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Bill Gates used to be famous as the founder and leader of Microsoft, and as one of the richest men in the world, having become a billionaire at age 32 in 1987. Now he’s famously converting that energy into philanthropy, pouring his time, knowledge and immense wealth into trying to address disadvantage.

Inspired by the philanthropic legacy of American industrialists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Bill and his wife set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. The organisation tackles a wide range of global and domestic issues, from health and education in developing countries to helping young Americans get into college.

It’s not just about money, either. Bill is a passionate advocate and has done much to draw attention to some of the biggest issues facing millions of people. In 2009 he concluded a TED Talks by releasing malaria-infected mosquitoes into the lecture theatre, exclaiming ‘There is no reason only poor people should be infected!’ (They were later confirmed to be harmless.) In 2014 he took part in the celebrity ‘ice bucket challenge’, drenching himself in ice water to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

In an interview with Forbes, Bill described how money and prestige can be an extremely powerful combination towards achieving good in the world. “If… I need to go to the Indian parliament and say, ‘Let’s get serious about vaccines,’ then yes – since I’m giving my own money [on a] large scale and spending my life on it and I’m a technocrat –  yes, that can be quite valuable.”

Like many philanthropists, Bill’s also been motivated by events in his personal life. Having witnessed the devastating effects of dementia on his own family members, he invested $50m into the Dementia Discovery Fund last year and promised to follow up with another $50m toward Alzheimer’s research.

Despite being worth $91.5b (as at May 2018), Bill and Melinda intend to leave their three children ‘only’ $10 million each as their inheritance – meaning they are on course to give away an astounding 99.96% of their wealth.

For Bill, there is no better use to which his wealth could be put. “I’ve been very lucky,” he says, “and therefore I owe it to try and reduce the inequity in the world.”

The Australian culture of philanthropy is still emerging – and yet we too have stories of couples who have created wealth and lived lives of generosity and charity. In 2004 Janet and John Wicking [link] left behind the Wicking Trust – now one of Australia’s most important philanthropic trusts, and Truby and Florence Williams [link] did something similar decades earlier in 1941.

Equity Trustees works with couples and families every day, supporting their aims to leave a legacy to provide funding for the causes and charities they care about through generations.

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