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Our story

We share two values that are a big part of why we started our foundation. Both of us were taught to give back and to be optimistic about the future.

From early childhood, we each saw how our parents helped out in our local communities, and we were taught that anything is possible. Unfortunately, factors outside of anyone’s control make it hard for some people to reach their potential: things like when they were born, who their parents are, where they grew up, whether they are a boy or a girl.

We wake up every day determined to use our resources to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life. Most importantly, we believe this: All lives have equal value. That’s why we made the decision to donate our wealth from Microsoft to help others.

The challenge when we started out was how to do that in a meaningful and high-impact way. We were drawn to things that sprang from our experience, so we began donating PCs to public libraries across the United States to give everyone a chance to use one. As we read and traveled more, we also became curious about inequalities further from home.

One day, we read a newspaper article about millions of children in poor countries who die from diseases, such as diarrhea and pneumonia, that were easily treated in wealthier countries. That blew our minds. As new parents it hit us especially hard. If there’s anything worse than the death of a child, we said to each other, then surely, it’s the preventable death of a child. We sent the article to Bill Sr. with a note: “Dad, maybe we can do something about this.” Those eight words changed the rest of our lives.

We started consulting experts, learning from locals in the countries where we wanted to work, and researching disease and poverty more deeply. We tried to figure out how we might use our voices to raise the visibility of global health, and how our resources could start saving and transforming lives.

We also expanded our work in the United States from providing access to computers and the Internet to making sure that every student had an equal opportunity to learn, graduate, and succeed.

As our commitment to our work grew, we transferred $20 billion of Microsoft stock to our foundation, making it the largest of its kind in the world. We devoted more and more time to its work until we were both doing it full-time. And when our good friend Warren Buffett donated much of his fortune to our foundation, it allowed us to raise our ambitions about taking on the toughest, most important problems.

Our foundation has spent $53.8 billion since 2000, and we think that’s helped our partners make a difference. How do we know? We are committed to measuring progress so we can see what’s working and what isn’t. We’d like to leave you with one chart we find most hopeful.

It’s this. The number of children who die each year before their fifth birthday. It’s fallen by half since the year 2000. Millions more kids are surviving. That makes us optimistic.

Child mortality chart

Timeline

2020
Foundation Commits $1.75 Billion to COVID-19 Pandemic Response (December 2020)
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation commits a total of $1.75 billion to to accelerate development and equitable distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
Laboratory worker prepares test tubes
Global Vaccine Summit Held (June 2020)
The foundation supports the Global Vaccine Summit, which draws more than 300 participants, to endorse the critical role of immunizations in saving lives and recognize accomplishments over the last 20 years. Since 2000, Gavi and partners have helped immunize more than 760 million children and helped prevent more than 13 million deaths. Public and private sector donors pledge US$8.8 billion of new commitments to Gavi, including $1.6 billion from the foundation. This brings the foundation’s total commitments to Gavi to $6 billion – the foundation’s largest single investment.
WHO Certifies the African Region as Wild Polio-Free (August 2020)
After four years without a case, the WHO African region is certified wild polio-free. With this historic milestone, five of the six WHO regions – representing over 90% of the world’s population – are now free of the wild poliovirus, moving the world closer to achieving global polio eradication. Only two countries worldwide continue to see wild poliovirus transmission: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
2019
Wild Poliovirus Type 3 Eradicated (October 2019)
On World Polio Day 2019, experts certify that wild poliovirus type 3 has been eradicated. Following the eradication of wild poliovirus type 2 in 2015, only one strain of the wild virus remains.
2018
Berlin Office Opens
The Berlin office allows the foundation to deepen its partnerships with the German government and other institutions across the continent working on global health and development.
2017
New Approach for Education
The Gates Foundation revises its approach to improve K-12 education, vowing to invest $1.7 billion over five years to focus on locally driven efforts to improve student achievement, develop curricula to advance professional development, and expand innovative research to accelerate progress for underserved students.
Gates MRI Launches
The foundation launches the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, a nonprofit medical research institute to combat diseases by accelerating scientific discoveries into medical products.
Support to farmers in Africa and Asia to Cope with Climate Change
The foundation pledges $300M (around €255M) over three years (2018-2020) to support agricultural research that helps the world’s poorest farmers better adapt to increasingly challenging growing conditions brought about by climate change, including rising temperatures, extreme weather patterns (droughts and floods), diseases, poor soil fertility, and attacks from crop pests. The funding complements investments from the European Commission ($318M/€270M) also announced, bringing total agriculture R&D commitments to over $600M (around €525M).
Milan Summit Deepens Commitment to Nutrition
A total of $3.6 billion in new commitments to nutrition are announced at the Global Nutrition Summit in Milan. Pledges include $533 million from new and longstanding philanthropies focused on nutrition that agree to unite their voices and resources to end malnutrition worldwide.
2016
New Commitment to Accelerate Progress for Women and Girls
Melinda Gates commits $80 million over three years to collect data about how women live and work around the world. The data will help jumpstart the foundation's work to help women and girls thrive.
2015
United Nations Launches New Era of Sustainable Development
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) expire, marking 15 years of progress to improve health and wellbeing. Extreme poverty and mortality rates for children under five were cut in half, new HIV infections fell by 40%, 2.6 billion people gained access to improved drinking water and the world achieved gender parity in primary schools. As the MDG era ends, the United Nations launches the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, laying out 17 ambitious goals to address the global challenges, including those related to poverty, inequality, health, climate change, peace and justice. The Gates Foundation and others pledge to work together to achieve the goals by 2030.
Launch of the Global Financing Facility
The United Nations, World Bank Group, and country and donor governments launch the Global Financing Facility (GFF) in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health and the Sustainable Development Goals. Stakeholders announce $12 billion in funding to support investment plans in the four “front-runner countries” of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania over five years, including a $75 million commitment from the foundation.
2014
WHO Certifies South-East Asia Region Is Polio-Free (March 2014)
Thanks to the commitment of country governments and the dedication of millions of community health workers and volunteers, the WHO South-East Asia region is certified polio-free. This comes a few months after India celebrates being polio-free for three years, a historic milestone for a country once thought to be the last place on earth where polio would be stopped. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives in regions certified polio-free.
2012
London Summit on Family Planning
“Helping women gain access to contraceptives saves lives,” says Melinda Gates at the London Summit on Family Planning. She calls for voluntary access to family planning for 120 million more women in the developing world by 2020. While the global Family Planning 2020 partnership continues to work toward this vision, today 53 million more women are voluntarily using contraceptives than when the FP2020 was launched in 2012 – 30% above historic trendlines.
London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases
The foundation joins pharmaceutical companies, donors, endemic countries, and nongovernmental organizations to sign the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases on January 30, 2012. Together, they commit to control, eliminate, or eradicate 10 diseases by 2020 and improve the lives of more than 1 billion people.
Abuja, Addis Ababa, and Johannesburg Offices Open
The foundation opens offices in Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa to deepen work to address health across sub-Saharan Africa.
2011
Challenge to Reinvent the Toilet
Bill announces a new innovation initiative to redesign the traditional toilet and rapidly improve sanitation for billions of people in developing countries who lack access to safely managed sanitation. The challenge culminated in a two-day showcase of sanitation projects and Reinvent the Toilet Challenge prototypes in 2012. The challenge has since been reiterated in China and India.
2010
The Giving Pledge
Bill and Melinda Gates join Warren Buffett to create the Giving Pledge, an effort to encourage America’s wealthiest families to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charities. By 2020, the Giving Pledge includes more than 200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals, couples, and families across 23 countries.
London Office Opens
The foundation opens a London office to work closely with European and African partners and grantees.
2007
Beijing Office Opens
The foundation opens an office in Beijing to focus on global health issues in Asia.
Foundation Partners with Rotary International
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announces its first major grant to polio eradication and becomes a core partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) – a $100 million challenge to Rotary, promising to match funds raised. Since the GPEI’s formation in 1988, polio eradication efforts have reduced polio cases by 99.9%. The number of annual wild poliovirus cases has decreased from 350,000 cases across 125 countries to 29 cases cornered in just two countries. Thanks to eradication efforts, more than 18 million people are currently walking who otherwise would have been paralyzed by the virus.
2006
Warren Buffett Pledges More Than $30 Billion to the Foundation
Warren Buffett pledges a lifetime gift worth more than $30 billion for “improving the lives of millions of fellow humans who have not been as lucky as the three of us.” His support allows a rapid expansion and acceleration of the foundation's work, including the addition of new strategies such as agricultural development, financial serves for the poor, and more.
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa Launches
The foundation launches the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) along with the Rockefeller Foundation. Led by Kofi Annan, AGRA is an Africa-based organization working to revitalize agriculture and help small farmers overcome poverty and hunger. Since 2006, AGRA has reached more than 22 million smallholder farmers with locally-driven interventions, helped support new and growing African agribusinesses, and built local expertise across 18 countries.
2005
Library Work Goes Global
The foundation's work expands to bring computers and internet access to libraries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and South Asia. By 2018, when the Global Library initiative ends, it has involved more than 50 countries and helped improve the lives of more than 280 million people.
2003
India Office Opens
The foundation opens an office in India and launches an HIV prevention program. Within a decade, India's HIV infection rate falls by half.
Launch of Grand Challenges in Global Health
The foundation launches Grand Challenges in Global Health to fund research that promises to greatly advance work against diseases that disproportionately affect people in low-income countries. The inaugural Grand Challenges awarded 44 grants totaling over $450 million for research projects involving scientists in 33 countries seeking to address some of the world’s deadliest diseases. Since 2003, Grand Challenges has grown into a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems.
2002
Washington D.C. Office Opens
The foundation's Washington D.C. office opens to provide a closer link with the nation's policymakers.
Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria Launches
The Gates Foundation pledges $100 million to the Global Fund to fight life-threatening diseases. Since its inception, health programs supported by the Global Fund gave saved 38 million lives and provided prevention, treatment and care services to hundreds of millions of people. Between 2002-2019, deaths caused by AIDS, TB and malaria each year have been reduced by nearly 50% in countries where the Global Fund invests.
2000
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Launches
The William H. Gates Foundation merges with the Gates Learning Foundation to form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Launch of Sound Families
Bill and Melinda launch Sound Families to address family homelessness in the Puget Sound region. Between 2000-2008, Sound Families helped build more than 1,450 transitional homes for families with children in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.
The United Nations Sets Millennium Development Goals
The United Nations establishes eight Millennium Development Goals that include eradicating extreme poverty, reducing child deaths, and fighting disease. The Gates Foundation and others pledge to work together to achieve the goals by 2015.
Gavi Formed
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, launches at the World Economic Forum, bringing together key UN agencies, vaccine manufacturers, aid agencies, and major foundations to vaccinate children in poor countries. The Gates Foundation pledges $750 million to support Gavi for its first five years.
1999
New Senior Advisor
Noted epidemiologist Dr. William H. Foege is hired as a senior advisor for the foundation. The co-chairs work with Foege and health expert Dr. Gordon Perkin to craft and guide our global health work.
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program Established
The goal of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program is to increase the number of minority students who graduate college with a degree in science or other disciplines. More than 20,000 high-achieving, low-income students of color have benefited from the scholarship program since it began.
1997
Maybe We Can Do Something
A friend recommends Bill and Melinda read the World Development Report 1993, which shows the huge number of deaths that occur from preventable causes. Later, they read an article about the millions of children in poor countries who die from diseases eliminated long ago in the United States. They send the article to Bill Sr. with a note: “Dad, maybe we can do something about this.”
Gates Library Foundation Launches
Building on the belief that the power of personal computing can provide a link to knowledge and productivity for everyone, everywhere, Bill and Melinda launch the Gates Library Foundation to help all U.S. public libraries offer free internet access. The Gates Library Foundation later becomes the Gates Learning Foundation.
1994
William H. Gates Foundation Formed
The William H. Gates Foundation launches, supporting scientific research, global health, and local philanthropic efforts.