Understanding the soul of Bill Gates

Bill Gates is all about innovation for the poor. Finding out new ways to eradicate malaria, help inner city children and eradicate polio in the next three to five years. And, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he says his focus is on helping the poorest with health innovations. How did he transition from a software guy to a philanthropist? In this recent interview, Gates talks about similarities that transcend both professions and major differences. For instance, in philanthropy he needs to articulate the cause and the effect, the show and the tell, in simple terms the impact of what happened with a donors money.

Can a single man like Bill Gates make such a significant difference in the world? Well, in just 3 years polio will be completely eradicated from the face of the earth. What began as 125 countries having polio has now been reduced to just four. Understanding the soul of a philanthropist like Bill Gates, one who loves mankind, is complex.

In their book, The Art of Giving, Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon (Jossey-Bass 2009) says: “Philanthropy isn’t a matter of just doing the right thing; it is a matter of doing the right thing for you. If your heart isn’t in it, you’re likely to get bored, distracted and listless, and your philanthropic enterprise will end up in the doldrums.” A very true statement, but how many times do we think about this when we cut a check to a charity of our choice?

Bronfman & Solomon draw out a simple equilateral triangle to show a basic model of philanthropy. Each side of the equilateral triangle asks three questions: Why (why do you want to give?); What? (what is your primary area of interest?); and How? (what is the primary mechanism by which you want to give?). Take this equilateral triangle and we could dissect Gates’ philanthropic soul. Innovation in health care for the poor is his motive, his primary area of interest is healthcare and his mechanism is through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

So, our motives to give are different and we may not know about it soon enough.  As an ancient Buddhist saying goes: “Keep your mind open, the moment of clarity will come.” It did for Bill Gates. How about yours? Just keep waiting.

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