The Power of Philanthropy

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How much of your time, energy or resources do you give to others purely to help the world around you be a better place?

Last night I watched an excellent TED talk with Bill and Melinda Gates. It was about their Foundation – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – and what it is currently achieving and what it hopes to achieve over the coming decades.

It was truly inspiring and has given me so much more hope for our planet.

So let’s start with philanthropy: What exactly is it? It is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. Generally, very wealthy people set up philanthropic causes around something they are passionate about. For some it is the arts whilst for others it’s education or health.  It doesn’t really matter what the cause is, and I am sure each of the causes across many different areas are abundantly happy to receive the help.

I have always wanted to be a philanthropist ever since I found out what it meant when I was 16. I am sure that on some level I loved the idea of being super rich, but I loved the idea of giving it away even more. I think that is why I am so inspired and fascinated with what the Gates are doing.

The idea of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was born in the 1990s. They had been on a trip to Africa to see the animals but it was the people that really caught their attention. They found them to be so open and wonderful and were deeply saddened by their challenging lives. They were walking along a beach in Zanzibar at the end of their holiday discussing why it was like it was and what could be done about it.

Bill and Melinda had already decided that their post-Microsoft years would be about charity and giving back, but this trip to Africa prompted their philanthropic journey to start much earlier than planned, and their Foundation was born in 2000.

The philosophy of the Foundation is to tackle just a few big problems very well. They choose extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system. They have a global approach which is highly commendable! When we are happy to take the resources from developing countries, I believe we have an obligation to take care of their people as well.

On the Foundation’s website there is a letter from the Gates explaining who they are and what they stand for. In the letter they share some advice that Warren Buffett gave them around philanthropy: “Don’t just go for safe projects,” he said, “take on the really tough problems”.

They have and they are making a massive impact in the world!

The other thing that I love about the Foundation is who they have got to join them. Being as affluent as they are, they swim in circles where there is a lot of money and a lot of influence. And really, these are the people who will be changing the world, not our governments.

Bill and Melinda Gates have currently given 80% of their wealth to the Foundation. By the time they leave the planet they will have given 95% to the Foundation. In 2007, Warren Buffett called his friends Bill and Melinda and asked to donate 80% of his wealth to their Foundation. Between these two alone, we are talking billion and billions, if not trillions of dollars! Trillions of dollars that is being spent with intention, research, testing to ensure they are doing the best thing, and simply changing the world to be a far better places for millions of people.

Now that blows my heart up!

Aside from Warren Buffet, there are now over 150 other super rich people who have committed over 50% of their wealth to the Foundation. The influence that the Gates’ actions have had on leading their peers has been so powerful and the philanthropic spirit has been ignited in a way that the world has not seen before.

I am nowhere near being in a philanthropic position but the Gates inspire me to continue to give where I can. Whether that is a small donation to a charity, giving away things that I could sell to someone who needs them more than me, or simply coaching people who want to make a change and are not yet in a position to pay for the help. It really doesn’t matter if you are the Gates or me – it is about the spirit of giving and taking care of others who need the help.

If you get a chance to check out the TED talk, do so! It is full of hope and is a great opportunity to see what two people who are committed to a more equal planet can achieve.

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