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On Bill and Melinda Gates’ annual letter

By Sabrina Chow

Section: Opinions

March 2, 2018

It is remarkable that Microsoft has been around for 43 years already, and that one of the founders, Bill Gates, has been the richest person in the United States, according to Forbes, for 24 years straight. With a net worth of 91.1 billion dollars, it makes me happy to know Bill and Melinda are doing so much as philanthropists and humanitarians.

For the last decade, the Gates have released annual letters regarding their philanthropic commitments and general views on society. In honor of their 10 year anniversary of these letters, they decided to tackle their top ten most asked questions.

Throughout the letter, both Melinda and Bill showed an optimistic point of view on our society, stating that “Being an optimist isn’t about knowing that life used to be worse. It’s about knowing how life can get better. And that’s what really fuels our optimism.”

Despite the Gates’ optimism, their philanthropic convictions have not gone without criticism. As the richest couple in the world, many ask why they don’t give a larger portion of their fortune or donate to causes closer to their home in the United States. Although these criticisms do have some validity, the Gates’ decisions regarding their fortune are honorable and reasonable.

One key criticism of the Gates’ donations is that they don’t give enough to domestic causes. Of the money that did go to the US, much of it went towards education for underprivileged students, but those donations are miniscule in comparison to the amount of money they send overseas. They explained the choice to spend more money on developing countries helps to impact a larger group of people. Since its founding, the foundation has already spent 15.3 billion dollars on vaccines for people in developing countries, to help limit the spread of disease. That number seems like an exorbitant amount, but with vaccines costing a few dollars at most, that’s millions, maybe even billions, of lives saved. This means that their money goes much further in developing nations, influencing more lives than in the US.

Many critics also wonder whether the Gates’ have anything to show for the billions they’ve given to US education. The Gates’ Foundation was donating billions of dollars on US education and yet we still rank relatively low globally. Why? With all of that extra money, why does it appear that our public school system is not improving? As with all government programs, the public school system will be slow to change, but Bill and Melinda Gates are working to improve the schools despite this slow pace. The Gates’ Foundation asks recipient schools to show where exactly they used the donations, in order to ensure the money is not spent on useless updates or corrupt administrators. Hopefully, the accountability-centered donation process will improve our schools in the long-run.

The Gates’ Foundation is also criticized for not donating to anti-climate change organizations. Personally, I am passionate about climate change, so I was shocked to learn about this gap in the Gates’ Foundation’s donation goals. The Gates’ Foundation is doing plenty, however, to work against climate change in its own way. Bill Gates uses his position as a public figure to encourage political effort and research into bridging the gap between the public and private spending on clean energy, making it easier for countries to fight climate change. As for his personal endeavors, Bill is part of a private investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, that has over $1 billion from different investors to help fund innovators.

One can worry, given all these international donations, that the Gates’ are imposing their values onto other cultures. Bill and Melinda definitely have the capability to fully submerge themselves in any culture and change it, but do they? As philanthropists, they believe not. “In all our work, we are interested in making sure people have the knowledge and power to make the best choices for themselves,” said Melinda in the letter. A common theme here is Bill and Melinda make an effort to encourage success in developing nations without changing their culture.

Other critics of the Gates’ international focus believe saving lives in developing nations causes overpopulation, worsening the countries’ state in the long-run. At first glance, this criticism sounds reasonable. Saving lives means that more people grow old, get married, and have more children. Since the Gates’ foundation is saving lives, however, families may no longer need to have as many offspring. Furthermore, most nations considered “overpopulated,” such as India and China, actually have the space and resources to maintain their population. Individuals experiencing poverty in these nations are not held back by overpopulation, but by poor distribution of resources, an issue that the Gates’ Foundation seeks to fix.

Back in the US, the Gates’ are criticized for their continuing relationship with Donald Trump. While Bill and Melinda are not particularly enthusiastic about President Trump, they continue to keep contact with the Trump administration. Melinda and Bill have stated that they hope their wealth and status will influence Trump to act with more respect, particularly in terms of his treatment of developing nations. Their greatest worry is the threat to Foreign Aid. With the proposed cut to foreign aid, the efforts to save lives abroad will not only cost lives in foreign countries, but also jobs in the US. To avoid this, the Gates hope to use their wealth and fame to persuade the Trump administration to keep its current foreign aid commitments.

Many people believe that the massive influence of the Gates’ foundation is unfair. I agree with this criticism, but I also believe that the way that the Gates have chosen to use their wealth is honorable. The precariousness of their massive influence is evident when Bill and Melinda have disagreements over what to do with their money. As with any married couple, disagreements are bound to happen. Bill and Melinda emphasize the open line of communication that helps them make joint decisions. By continuously giving each other feedback, each know what they need to improve on as well as what needs to be changed.

Despite the many criticisms of the Gates’ Foundation, what Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to do with their money is commendable. No one needs the amount of money that Bill and Melinda have accumulated over the years. For a less noble couple, it would just be extra money that sits collecting dust. Bill believes in his responsibility to use his extra wealth to improve the world, stating “once you’ve taken care of yourself and your children, the best use of extra wealth is to give it back to society.” Bill and Melinda Gates have the potential to impact society in massive ways. Their conscious and far-reaching donations make them some of the most prolific and effective philanthropists in the world.

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