Monday, 12 November 2012

The incomparable Bill Gates

I remain confounded as to why Bill Gates is not universally loved in this world. Ask people at random to name the greatest living person  and you'll get a wide variety of names. But I bet, you won't see the name of Bill Gates very much. And yet , to me, he would rank right up alongside with Nelson Mandela for that honour.

Why ?;  do you ask ? here's why.

There have been many incredibly successful businessmen in the world. Few can deny that Bill Gates is one of them. But he is only one of many; many preceded him, and no doubt many will succeed him. But even in the success, you should laud his lifestyle - never ostentatious, low key, with class and style and the very epitome of what a successful businessman should be.

And then he gave virtually all his money to charity. In this, he is rare, but not unique. Others have donated large sums before too. The list of business tycoons, who have been major givers for social causes is an illustrious list.

But he is absolutely unique, in that not only did he give money, but that he quit corporate life and is now an active manager and leader of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has brought his incredible business and organisational talents to the the social work his Foundation is doing. In that he stands alone. No comparable peer is anywhere close to him in this regard. 

If you don't know what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation do, visit their website. They have been one of the major players in the virtual eradication of polio around the world. Their work in Global Health is stupendous - he leads the fight against tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, AIDS, and such diseases that affect the poor. The work they do in women's health and family planning is like nothing the world has ever seen. Just witness the latest innovation awards that they sponsored. It was not in some sexy field in social work. It was in innovation in toilet design - sanitary facilities being the single largest problem and the largest cause of disease in the poor world. Who else can think of the Reinvent Toilet award ?

Listen to one of his TED talks here, where he dealt with malaria and education and you'll know what I mean.

Its not just the work that Bill and Melinda do. Its the way they do it. They have brought management excellence and governance to the social field where it was sorely lacking.  On a scale that is staggering. The social sector has been transformed by the Gates Foundation. They bring business discipline - project plans, funding, evaluation, corrections and results to the social field. They work with governments and make sure governance is good enough for the money to reach where it should. Most governmental aid disappears down the pockets of the corrupt. Not so with the Gates Foundation. Nobody dares to steal their money or produce poor results - he runs the programs with the same ruthlessness as in business. He works with governments to influence policy. He doesn't dicatate from corporate headquarters - he is on the field in every poor part of the world. He could remain cocooned in luxury - he instead chooses to visit the most difficult regions in the world. I can bet that he has seen more of India than any reader of this blog has - or for that matter, more than many many Indians.

He does all this with little fanfare. There are no sound bites, no photo ops. He doesn't care for any recognition ; not does he even contemplate indulging in many of the antics the rich do. He is truly a class act.

Is he a perfect human being ? Of course not. He has his faults like anybody else. He does go wrong. He is geeky. Not glamorous. In his business days he has been ruthless to competition like any businessman. But what he has achieved and the manner he is achieving them is almost saintly. Show me one other human being who does more for this world. If ever there is a role model for any businessman, nay, any man or woman, you have to  go a long way to find somebody better than Bill Gates. 

Tell me, why is Bill Gates not the prime candidate for the Nobel Peace prize every year ?


gils said...

his detractors might blame the very reason for behind all this philanthropy. and it would make a really really good thriller script if all this turns out to be some major microsoft conspiracy to take over the world ala SKYNET :D:D but in reality...what he is doing and has managed to do so far is nothing short of commendable. oru vela thirukural padichi "Eethu uvakkum perinbam" la impress aagirupaaro? :D

Shachi said...

A huge fan here - of Bill Gates and you :)!

I researched a few projects under their foundation to volunteer for a while back, but it didn't work out w.r.t the timing of my trips back home.....hopefully sometime in the near future it will.

Ramesh said...

@Gils - Yes I know - Microsoft was reviled for trying to dominate. Thirukkural padichiruppar !

@Shachi - Awwww. I am sure it would be extremely satisfying to work in the Gates Foundation.

Venkat said...

Happy Diwali to you and all..

though gate's achievement is incomparable to anyone else, it was all in the area of business. every business is for profit, while doing it one has to win a rival and earn envy. along the magnitude of business, number of rivalry also grow up. gates story is no exemption. consumer's many appreciates his contribution to invention than his business model due to cost. now he started a great way of leading life which will definitely be appreciated tomorrow if he continues to do.

Ramesh said...

@Venkat - Happy Diwali to you too. Yes his achievement was in the business, but in the last 10 years he has mad huge achievement in the social sector. So even if he did nothing more, I believe his contribution to the world has been immense.

sriram khe said...

Hey Ramesh, we have "talked" about this before ( ... so, I shall not bug you more on it :)

Bill Gates' philanthropic ventures into areas outside of his IT field have gotten to be on pretty much all the issues I care about, and blog about as well.

Some of his explorations piss off those who feel threatened. In education--from K-12 through college--Gates has been raising the kind of questions that people like me would want everybody to think about. But, those question the status quo--which is why those who benefit from the status quo feel ticked off :)
Here is an example:

And then, of course, there is Bill Gates' bridge buddy, Warren Buffett, whose act of doubling the $$$ of the Gates Foundation is a wonderful example of putting the money where the mouth is, unlike the Nobel folks .... I shall stop here :)

J said...

I have often wondered why so many people seem to hold Gates in contempt and many times it ends up being a comparison between Jobs and Gates. In fact Malcolm Gladwell attracted a lot of flack for saying that Gates will be remembered 50 years from now while Jobs will be forgotten. Gates may not be as flashy as Jobs nor even as much of a visionary but I do think he is doing something truly inspiring and definitely deserving of a lot of respect. Now, Peace price.... that seems like a high target - maybe if he actually succeeds in eradicating polio or TB, his case would be strong.

Venkat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Venkat said...

I have all my admiration for this man apart from his bizz. melinda deseves all credit for gates philanthropy contribution.

Appu said...

Few years back i would have never thought i would say this:"Bill Gates definitely deserves more respect and credit and he definitely has made a positive difference to many human beings across world" He definitely has beaten his so called arch nemesis in the game of making a difference to the world.
When Obama can receive Nobel, I would say give Gates more than one please!
BTW why is being geeky and non-glamorous and ruthless are not so perfect things?

Ramesh said...

@sriram - Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes, to everything you said !

@J - Well ; Last four winners of the Peace Prize are Obama, Liu Xiaobo, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf/ Leymah Gbowee / Tawakkul Karman and the European Union. Compare that with Bill Gates. Maybe he should take the position like Gandhi - no being awarded is actually increase in prestige !

@Venkat - Oh yes - the lady is amazing too.

@Zeno - All of us have hated Microsoft at some point. But over time, we have come to appreciate his legacy, both in business and in the social sector.

Asha said...

nobel prize or no nobel prize... incomparable he is like you mentioned. Sharing wealth and involving in philanthropy is a noble deed. Sometimes people like me don't even remember who the nobel prize winners are but we remember the work done by BG and people like him.

More power to him and may his tribe increase. From our own indian community i like NRN too for creating, sharing, donating wealth and involving in charity and leading an austere life.

The Million Miler said...

Without doubt a prime candidate for Nobel. But unfortunately the nobel prize (price?) has stooped down to tokenism. A non white ethnic minority lesbian preferrably disabled is a better 'choice' for the nobel prize which caters to every aspect of diversity. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against race, ethincity, gender, personal preferences, or disability but what I dislike is tokenism which unfortunately what the Nobel committee resorts to.

Ramesh said...

@Asha - Yes, there are many philanthropists in India too. But the huge difference that Bill Gates is making is that he is giving not just his money, but his time, leadership and the brilliant organisational ability. He is working full time on this. There is no other business leader anywhere in the world who has done that.

@Kiwi - Unfortunately what you say is so true. It has become a token of political correctness rather than anything else. All the last four awards are dubious at best.

Anonymous said...

Just a little quote about Melinda

I am sure most had read about Melinda & Gates love story. their marriage happened in 1994 based on condition to give gates money for society. this women has a great heart, initiated works & drove in gates.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

I agree with you about Bill Gates. The Economist once wrote that Microsoft had implemented the most effective "charity tax" on the Western world through some active and justified rent-seeking using MsDos/Windows on the PC platform. The surplus it generated created billions for Bill Gates, who promptly donated it to charity.

Ramesh said...

@Anon - I didn't know that about Melinda. Thanks. She is as committed as Bill is and perhaps I should say they both deserve some public recognition.

@Ravi - That's an interesting insight. Trust the Economist to come up with something like that.

Reflections said...

For once I already knew almost everything u wrote here abt the subject....because BG's really special...he's got his priorities right inspite of the fact that he's got so much wealth to distract him:-).
Speaking of his faults..I remember one interviewer's grievance that BG doesnt really didnt give him[the journalist] his full attention when he was with him. He always seemed distracted never maintaining eye-contact and always checking his 4 computer-screens while he was doing the interview;-D.
But even the journalist knew he was nitpicking and admitted it in the next sentence;-D.

As for nobel prize I'm sure the day is not far off:-)).

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - Oh yes the man has his faults; like geekiness :):) But I am not sure if he will ever get the Nobel Prize - businessmen are reviled lot in the world these days.

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