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Bill and Melinda Gates Reflect on Need for Global Philanthropy

Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation seeks to address worldwide needs in areas including health and education, describe their initiatives and decision-making process.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent:

    They have given a new meaning to the term "power couple." Bill and Melinda Gates are not only the richest couple on the planet; they have become one of the most influential philanthropic forces in the world, often donating more money than many governments and countries.

    Their foundation has an endowment of $32 billion. It was created in the '90s, after Bill Gates accumulated tens of billions in profits as the co–founder of Microsoft. Back then, the company was under fire when the U.S. Justice Department brought an antitrust case against Microsoft for some of its business practices. The two sides eventually settled the case.

    Since then, the foundation has granted more than $11 billion, much of it to support public health efforts in more than 100 countries.

    The Gates' role is not simply ceremonial, either: Both are closely involved on a regular basis, whether it's tracking the work of the AIDS clinics they fund in India, pushing for a new malaria vaccine at a White House summit, or donating new funds this week to buy drugs to fight tropical diseases, such as river blindness.

    In the United States, they have become a major player in the field of education. Their college scholarships topped $1 billion, and they have spent more than a billion dollars in high school reform in more than 1,800 schools, much of it by creating smaller schools.

    Bill Gates also tried to draw attention to the subject in a speech last year.

  • BILL GATES, Founder, Microsoft:

    When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools were not preparing for higher education and we looked at the damaging impact that it has on their lives, we came to a painful conclusion, and that is that America's high schools are obsolete.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Gates' effort got an historic boost this year when the world's second richest man, Warren Buffett, announced that he would leave most of his fortune to their foundation, thus making him its third trustee.

    I sat down with Bill and Melinda Gates last Friday at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

    Thank you very much, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, for talking with us. We appreciate it.

    Last June, big splash. Warren Buffett, the investor, announces that he is giving the bulk of his enormous fortune, $31 billion, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. First question: Has this changed what you do? And if so, how?

  • MELINDA GATES, Philanthropist:

    Well, I think, for both of us, it's made us re-look at the priorities that we have for the foundation, make sure that they're the right ones, and we feel very good about what we've already been doing. I think that's what Warren saw that he liked, was our focus on global health, our focus on the U.S. education system.

    But, really, we're going back to the work and saying, how do we deepen what we do? We're very committed to making sure that the issues we're already tackling, that we go deeper and not broader on those.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you feel it's changed things with the foundation?

  • BILL GATES:

    Well, it's exciting to have what's literally a doubling of the resources. And it means that, as we have success, as we get new vaccines, new drugs, we'll be able to play an even stronger role, working with governments to get those out there.

    So it's not like we've taken on a new mission, but we're going to be able to do it far better, far faster, because Warren has made this unbelievable gift.