Friday June 27, Bill Gates will step down from his full-time job at Microsoft, the company he co-founded with his childhood friend, Paul Allen. Gates said he will focus his efforts on improving the health and living conditions of the world's neediest people through the world's biggest charitable foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Bill Gates may be the world's most successful college dropout. More than 30 years ago, he quit Harvard University to start Microsoft.
Last year, as he accepted an honorary doctorate from the prestigious school he once attended.
"I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I'll be changing my job next year, and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume," he said.
With assets of $58 billion, Gates is the world's third richest man, according to Forbes magazine, and is unlikely to start a job search. Forbes says he trails only two men in assets, American investor Warren Buffett and Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helu.
Gates, now 52, plans to work part-time at Microsoft and continue to serve as the company's chairman, but will spend most of his time working with the foundation he established with his wife, Melinda, in 2000.
Mike Smith is chief operating officer of Charity Navigator, which evaluates the financial health of more than 5,300 U.S.-based charities. He says Americans make $300 billion a year in charitable donations, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plays an important role in the charity sector.
"They are the largest private foundation many times over. They ended fiscal year 2007 with $38.7 billion on hand. In 2007, they made grants of approximately two billion dollars," he said.
The Gates Foundation makes grants to programs that combat diseases such as HIV-AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, and reduce poverty in the developing world. The foundation also works to raise educational standards and improve access to technology in the United States, and supports community projects in the Pacific Northwest, where Seattle-based Microsoft has its headquarters.
The foundation's impact has become even greater since 2006, when Warren Buffett, who is ranked by Forbes the world's richest man, pledged stock worth more than $30 billion to the Gates Foundation. He says he shares the foundation's goals and believes it is effective.
Gates spoke of those goals this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said he was an optimist about the world's condition, but wanted to speed up improvements, especially for the world's bottom billion people.
"There are roughly a billion people in the world who don't get enough food, who don't have clean drinking water, who don't have electricity, the things we take for granted," he said.
He says diseases such as malaria, which claims one million lives each year, get too little attention, and that he hopes to harness the talent of innovators and businesses in addressing social problems.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plans to continue its current focus on global health, poverty and U.S. education, and Gates says he intends to spend much of his time determining the foundation's strategy.
Mike Smith of Charity Navigator says private foundations cannot be evaluated for their effectiveness as easily as charities because foundations report their finances in a less detailed way.
"Where you are able to look at functional expenses with respect to the public charities and break down those amounts going to programs, administrative expenses and fundraising expenses, it's really not as easy to do with private foundations," he said.
He adds, however, that results can often be measured over the long term by rising rates of literacy or lower rates of infection of tropical diseases, to determine if a donor like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is really effective.