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Each day, the Gates foundation receives about 140 requests for money or help. (It was a major sponsor of the TIME Global Health Summit, held in New York City in November.) Until now, the foundation has focused on education, libraries, global health and Seattle-area initiatives. But it may soon add water, sanitation and hygiene or financial services for the poor to the portfolio. Bill says he would also like to learn more about the Middle East and Asia. And he claims he will continue to increase the amount of time he devotes to the foundation. While it spends only 5% of its endowment a year (the minimum required under the tax code), Stonesifer says she would be happy to "blow past" that level for the right cause--like a vaccine for HIV or malaria.
These are heady times for an organization that started in a basement rec room not long ago. By all accounts, the person who keeps the foundation "humble and mindful," as its informal motto goes, is Bill Sr., who is in the office every day. He earns a salary of $179,275 and is very involved in the foundation's Pacific Northwest projects, but he is also the informal ombudsman. "Bill Gates Sr. is in the halls, in my head," says Stonesifer. Whenever the staff congratulates itself on a particularly positive media story, Senior loudly complains that the focus should have been on the good works the foundation supports, not the foundation or its founders. "If you spend a lot of time saying, 'Hey, look at me,' people resent it," he told me in an interview at the foundation. "I resent it."
At the end of an all-hands meeting in November, which fell on Senior's 80th birthday, his son surprised him with a gift: a $33 million scholarship program for University of Washington law-school students who go into public service. It's the largest scholarship at the university and will last 80 years. For months, Bill, Melinda and the staff had secretly crafted the gift. As he announced it, Bill did something he almost never does: he choked up and had to pause for a second. "Dad's not big on gifts. But we did come up with a grant that fits in very much with the things ... it's hard to say this ... that my dad cares about." As the staff rose for a standing ovation, Bill Sr. kept his arms crossed in front of his chest. "If any of you are mothers and dads, what would you give for that experience?" was all he could say before blowing out the candles.
In Seattle last November, at a meeting of about 50 scientists who have received the foundation's Grand Challenges grants to work on finding solutions to critical problems in global health, a foundation staff member addressed the crowd. "Is there something you need for your project that you aren't getting?" A man in the back leaned forward and whispered to his colleague, "More money."