Steve Job’s death drove the point home even harder for Bill Gates that he has to use the short time he has left to do as much as he can for the world. During an interview with Yahoo! and ABC News, Gates says of Job’s death, “Well, it’s very strange to have somebody who’s so vibrant and made such a huge difference and been… kind of a constant presence, to have him die. It makes you feel like, ‘Wow, we’re getting old.’ I hope I still have quite a bit of time for the focus I have now, which is the philanthropic work. And there’s drugs we’re investing in now that won’t be out for 15 years – malaria eradication, I need a couple of decades here to fulfill that opportunity. But, you know, it reminds you that you gotta pick important stuff, because you only have a limited time.”
So how is Mr. Gates spending his vast wealth and limited time?
The Gates Foundation has pledged to spend 95 percent of Gates’ personal wealth on philanthropic work. At home, Gates has made it his mission to improve education in the U.S. through a “peer-reviewed” teaching program. According to his proposed strategy, an elite group of teachers, after undergoing training, will observe other teachers’ classes, evaluate their teaching methods, and advise them about improvements that need to be made.
He explains, “You take 2 percent of the teachers, train them very well and have them do structured visitations. And they tell the teacher, ‘OK, you were good at this, but you didn’t engage these kids very well. You didn’t create discussion here. You didn’t explain why a kid would wanna know this thing,’ and help those teachers improve.”
Most of the money pledged by the Gates Foundation, however, goes to international charity; approximately 75 percent is allotted to helping out the world’s poorest countries. One of their priorities is the fight against preventable diseases. In India, their recent vaccination efforts were so successful that there was only a single case of polio reported last year.
This year, the top focus of the Foundation’s annual letter is agriculture; more specifically, Gates is channeling funds towards the genetic engineering of crops that are resistant to flood and drought. Despite the controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Gates firmly believes that giving farmers access to this technology will also give them the ability to feed the world’s continually increasing population.
“Over time, yes, countries will need to look at specific GMO products like they look at drugs today, where they don’t approve them all,” says Gates. “They look hard at the safety and the testing. And they make sure that the benefits far outweigh any of the downsides.”
To his critics who point out that his money would be better spent at home, Gates says, “Well, the question is, are human lives of equal value? For the mother whose child dies in Africa, is that somehow less important, less painful? If we can save that life — for very little [money], is that appropriate to do? And, in fact, we know that if we do save those lives, it can reduce the population growth. It can let them be on a path to graduate from receiving aid.”