Lessons on giving from Bill and Melinda Gates

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They are the richest couple in the world with a fortune currently estimated at $90 billion. Since 1994 they have donated $35 billion to charity. The Gates Foundation that was launched in 2000 is the world’s largest charity with over $40 billion in funds.  But the following 25 minute TED talk by Bill and Melinda Gates is a fascinating insight into what it personally means to develop a healthy attitude to giving.

Granted that none of us has access to the resources and expertise that the Gates have, but what is particularly interesting  to learn from them is how they have deliberately and intentionally thought through how they should use what they have been given. It has now become for them a life time’s work of service to the world. Rather than retiring and living a life of luxury they have chosen to focus on some of the world’s greatest and most deeply entrenched problems, particularly global poverty and inequality.

The primary aims of their foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in the United States, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. But it started with a trip to Africa when they were an engaged couple which opened their eyes to extreme poverty and their responsibility to make a difference. They could have chosen to ignore what they saw, but instead they have deliberately gone after some of the hardest practical problems in the world……

From seeing the devastating impact of children dying at a young age, Melinda Gates developed an interest and passion for helping poor mothers have access to timely birth control. While that may seem at odds with her Catholic faith, what she has pointed out is that by connecting and talking to mothers in poverty she has learnt one of their greatest challenges is being able to space out when they have children. Not being able to do so is what can lead to crushing hardship and ruin for such families with so many mouths to feed.

For Bill Gates it is about having a part to play in reducing the number of children who die before the age of 5 every year from 20 million in the 1950s to about 6 million now. Rather than focus on the natural disasters that make the headlines and for which there is already much attention, his passion is to use his  great gifts, connections and expertise to develop and deliver the vaccines and medicine to get the death rate to below a million a year.

The other interesting angle is how they have worked together on this as a married couple, bringing their different perspectives to focus on the challenges. As Melinda Gates says, “We come at things from different angles, and I think that’s really good. Bill can look at the data and say, ‘I want to come at it based on these statistics.’ I talk to a lot of people and ask, ‘Can you get a woman to accept these polio drops in her child’s mouth?’ The delivery is as important as the science.”

Also when it comes to their children, I found it fascinating how the Gates are keen not to let their children just become billionaires like themselves. As Bill Gates says in the interview, “They need to have a sense their own work is meaningful and important.” Elsewhere they have commented that they intend to leave their three children only(!!) $10 million each as their inheritance. While to almost all of us reading this that seems a sizeable amount, it actually means that they are giving away 99.96% of their entire wealth!

Such is their passion they have inspired with Warren Buffet more than 120 billionaires to pledge to give away more than half their wealth to charitable causes. That also includes Mark Zuckerberg who with his wife Priscilla Chan pledged in December 2016 to give away 99% of their Facebook stock by the end of their lives.

What strikes you from the example of Bill and Melinda Gates when it comes to financial giving?

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4 thoughts on “Lessons on giving from Bill and Melinda Gates”

  1. I think its great and very impressive to see this altruism becoming almost contagious among the Silicon Valley super rich. I wish it would spread to the super rich in other parts of the world too. As you say its easy for us to say “well they have so much to start with” …. I suspect that compared with some of those living in absolute poverty, most of us reading this blog “have so much to start with” too. I do like your phrase: we have “a responsibility to make a difference”

    1. Yes Chris it is so important to start aware of how much we already have compared to so many in the world. That should be the impetus to look for where we are called to give and serve.

  2. Thank you for highlighting this Ted Talk. The Bible says that: Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done. Proverbs 19:17 Let us be encouraged to give intentionally to those in need.

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