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TED Talk: Bill and Melinda Gates Giving Away Their Wealth

“When anyone gives anything with good heart, he or she becomes a philanthropist — a conduit and a catalyst for love” —Corinne Updegraff Wells

In 1993, Bill and Melinda Gates took a walk on the beach and made a big decision: to give their Microsoft wealth back to society. In this TED Talk interview with Chris Anderson, the couple discusses their work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as their family, their failures and the happiness and joy of giving most of their money away.

On a trip to Africa in 1993, Bill and Melinda Gates were deeply impacted by the people there and the extreme poverty. The started asking themselves questions: Does it have to be like this? Later while walking the beach in Zanzibar, they began talking seriously about giving away most of the wealth that had come from Microsoft and how they might go about doing so.

To begin with, they decided to choose two causes, starting with the biggest inequity globally. They looked at children dying, children not having enough nutrition to ever develop, and countries that were really stuck due to that level of death. It was a global choice, focusing on the largest needs in the world. They picked two causes, focusing the work of their foundation there.

In this TED discussion, Mr. and Mrs. Gates talk about their personal differences. Bill can look at the big data and say, “I want to act based on these global statistics.” For Melinda, her approach is intuitive. They combine their styles and according to Melinda: “I meet with lots of people on the ground and Bill’s taught me to take that and read up to the global data and see if they match, and I think what I’ve taught him is to take that data and meet with people on the ground to understand, can you actually deliver that vaccine? Can you get a woman to accept those polio drops in her child’s mouth?” She points out that the delivery piece is every bit as important as the science. She goes on to say that it’s been more a coming, over time, towards each other’s point of view, and quite frankly, she states, the work is better because of it.

The Gates’ go on to talk about failures (yes, they’ve had them), and their family life. Regarding their children, they are getting a good education and are developing a sense of their own ability. They understand that the majority of the Gates fortune is going to the foundation. It is important to Bill and Melinda that a balance happens for the children between the freedom to do anything while at the same time not showering them with money. The children are expected to pick their own direction.

At this time, the Gate’s family has pledged to give more than 95% of the wealth to the Gate’s Foundation.

I am sharing this TED Talk in an attempt to understand “giving” on a larger scale than my personal ability. How do billionaire’s give? How does the Gates family give? I found this TED Talk to be an intimate look into the relationship and the lives of Bill and Melinda Gates. While I am aware of much criticism and disagreement surrounding this family, the example they are setting is profound. And at this time of the year, perhaps this family can be honored as one of many who are making a difference in our world by their generosity.

You and I may not have millions to give, but we all have something else: time, skill, and love.

What if this was true: You don’t have to donate money or give property to practice philanthropy? When we give from our hearts with our time or our skill, we are philanthropists.

When we use our compassion to understand others, we are philanthropists.

When we live from our values, giving to our family, our friends, our neighbors, our communities, our world — we are philanthropists.

If we are alive, we have something to give. Even the smallest act, done with great love, is giving. Each of us can be a philanthropist.

As Corinne Updegraff Wells wrote in a 1940 article for The Rotarian: “Many people have a Puritanical feeling that they are not giving unless they are sacrificing, which is akin to the old idea that unless medicine tasted bad it could have no virtue. Whereas the most acceptable giving is often simply the sharing of something of which we have a plentiful supply.”

What do you have an abundance of?

How might you share your abundance?

As always, I welcome comments, questions, and opinions. In this season of gratitude, let’s give from our hearts and share what we are able to share with our world. The result could be astounding – generous, healing, and loving. Let’s begin our career in philanthropy now!

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