Bill Gates is a rare thing – someone with vast wealth that wants to give almost every single cent of it away to highly ambitious good causes. He is an unfathomably busy person, one who is constantly attempting to protect the disadvantaged from disease and economic depression.
Still, it’s comforting to know that despite all his grandiose plans, he remains grounded as a positive-thinking, unadulterated geek. In other words, he's one of us.
“You know, people love cool science,” a decidedly cheerful Gates, relaxing back in his chair and clasping his hands, tells IFLScience. He reminisces about the Space Race back in the 1960s, noting that competition between the US and Soviets “fostered a lot of amazing scientific research” – as well getting us to the Moon.
The founder and ex-CEO of Microsoft was in London this November in order to promote his yearly Grand Challenges symposium, where bright thinkers get together and hash out their ideas for solving seemingly insurmountable planet-wide issues.
In-between a Q&A at the Science Museum alongside fellow technological evangelist and philanthropist will.i.am, Gates found some time to sit down with IFLScience and give us an insight into how he plans to save the world one innovation at a time – and it quickly became clear that he doesn’t think wealthy governments are pulling their weight.
“It’s great when we can have something, like, okay, let’s go eradicate malaria, or let’s finish off polio – that really galvanizes people to understand, to say ‘okay, that’s what this science is for,’” he said.
will.i.am and Bill Gates attend a Q&A at the Science Museum in London, hosted by the editor of the Evening Standard, Sarah Sands. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Alain Brin
“Unfortunately, the structure of capitalism is such that you get less risk-taking in research and science than you’d like because the benefits don’t go to the inventors,” he added. “So the level of risk you take is lower than society should want you to, and that’s why for basic research governments have stepped in. But they could always do more.”
Praising the quality of the funding bodies and, in particular, the universities in the UK and US, Gates agrees that “it’s impressive, but there’s a capacity to accelerate these great inventions when there’re more resources available, and a lot of that has to come from government and philanthropy.”
One Planet, Many Missions
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is co-chaired between Gates, his wife Melinda and fellow philanthropist Warren Buffett. Since it was founded at the turn of the millennium, it has given out nearly $37 billion dollars in grants to groups, collectives, and organizations around the world dedicated to its advancement through science and innovation. It has grantees in every state in the US, and in over 100 other countries.
The fight against disease is arguably at the forefront of the Foundation’s work. The GAVI Alliance, a group helping to expand childhood immunization, has received $1.5 billion in funding. It has also committed $456 million to the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and $355 million to Rotary International, a group supporting polio eradication.
Partly in thanks to this investment, the number of polio diagnoses has dropped by more than 99 percent since 1988. With the global rollout of a new vaccine, many experts are convinced that this debilitating disease will soon be eradicated from the globe.