Melinda Gates: ‘Simple Things Can Have a Huge Effect’

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private global development organisation in the world. In a SPIEGEL interview, Melinda Gates explains the couple’s start in philanthropy, the challenges of combatting disease in conflict zones and the unique responsibility of the wealthy.

SPIEGEL: Mrs. Gates, how does it feel to be so rich that you can use your money to influence the lives of millions of people?

Gates: Our money looks huge, but it’s actually not when you look at the range of projects that we’re going after. Bill and I believe philanthropy can only be effective if it starts things and proves whether they actually work or not. That’s the place that governments often don’t want to, or can’t, work. We might take on six candidates for developing a malaria vaccine knowing that five will fall away. But we’ll get one hit. And to meet a mom and know that her baby is alive and that we had something to do with it, that feels great.

SPIEGEL: Why didn’t you just entrust your fortune to an institution like the media mogul Ted Turner, who donated a billion dollars to the United Nations?

Gates: Bill and I felt like we had something to add from the private sector. He started Microsoft; I worked there for nine years. We felt the private sector has a view of things that is beneficial to this work. You bring a kind of thinking, an entrepreneurial thinking. And then, if it works, governments can scale it up.

SPIEGEL: Are you not challenging the UN’s leadership role when it comes to development aid?

Gates: Every single thing we do has to be done with governments. Look, we could go out and spend the entire resource in two years. Gone, done. But would we have a catalytic effect? Would we have left something behind? Would we have saved as many maternal lives or childhood lives? The answer would be no. Continue reading

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