Solves the world’s ills
What separates Melinda Gates from other philanthropists? Money, for one thing—the Gates Foundation’s $36 billion endowment makes it the world’s most powerful cash-bestowing organization. The other factor? Her relentless hunt for innovation. The 47-year-old Duke business-school grad and former Microsoft employee insists on a high-tech, empirical approach to tackling the world’s problems, tapping the minds of thousands of scientists worldwide. In July, the foundation announced a reinvent-the-toilet competition to find a clean sanitation solution for the 2.6 billion people without plumbing in developing countries, doling out $3 million to top-shelf researchers to design waterless and solar-powered commodes. Meanwhile, the foundation gets results—since 1985, its vaccination program has decreased the number of polio cases in the world by 99 percent. Gates, who has summited Mount Rainier, also plans to make dramatic headway with malaria, an AIDS vaccine, drought-resistant crops, and America’s ailing education system.
By the Numbers $3 billion: amount given away annually;
$41 billion: estimated value of a gift financier Warren Buffett has pledged to the foundation, to be paid out upon his death
Second Opinion “Melinda Gates has done more good for more people than just about anyone I can think of,” says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. “And it’s not only that she’s richer than God: she has helped set the global agenda by focusing on issues like AIDS, reproductive health, and women’s poverty.”