- Bill and Melinda Gates have been named the most generous philanthropists in the US.
- The philanthropists have donated more than $36 billion to charitable causes, including $4.8 billion last year.
- Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple has focused on global health, education, and poverty.
Annual rankings by The Chronicle of Philanthropy take into account US philanthropists’ total donations in the previous year. Of the $4.78 billion that Bill and Melinda Gates donated in 2017, most went to projects run by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The billionaire couple has been leading in philanthropy for many years.
Since its launch in 2000, their foundation has spent more than $36 billion to fund work in global health, emergency relief, education, poverty, and more.
The philanthropists have pledged about $2 billion to help defeat malaria alone. Their foundation most recently partnered with mosquito engineering company Oxitec to develop a male mosquito that would kill off future generations of malaria-transmitting bugs. The Gates Foundation wants to eliminate malaria “within a generation,” tackling a disease that has recently been on a fatal rise after decades of decline.
Bill and Melinda Gates are also working to end Ebola and polio; they donated more than $50 million in 2014 to help fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, and they pledged $38 million to a Japanese pharmaceutical company that is working on creating a low-cost polio vaccine.
One of the foundation’s most significant partnerships is with the GAVI Alliance, a group of scientists, government leaders, businesses, and philanthropists working to improve access to vaccines in the poorest countries in the world. The Gates Foundation has committed at least $2.5 billion to the GAVI Alliance since 1999.
Melinda Gates, who helmed the foundation virtually on her own for the first six years of operation, has worked to raise awareness of “time poverty,” the idea that hours of unpaid work like household chores rob women of their potential. Gates wrote in the foundation’s 2016 annual letter that women around the world spend an average of twice as many hours doing unpaid work each day, and girls in many countries fall behind in their education as a result.
Gates has led several other efforts to advance opportunities for women around the world, including the expansion of contraception availability around the world. In a Time magazine op-ed, Melinda Gates wrote that she and her husband are also investing in Mama Cash – the oldest international women’s fund in the world – as well as networks like Prospera, which supports grassroots women’s groups and funds in more than 170 countries.
Education is at the forefront of the Gates Foundation’s giving as well. The Gates Millennium Scholars Program was established in 1999 to provide financial support to students of color pursuing undergraduate degrees. Roughly $1.6 billion has gone toward the program, and about 1,000 new scholars are selected each year.
In the foundation’s 2018 annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates wrote that they believe the world is getting better despite the presence of violence, natural disasters, and political division.
“We don’t compare different people’s suffering. All suffering is a terrible tragedy. We do, however, assess our ability to help prevent different kinds of suffering,” Melinda Gates wrote. “When we studied the global health landscape, we realized that our resources could have a disproportionate impact. We knew we could help save literally millions of lives. So that’s what we’ve tried to do.”
In 2010, the Gates’s tried to inspire philanthropy among other wealthy executives by launching the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to donate at least half of their wealth to charitable causes during their lifetime or in their will. A 2018 report from financial research company Wealth-X predicts the pledge may be worth as much as $600 billion by 2022.
Last year, the wealthiest Americans donated $14.7 billion to their alma maters, foundations, and various charities, more than doubling how much they gave away in 2016, according to Forbes. The recent list of 25 most generous philanthropists notably did not include Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person in modern history. Bezos has been largely quiet about his philanthropic goals, though he tweeted in June that he intends to announce two areas of focus sometime this summer.