At this time of year, as those of us in the US leave Thanksgiving behind, and many of us around the world look towards Christmas and Hanukkah, charitable giving is on a lot of people’s minds. Whether or not we’re able to give during the rest of the year, the message of these holidays can often inspire acts of generosity and kindness.
In the world of business, it is growing increasingly common to commit portions of our budgets to community responsibility programmes and charitable opportunities. When speaking with a company about their recent achievements or plans for the future, the Endeavour team time and again encounter inspiring accounts of projects and initiatives that are giving little back to our planet. Yet if we are talking about charity from the private sector, there are a few key figures who spring to mind, and undoubtedly near the top of anyone’s list are Bill and Melinda Gates.
The Gates need no introduction. Having made and sustained his fortune off of the invention of Microsoft, Bill Gates is set for life. He and his wife, ex Microsoft employee Melinda, have been no fools with their billions either (their current net worth is US$89.5!); not only have they continued to develop Microsoft and invest in a plethora of other projects, from software to Smart Cities, but they have also been staggeringly generous, donating billions to a range of charitable causes. More than simply giving, they have put in the work, setting up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to apply their entrepreneurial minds to the causes they are supporting, allowing them to oversee exactly how and where their money is spent. Describing themselves as “impatient optimists working to reduce inequity”, they have prompted, funded and founded initiatives in Africa, America, China, Europe, India and the Middle East, and are showing no signs of slowing down.
“As a foundation, our goal is to ensure that all people, no matter where they live, have the chance of a healthy, productive life,” the organization has stated. “We’re focused on using grant making and advocacy to help solve complex, entrenched problems that affect billions of people, including the AIDS and malaria epidemics, extreme poverty, and the poor state of American high schools.
“Businesses play a crucial role in helping to solve these problems, and we believe we can have the most impact on businesses by encouraging them directly to dedicate expertise and money to these problems. We publicly praise companies that are doing good work and try to persuade others to step up. Sometimes we make grants to for-profit companies, to give them incentives to join the work. We spend a great deal of time working with the private sector and have found such collaboration to be very powerful.
“We work with all kinds of organizations, including governments, non-profits, businesses, faith-based groups, and academic institutions, as well as with many individuals. We believe everyone benefits when the best ideas are developed and applied, no matter where they are found.”
Companies are finding charitable involvement increasingly desirable. Due to the information age, it is easier than ever for client-bases to check up on a company’s moral track record, and with the millennial generation and beyond, consumers are both able and willing to do this research. A customer never buys a product alone – they buy into a brand, and today more than ever, part of that brand’s appeal or lack therefore is tied to their effect on the planet. Charitable work has, therefore, become a selling point. In this sense, the Gates Foundation’s work is half-done, but it is because of iconic figures such as Bill and Melinda leading by example that we now hold companies and business people to these standards.
When tackling any issue, the foundation works to promote innovative solutions that will create a fresh avenue for change. They enable this through partnerships and grants for organizations that they feel can achieve results. Whilst the foundation is managed by a team, Bill and Melinda keep a hand and eye in everything they do; they ensure that these partnerships and grants are genuinely made for the purpose of achieving the foundation’s work, and guard against decisions based on business and profit. They have also identified sectors in which the foundation will never invest, because these areas go against its core principals – for example, the endowment will never invest in tobacco or Sudan-related stocks. What they do look for is businesses with a proven history of delivering innovative schemes, and who have the tools, knowledge and influence to create lasting change for those who need it.
Of course, the Gates’ support is not limited to for-profit businesses alone – the foundation also makes grants to thousands of non-profit organisations. However, they know better than most that in a struggling global economy, it is the for-profit groups that can create the most sustainable change: these groups can not only put programmes in place, but can create jobs, and will not rely on external funding to keep their charitable programmes running. Instead, the foundation’s involvement is often the initial push and incentive needed to start a snowball rolling.
Recently, Gates’ notable donations have included a US$100 million donation for Alzheimer’s research – US$50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, with a further US$50 million pledged for start-ups who are working towards a cure. The foundation also helped Facebook to match donations made to non-profits on Giving Tuesday this year (November 28th) over the social media site. On top of this, Bill Gates himself has donated a staggering US$4.6 billion to an as yet unknown source or sources – most likely, new or existing programmes supported by the Foundation.
Meanwhile, the influence of the Gates’ generosity continues to spread amongst their peers. In 2010, Bill and Melinda created the Giving Pledge, a pledge signed by billionaires who have committed to give away at least half of their wealth to worthy causes. The couple set up the pledge along with financier Warren Buffett; to date, 171 individuals or families have signed, representing 21 countries. The signatories also represent a range of ages, from their 30s all the way up to their 90s, and more join the mission every year. In 2017, a further 14 made the commitment.
This is a vast amount of wealth that otherwise might not have gone towards non-profits. In dedicating not only their resources, but also their time, the Gates have created something far larger than themselves or even their money. Of course, most of us aren’t billionaires, but we can still take inspiration from what these billionaires are doing. At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, you can discover more about the many areas in which the foundation has been doing good, “from Seattle to South Africa”. Suitable for all ages, the centre takes visitors on an interactive journey around the world to learn not only more about works the foundation has been a part of, but by extension, the needs of those around the world in situations that are still on-going today. Located in Seattle, Washington, the Discovery Centre is a beautiful and inspiring trip if you can ever make it. In keeping with the Foundation’s values, admission to the Center is free – you can even book a free guided tour. Everyone has the opportunity to learn and enjoy, much as the Gates want everyone to share the same opportunities in all things. As the core mantra of the Foundation states; “All lives have equal value.”