Bill and Melinda Gates: The power couple spending more on fighting Coronavirus than most countries
Meet Bill and Melinda Gates, and get to know their work. Because in a world gripped by panic, this kind of consistent philanthropy is worth its weight in gold.
The coronavirus is the number one story on everybody’s mind. The pace at which the pandemic is growing poses a huge threat to global health.
The WHO had, as of 1 February, estimated new global spending requirements of $675 million for three months of “priority public health measures”. The bulk of it, $640 million, was for countries to prepare and respond.
The organisation said, on average, a country would need around $65 million in extra expenditure. Countries, organisations and international agencies are contributing in varying amounts:
Particularly for economically vulnerable countries, this makes the strain to deal with the global public health emergency immense.
Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with two other large charities, together pledged up to $125 million to help speed the development of treatments for the fast-spreading coronavirus.
Of this combined amount, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone pledged $50 million. While this focuses on finding a cure, compare this to $20 million pledged by China.
The effort, known as the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, will focus on new and repurposed drugs that can be used right away to treat patients infected with the novel coronavirus and possibly other viruses in the future. The money is intended to ensure that treatments for the virus will be available in poor countries and affordable for individuals.
"Viruses like COVID-19 spread rapidly, but the development of vaccines and treatments to stop them moves slowly," Mark Suzman, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a statement.
"If we want to make the world safe from outbreaks like COVID-19, particularly for those most vulnerable, then we need to find a way to make research and development move faster. That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organisations to act quickly to fund research and development."
But how is one organisation matching and exceeding the contributions of the vast majority of countries so far?
It’s all due to this power pair who embody #CoupleGoals.
First, meet Bill:
One of the richest men in the world. The father of the Silicon revolution, the man who brought us the personal computer. The Co-founder of one of the biggest technological companies in the world.
All that, and also one of the strongest crusaders for global health. He’s a philanthropist first, and a business leader second.
Bill Gates is possibly one of the most widely recognisable figures worldwide’ and definitely one of the wealthiest.
In this context, it came as no surprise when he announced his decision last week to focus more on making the world a better place.
Bill Gates announced that he would step down from his role on the board of Microsoft - the technical behemoth company that he co-founded more than 40 years ago with Paul Allen.
He cited one reason for stepping down: The need to save time for the philanthropic endeavours he would like to focus on; with particular attention on global health and development, education and climate change.
Responding to the announcement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, "Microsoft will continue to benefit from Bill's ongoing technical passion and advice. I am grateful for Bill's friendship and look forward to continuing to work alongside him to realize our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
Gates was the CEO of the company until 2000, and in 2008, he stepped down from his day to day role in company operations.
In the 20 years since, he’s come to be known for using his status and wealth to solve issues of poverty and inequality on a global scale; while balancing his role as a board member of the tech company.
And now, meet Melinda:
As the daughter of an engineer who worked on NASA's Appollo launch, Melinda remembers watching an endless number of rocket launches. According to The Wall Street Journal, she was mesmerized by the "moment of lift" (which also happens to be the title of her autobiography) just before the spacecraft took off. This, along with her parents' Apple computer, piqued Melinda's interest in technology.
Melinda French graduated from Duke University with degrees in computer science and business as well.
As GeekWire puts it, "She could have worked for any number of companies. She ended up following the advice of an IBM hiring manager — not to join IBM, but instead to take a job at an up-and-coming company called Microsoft, if she had the chance."
In that decision, her future was made, and the rest is history. Melinda has graced Forbes' list of the World's Most Powerful Women for years; ranking 6th in 2018 and 2019.
In 2019, Forbes reported, "Gates maintains her position as most powerful woman in philanthropy as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."
She joined Microsoft in product development in 1987 and rose to become general manager of information products. Since that pivotal point, she has crusaded for gender equality, equal opportunity, and global health.
She began her charitable endeavours in 1994. Her first philanthropic organisation was the William H. Gates Foundation, named after Bill's father. Its main objective was to pursue global health programs as well as projects in the Pacific Northwest, where they lived. Three years later they launched the Gates Library Foundation (renamed Gates Learning Foundation in 1999) to benefit North American libraries, with a particular focus on bringing Internet technology to public libraries.
Next came the Gates Millennium Scholars program in 1999, which directed $1 billion toward minority study grants.
The couple consolidated their charitable interests in 2000 as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Here’s how they became the philanthropic giants they are today:
In 1997, Bill and Melinda read an article about millions of children in poverty stricken counties, who die from diseases that were eliminated in the US. The now-famous article was set in Thane, India; and highlighted the plight of scavenger children.
His experience in India led to a gift of $100 million to the Bill & Melinda Gates Children’s Vaccine Program. His interest in philanthropy and global health took off from there.
In 2000, Bill and Melinda officially established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They started with a $1 billion program to help 20,000 young people afford college over the next two decades.
His position as a global billionaire helped raise awareness about his charity work; and her relentless efforts as the head of the company drove it forward.
Six years after the Foundation was established, they convinced Warren Buffett to pledge the bulk of his wealth to the foundation.
By 2010, Bill and Melinda challenged the global health community to declare this the Decade of Vaccines. They pledged $10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop, and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries.
In the same year, Melinda, Warren Buffett, and Bill launched the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest people to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy.
They continued to grow and diversify their efforts.
Their focus remained global health, but they also tackled anciliary issues. For example, in 2017, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $300 million to helping farmers in Africa and Asia cope with climate change.
Since its launch, the Foundation had, by 2018, spent over $36 billion to fund work in global health, emergency relief, education, poverty, and more. Their expenditure on defeating malaria alone was about $2 billion.
Today, it is the world's largest private charitable foundation with a $40 billion trust endowment.
And now, in the face of a global health emergency, they continue to be one of the biggest drivers of change.
Their founding statement reads, “Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.”
In a world gripped by panic, this kind of consistent philanthropy is worth its weight in gold.