’t tried.

Gates has just given away 5 per cent of his personal wealth – $4.6 billion (Bt153 billion). It’s said to be the billionaire’s largest donation since 2000, when he seeded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with stock valued at $5 billion. This body has since become the world’s biggest transparently operated private foundation, its chief missions being to enhance healthcare, reduce poverty and expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.

There are always cynics who look at the enormity of his wealth – in the region of $100 billion – and are unimpressed by his magnanimity. It’s quickly been pointed out that the $4.6 billion outlay is equivalent to a diner with $100 in his pocket leaving the waiter a $5 tip. But Gates is praised for being one of the few high-profile people of vast wealth who do share their good fortune around. Not counting this latest donation, Gates has handed over $20 billion to charity, in the span of five or six years. If you don’t appreciate the size of his donations, admirers say, look at the frequency.

It seems as though, no matter what he does, Gates cannot stop his wealth from continuously expanding. Four years ago, when the US economy was still mired, he banked $9.8 billion. Significantly, that money came not from Microsoft gains. He’d merelyinvested more wisely than most – presumably not in the sub-prime housing market. 

But Gates’ remark about how he hates being ranked as the richest person in the world is well remembered. He was no doubt speaking about the clatter of attention that comes with the annual unveiling of the wealth list in the media, but even so, his comment can be taken with a grain of salt. After all, his house cost enough to build a skyscraper in a developing country. If he sold off his art collection, the proceeds would be enough to turn a thousand poor families into rich families. 

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the bottom line – that he could give away a lot less of his money and still be considered one of the world’s most generous philanthropists. He does not have to do as much as he does to inspire. Gates is on Instagram, though he’s only posted there once. It’s a telling post, just the same. It’s a photo of him with a group of children in Tanzania. 

“I just had a great lunch with some amazing kids at Kicheba Primary School in Muheza and met Upendo Mwingira, a remarkable physician who has dedicated her career to fighting neglected tropical diseases. Melinda and I have been coming to Tanzania for many years now. I always love seeing how much progress the country has made to improve health and provide opportunity. 

“Plus, the scenery is stunning. Whenever I travel to places like this, I wish others could come along and meet the people I get to meet. I have no doubt it would leave them as optimistic as I am about progress happening around the world.”

If that was a public-relations stunt, it was unnecessary. After all, we’ve seen far brasher PR from wealthy people who give away far less. Some may say the world can never get enough “from” Gates. Others will say the world needs more like him – not from him.