He used to have more money than anyone in history, with the possible exception of a couple of Roman emperors.
He grew up as the quintessential nerd, who leveraged his computer savvy into a software empire so successful that his personal fortune staggers the imagination.
Forbes magazine describes him as, “Microsoft mogul, futurist and America’s richest person, [who] with help from billionaire buddy Warren Buffett, convinced nearly 60 of the world’s wealthiest people to sign his “Giving Pledge,” promising to donate the majority of their wealth to charity either during their lifetime or after death.
He, of course, is Bill Gates, and he’s no longer the richest person on the planet (he’s now second, behind Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu). But that’s only because he donated $30 billion of his personal wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. On that basis alone, his mission to improve food production and educational opportunities around the world deserve acclaim.
Here in Seattle, where I live, Gates is a well-known, if somewhat reclusive figure, residing in a palatial, earth-sheltered, heavily landscaped mansion on the shores of Lake Washington overlooking the city. His four-level, 66,000 square-foot house, worth more than $100 million, sits on a three-acre lot and features eight bathrooms,its own estuary, a commercial quality theater, full gymnasium, library, boathouse, 20-meter swimming pool, an underground music system (whatever that is), rotating paintings and pressure-sensitive floors.
What the heck. When you’re one of the kings of modern technology, you’re pretty much required to live in a high-tech home.
Not surprisingly, despite his largesse, Gates has drawn criticism for his foundation’s operations, becoming the target of complaints about everything from a too-cozy board stocked with Microsoft cronies to a propensity to fund local projects (the University of Washington, where Bill Gates, Sr., serves as a regent, received $280 million) to the choice of priorities (such as the eradication of malaria) that critics consider inconsistent with their global health initiatives.
But Gates doesn’t deservesthe criticism,despite his lavish digs or his legitimate choice of funding recipients, becausesince its inception, his foundation’shas funded sincere and well-meaning projects to improve agricultural productivity—and thus deal with hunger and food insecurity—around the world. His foundation supports programs in Africa and elsewhere that focus on bringing the benefits of modern science and technology to farmers and livestock producers sadly stuck in another century.