Q&A: Gates' role as innovator, deal-maker, philanthropist

Microsoft co-founder says PC industry has had greatest impact in the past 30 years

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In your philanthropic work, you've focused on fundamental health issues for the developing world. In the tech sector, there have been efforts such as the OLPC, and Microsoft's efforts to reduce prices in developing countries. But there's been criticism about these efforts. People have been saying, well, a $200 laptop isn't going to do a kid much good if he doesn't live to age 5. With this in mind, what do you think technology companies -- that need to make profits -- can do to spur development in emerging markets? Companies make their contribution by both giving some cash to broad areas but also by having their products in their area of expertise be tailored and donated to people who are poor. So in the case of Microsoft, we went and got involved in putting PCs in libraries. We went to Chile to put PCs in the libraries there, so by having a really robust machine connected to the Internet, going through the training, working with the government, getting all the pieces right -- we learned how to do that in the United States -- those projects were incredibly successful.

So while I admit for my foundation the top priority is health, Microsoft is about software. It's got a product, that's what the company knows. And that's where, in its activities around the world, its helping educators, it's helping kids who have curiosity, and I think that's fantastic for Microsoft to do that.

I'm taking the success that Microsoft had and putting tens of billions of that into the basic needs where breakthroughs can be made -- and there, we'll be using software. We'll be using mobile phones, we'll be doing data gathering, so we'll be using software as a tool to do it. I wish every company was doing as much as Microsoft is to take their expertise and look into that developing world and see what role they can play. We've had great impact, great success, and it helps us attract better employees. It makes our employees feel good because we were founded on the idea of empowerment. We're not just talking about it, we're out in over a hundred countries delivering it in a significant way.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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