The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world. Private foundations get their money from a family, an individual, or a corporation; in this case, the Gates family. In 2014, the total giving for the foundation was $3,439,671,894, the highest of any US foundation. Although I didn’t get to speak with Bill or Melinda, I was directed to some excellent interviews they gave. I was looking for what inspired the couple, possible failures, and how they work together. Maybe you will be inspired to directly share your story on GrantNews.


Multiple sources reported that Africa inspired Bill and Melinda Gates. In 1993, the engaged couple took a trip to Africa where they were struck by the poverty. Melinda asked Bill, “Does it have to be like this?” In 1997 they went to Africa again; particularly Soweto, South Africa. They witnessed a hospital treating TB which was overwhelmed by the number of patients.


In an nterview with Charlie Rose, Melinda said,

“When you see those moments of heartbreak… that’s what propels you in the work. That’s what makes you say, ‘How can I help not just the 100 people in that hospital, but how can I help thousands and millions?’”

When asked how they decided what to focus on, Bill answered that they looked at 2 things:

  1. What are the biggest inequities, globally?
  2. Equal opportunities in the United States.


Bill has been most moved by the mortality rate of children under 5 years old. This is what he calls an “invisible cause” because it is not a cause most people are familiar with. People normally gravitate towards donating when disaster strikes, which is great, but there is need beyond that. He is happy to report that the mortality rate of children under 5 years old is on a decreasing trajectory. He sees increasing generosity towards invisible causes, now.


Bill has been known to concede that they were naïve when they began the foundation. He said, “It’s been a learning process…” In a TED talk, he told listeners that he believes he was naïve about trying to wipe out Leishmaniosis in India. He reported that they wasted $60 million and 5 years on a vaccine that had to be administered every day for 10 days with modest benefit. The solution, they later found, was eliminating the sandflies that spread the disease.

Bill and Melinda Gates

You may think that working together as a couple was a challenge? Not for Melinda and Bill Gates. They enjoy it. Their working relationship can be a model for foundations. In their TED talk, Melinda said,

“I know whenever I come home [from traveling for the Foundation], Bill is going to be interested in what I learned; whether it’s about women or girls, or something new about the vaccine delivery chain, or this person who is a great leader, he’s going to listen and be really interested…We have a collaborative relationship.”

If you want to learn more about Bill and Melinda Gates, check out Bill and Melinda Gates (True Books: Biographies). You’ll learn about their childhoods and how they became the prominent philanthropists they are today.

Don’t forget to share your story at In addition to the points of view of small businesses and nonprofits, we’d like to hear from the funding sources: the foundations. What type of foundation are you? What inspired you to begin? What have been some of your challenges? Be sure to share your path on GrantNews.

About the Author: Sabeen is currently an MPH student with a background in Mass Communications. She writes for and its affiliates.

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