Steve Jobs was often referred to as “changing the world”, and Bill Gates as well has changed the world. But now that he’s no longer chairman of Microsoft, Gates is out changing the world in many more ways than through computer operating systems, by saving millions of lives by delivering vaccines around the world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 1999, and since then, Bill Gates has given up on the meaningless title of “Richest Man in the World” by investing billions into his foundation and pouring much of his fortune into the noble task of helping to eradicate various diseases.
This philanthropy on the part of Gates isn’t new, but it’s a fascinating story:
Bill’s dad had set up a dinner at Seattle’s posh Columbia Tower Club with the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). While the meeting started with birth control—among other efforts, PATH taught Chinese condom makers to test their products before shipping them—Gates began consuming data that startled him. In society after society, he saw, when the mortality rate falls—specifically, below 10 deaths per 1,000 people—the birth rate follows, and population growth stabilizes. “It goes against common sense,” Gates says. Most parents don’t choose to have eight children because they want to have big families, it turns out, but because they know many of their children will die.
“If a mother and father know their child is going to live to adulthood, they start to naturally reduce their population size,” says Melinda.
In terms of giving, Gates did a 180-degree turn. Rather than prevent births, he would aim his billions at saving the kids already born. “We moved pretty heavily into vaccines once we understood that,” says Gates.
He could have focused on clinics and doctors, but that doesn’t scale. “The magic tool of health intervention is the vaccine, because they can be made very inexpensively,” he says. “We had to choose what the most impactful thing to give would be—not just money, but our time, energy, voice.” Melinda, his partner in all things philanthropic, echoes that thought: “Where’s the place you can have the biggest impact with the money? Where can you save the very most lives with those resources?”
So it’s not just that he’s saving some lives, but by helping to conquer deadly disease, he’s giving third world communities the chance to grow and participate in a rapidly changing world and at the same time, by saving lives, he may actually be helping to control population as people get out of the habit of having 10 kids with the assumption that half are going to die.
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