Why giving away our wealth has been the most satisfying thing we've done... | Bill and Melinda Gates | Summary and Q&A

April 2, 2014
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Why giving away our wealth has been the most satisfying thing we've done... | Bill and Melinda Gates


In this interview, Bill and Melinda Gates discuss their philanthropic journey and the impact of their work, including their focus on global health and education.

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Key Insights

  • 💡 The trip to Africa in 1993 sparked Bill and Melinda Gates' interest in global issues and inspired them to give back to society through their wealth.


Chris Anderson: So, this is an interview with a difference. On the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words, what I did was, I asked Bill and Melinda to dig out from their archive some images that would help explain some of what they've done, and do a few things that way. So, we're going to start here. Melinda, when and where was this, and wh... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: When and where was the trip that inspired Bill and Melinda Gates to start their philanthropic work?

The trip was in Africa, in the fall of 1993. It was their first time visiting Africa, and they were already engaged to be married at the time.

Q: What did they realize and discuss during their trip to Africa?

They were touched by the extreme poverty they witnessed and started asking themselves if it had to be that way. While on a beach walk in Zanzibar, they began discussing how they could give back to society using the wealth they had gained from Microsoft.

Q: How did Bill and Melinda Gates decide on the focus areas for their foundation?

They picked two causes - global poverty and education in the United States. They saw the need to address extreme poverty and the impact it had on children's health and education globally. In the United States, they believed that a strong education system could provide equal opportunities.

Q: Can you give an example of a failure the Gates Foundation experienced?

One example is their failed attempt to develop a drug for visceral leishmaniasis, a disease in India. The drug took longer than expected to develop, and when it was finally available, it was not accessible to the affected population. This failure taught them the importance of understanding the practical implementation of solutions.

Q: How have Bill and Melinda Gates managed to work together as a married couple?

They have a collaborative and supportive relationship. They approach problems from different angles, with Bill relying on data and Melinda emphasizing the importance of meeting people on the ground. They have learned from each other over time and have found a balance that benefits their work.

Q: Why did Warren Buffett decide to donate a significant portion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation?

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were close friends, and Warren had originally planned for his wife to give away their fortune. However, when she passed away, Warren decided to collaborate with the Gates Foundation and contribute 80% of his wealth. This donation has allowed the foundation to increase its impact and ambition.

Q: What is the argument for encouraging other billionaires and successful people to pledge the majority of their assets for philanthropy?

The pitch is that philanthropy is the most fulfilling thing one can do with their wealth, and it provides an opportunity to make a significant impact on the world. By dedicating resources to philanthropy, the world can address major issues such as inequality and improve systems, like education, for the benefit of all.


In this interview, Bill and Melinda Gates share the story of how their trip to Africa in 1993 inspired them to start their philanthropic work. They discuss the decision to focus on global issues such as poverty and education, and the importance of effective interventions and collaboration. They also talk about the success and failures they have experienced in their work, and the impact of their foundation. The interview concludes with a discussion about their efforts to encourage other billionaires to give back and make a difference.

Questions & Answers

Q: When and where did Bill and Melinda go on their first trip to Africa?

Their first trip to Africa took place in the fall of 1993. They visited different countries to see the animals and the savannah.

Q: What inspired Bill and Melinda to start their philanthropic work?

During their first trip to Africa, they were deeply touched by the extreme poverty they witnessed. This experience led them to ask themselves if there was a better way and sparked a conversation on the beach of Zanzibar about giving back. They had already been considering giving back the wealth from Microsoft, but this trip solidified their commitment.

Q: How did their vacation lead to the creation of their foundation?

Their vacation inspired them to think about how they could use their wealth to make a big impact on global inequities. This idea of giving back became the focus of their post-Microsoft phase. They officially started their foundation in 1997.

Q: How did Bill and Melinda decide what to focus on with their foundation?

They decided to focus on two main causes. Globally, they focused on the inequities faced by children dying from preventable diseases and malnutrition, as well as countries stuck in a cycle of poverty. In the U.S., they saw education as a way to provide equal opportunities and fulfill the country's promise. Their foundation's work revolves around these two areas.

Q: What image did Melinda choose to illustrate their work and what does it represent?

Melinda chose an image related to her work on contraceptives. She explained that women in Africa often express the desire to use contraceptives, specifically the injection called Depo-Provera. However, these contraceptives are frequently out of stock, which leads to difficulties in family planning and affects women's ability to care for their children and ensure their education.

Q: How does Melinda navigate the controversy around contraceptives as a Roman Catholic?

Melinda acknowledged that there is controversy surrounding contraceptives within her faith. However, she believes in the importance of making contraceptives accessible to women who want them. She emphasized that most Catholic women in the United States use contraceptives, and she aims to support global consensus on this issue.

Q: What does Bill's graph illustrate?

Bill's graph shows the number of children who die before the age of five every year. He highlights the progress made in reducing child mortality, largely through vaccines. Diseases such as smallpox and measles have seen a significant decline in deaths. Bill emphasizes the importance of continuing this progress through the development and distribution of new vaccines.

Q: How does Bill feel about the lack of attention given to child mortality compared to other news stories?

Bill expressed frustration that the progress in reducing child mortality often goes unnoticed or receives less attention compared to other news stories. He believes that the silent nature of the issue, which affects one child at a time, contributes to the lack of awareness. He also acknowledges the generosity shown during natural disasters and hopes to increase awareness and generosity towards causes like child mortality.

Q: How have Bill and Melinda managed to work together as a married couple?

Both Bill and Melinda expressed enjoyment and collaborative spirit in their work together. They appreciate the opportunity to combine their different perspectives and strengths. They have a mutual interest in each other's work, and even though they travel separately more often now, they maintain a collaborative relationship and share insights and knowledge.

Q: How did Bill's full-time involvement in the foundation impact their dynamic?

Initially, there was more concern from foundation employees than from Melinda about Bill joining the foundation full-time. Melinda was excited because she saw Bill's involvement as an opportunity to bring his intellect and passion to address global problems. The initial concerns from employees dissipated after they saw the positive impact of Bill's involvement.

Q: What do Bill and Melinda argue about?

Bill and Melinda mostly have discussions around which areas of work they should focus on and which groups to prioritize. They have a collaborative approach, where they share insights, involve employees in decision-making, and learn from each other's perspectives. They value the balance and complementary nature of their viewpoints.

Q: What have Bill and Melinda learned from their failures in their philanthropic work?

They acknowledge that failures are inevitable in their work, especially in fields like drug development and vaccine research. They mentioned an example where their initial approach to a drug for a disease in India did not yield the expected results. However, they learned valuable lessons from these failures and have since adjusted their approaches. They emphasize the importance of being adaptive, smarter in their spending, and learning from their goals and desired outcomes.

Q: How have Bill and Melinda managed to raise their children in such a unique circumstance?

Bill and Melinda believe in providing their children with a great education and have instilled in them a sense of responsibility in their privileged position. They want their children to find their own meaningful paths and not rely on the family's wealth. They encourage their children to explore their passions and make a difference in the world.

Q: How did Warren Buffett decide to give the majority of his fortune to the Gates Foundation?

Warren Buffett, a close friend of Bill and Melinda Gates, initially shared their belief in giving back. After his wife passed away, he decided to delegate the responsibility of his philanthropy. Given his trust in the Gates Foundation's work, he chose to give 80% of his fortune to support their efforts, which greatly increased the foundation's resources.

Q: How successful has the Giving Pledge initiative been in encouraging other billionaires to give back?

The Giving Pledge initiative, started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, has gained around 120 participants. They meet regularly to discuss their philanthropic journeys, share insights, and involve their families in the process. The initiative aims to showcase the impact of philanthropy and inspire others to contribute to solving global issues. Bill and Melinda believe that philanthropy, when combined with individuals' expertise and innovative ideas, can make a significant difference.


Bill and Melinda Gates were inspired by their first trip to Africa to start their philanthropic work, which led to the creation of the Gates Foundation. They focused on addressing global issues such as extreme poverty and inadequate education. Their approach involves collaboration, learning from failures, effective intervention, and adapting strategies based on evidence. They encourage other billionaires to give back through the Giving Pledge initiative. The Gates Foundation has made significant progress in reducing child mortality and advancing education globally, but they emphasize the need for continuous efforts and innovation to tackle enduring inequalities.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Bill and Melinda Gates went on their first trip to Africa in 1993, which opened their eyes to extreme poverty and led to their decision to give back to society.

  • They established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1997 after reading an article about the high death rates of children due to diarrheal diseases.

  • The Gates Foundation focuses on two main causes: improving global health by providing vaccines and reducing poverty through education. They have had both successes and failures in their philanthropic efforts.

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