Yes, Bill Gates does have peers -- men like Warren Buffet, Lakshmi Mittal and Carlos Slim Helu. They're among the 10 wealthiest men in the world, and they have more in common that just their outlandish wealth. They've all pledged a portion of their money to philanthropy.
All four have charitable foundations dedicated to causes of their choice. So with billions to spend, how much change can one person make, and just how far should their philanthropy reach?
A look at the giving histories of Gates, Buffett and several others on the Forbes magazine list of wealthiest people suggests the trend is for U.S. billionaires to give the greatest portion of their money to global causes, while foreign billionaire barons tend to focus their wealth within the country that helped them generate the money.
Gates this week announced plans to ease out of his chief executive position at Microsoft over the next couple of years and dedicate more time to his $30 billion Gates Foundation. Currently, the Gates Foundation employs approximately 250 full-time staffers and said it could easily see that number double in the next few years.
Gates, the world's wealthiest man, has a fortune of more than $50 billion, according to Forbes. But the Harvard dropout said his fortune will go to charity, not his three kids. The majority of those donations will be going toward global initiatives.
Since the Gates Foundation started in 2000, it has targeted primarily global health problems. In 2005 about two-thirds of Gates Foundation grants went to global causes -- fighting diseases like malaria and tuberculosis in developing countries. The foundation will change its angle slightly in the future, aiming to fight poverty worldwide through programs such as small-business loans.
In the last couple years, Gates has focused more and more on going global with his foundation, taking on challenges such as fighting AIDS in India. But the way Gates is addressing AIDS issues does not sit well with Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
"They're [the Gates Foundation] funding prevention to the exclusion of treatment," said Weinstein. "That's the problem with Gates and other, what I call 'vanity foundations' -- they seek only their own council. When it's public money, you can influence the direction of it."
Gates Foundation chief executive Patty Stonesifer said in the most recent annual report that the foundation will start to look at the root cause of of disease -- poverty. The foundation intends to join with other charities to make their fight a more powerful one.
Last year the Gates Foundation gave out $1.36 billion in grants, an 8 percent increase from 2004, and the greatest growth occurred in global health. Gates nearly doubled his giving in that area in just one year, giving a total of almost $845 million to that initiative.
Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation slashed education funding, which has historically been U.S.-centric, from $708 million to $284 million. That's a 60 percent cut.
Education in the U.S. is the driving force in the philanthropic efforts of fellow American Warren Buffet, the second-wealthiest person in the world.
Currently, the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, named after Buffet's late wife, primarily supports national initiatives. Buffet pays particular homage to his own state of Nebraska, with a focus on supporting Nebraska residents' in-state educations.