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Bill Gates Addressing Health Ministers at Meet...

Bill Gates Addressing Health Ministers at Meeting on Polio Organized by the Gates Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to a fundraising night for Breast Cancer on Friday night. A small gesture for a worthy cause.

The next morning the old man asked me where I’d been – he’d noticed I was missing when he went to bed.  We only really communicate on a need-to-know basis these days.

‘Where were you last night?’ he asked, as we woke up yesterday morning.

‘At an evening to raise money for breast cancer research’, I said. ‘We all donated….’

‘You did what?’ he cut in. ‘You d…o….n…a…..?’ he said, stammering on the word).

Yes, I gave money away to a good cause,’ I justified.

‘But we already d..o..n…a….(still stammering on the word); we fund your ADHD Group and that child in Africa…….’

‘We do,’ I replied, ‘but remember our conversation about it being better to give?’ I reminded him.

From the ensuing silence, I could tell that he couldn’t. Obviously, watching Bill Gates on Q & A on Tuesday night had done nothing to change his attitude to money; and in particular to ‘giving’ it away.

The old man and I have a very different approach to money and how we spend it.

I spend and he doesn’t. I am a spender, he is a saver. I am a creative and he is an accountant.

Money has always been an issue in our marriage, and the subject of charity and how much we should donate is still a contentious one; more so as our disposable income increases.

To be fair to him, my social conscience has always been far bigger than my wallet.

It was interesting to watch the old man’s reaction to Gates’ explanation of his philanthropy on Tuesday night. To witness the sheer incredulity on his face as he learnt that the Gates’ will ultimately donate ninety percent of their earnings via The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund scientific research, education and vaccination programmes around the world. I could see his brain ticking over, contemplating this concept, a concept that is difficult to digest when you are still struggling to pay off debt to keep a roof over your head. Nevertheless, I sat praying that some of Gates’ idealism might actually rub off on him.

Gate’s philanthropy is a commendable choice.

But in as much as I admire him and what he has chosen to do with his wealth, the fact is that HE CAN. By his own admittance, Bill Gates is f*cking loaded. As he himself said on Q&A, he no longer has to mow the lawn and could never realistically spend all the money he earns.

Bill Gates is notorious now for the ‘amount’ of money he gives away, but I admire Bill Gates for the ‘time’ he gives to managing his philanthropy.

Bill Gates has less ‘time’ to give away, than money.

And his extraordinary philanthropy effects real change to global social issues, medicine and science, particularly in third world countries. His philanthropic idealism of helping at the grass roots levels to educate, as well as supplying vaccines and funding medical and scientific research worldwide, is an example of successfully applying business principles to world issues.

He has undoubtedly made a huge ‘difference’.

We’d all like to be in Gates’ position of course. Bu unfortunately, most of us don’t have the money to be philanthropic and it takes time, commitment and passion to ‘make a difference’ in other ways. The majority of the population scrapes to get by to simply survive.

Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t HAVE to give their wealth away, of course. They could have just bought a few mansions in the Hamptons or an island or two in the Caribbean and settled for a quiet retirement. But I suspect that Bill doesn’t have the type of brain happy to retire, sit in an armchair all afternoon and watch old films on tv.

Bill is a cerebral man, a thinker, and a problem-solver. You can’t just switch that off when you reach a certain age. And it hasn’t all been plain sailing either, this philanthropy gig – he has received his share of criticism as well as being lauded for the way in which he manages his foundation. Nevertheless, it takes guts to stick your neck out when you don’t have to and put your money where your mouth is. Even when you are a multi-billionaire.

But what also shows strength of character is to give back when your own back is against the wall. There are other philanthropists, who give in the small ways they can in terms of their ‘time’ to do good. They don’t have the notoriety of Bill Gates or the resources or networks to make global change, nevertheless they sacrifice part of their lives to the causes of other less fortunate people.

And they often go unrecognized for their work.

In my opinion, Bill deserves the notoriety for his philanthropy, not because of the amount of money he has donated through his foundation, but because of the time he has donated to manage it. 

Philanthropy is a ‘love of humanity’ and giving money is only one of the way you can be a philanthropist.

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