The world’s richest man Bill Gates just donated $4.6bn to a charity, in what is his biggest charity donation since he set his own foundation up back in 2000.

At the moment it is unknown who the recipient of the funds was, however, it is suspected to be the Gates’ foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). This is thought to be the world’s largest private charity.

In order to make the donation, Gates reduced his stake in the tech company Microsoft which he co-founded in 1975. He now only owns 1.3 percent of the company.

Why did the Gates’ set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

After travelling to Africa for a wildlife trip, the Gates’ said they were shocked at the poverty in the nations they were visiting.

As a result, they decided to set up BMGF in in 2000 to “help all people lead healthy, productive lives”.

It focuses on improving health and education for those in developing countries through its work on infectious diseases and alleviating poverty, as well as projects in the US, including Washington State.

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Who donates to the foundation?

Aside from the Gates’ regular donations, that other famous US billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet regularly donates to the foundation.

Since 2006, Buffet has donated $19.43bn to the trust side of the foundation.

The trust is slightly different to the foundation, in that it manages the investment assets of the foundation and transfers the proceeds from these investments to the foundation to help it fund its goals.

In 2016, the foundation trust held over $40m.

What work has it done?

Due to its status at the world’s biggest private foundation and the sheer amount of money it harnesses, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works in almost every area of global development, health, and education.

In particular, its work focusing on vaccinations and immunisations has contributed to the almost total eradication of the virus polio. In 2016, there were fewer than 40 cases of polio reported globally.

Eradicating malaria is another one of its aims.

It is investing in new interventions, such as developing transmission-blocking vaccines and working to ensure that malaria has a prominent place on the global agenda.

One of the most important aspects of the foundation’s work, however, relates to family planning and maternal health.

Bill Gates said:

When a mother can choose how many children to have, her children are healthier, they’re better nourished, their mental capacities are higher – and parents have more time and money to spend on each child’s health and schooling. That’s how families and countries get out of poverty.

The foundation wants to bring access to contraceptive information, services and supplies to an addition 120m women and girls around the world, to achieve this goal.

How many people work there?

The foundation has 10 offices around the world, from its headquarters in Seattle to offices across Africa, China, and India.

In total it has 1,453 employees to do its work in more than 100 countries.

How much money does it spend?

A lot.

Between 2009 and 2015, the foundation committed to spending over $21bn on issues such as infectious disease control, reproductive healthcare, family planning and promotion of developmental awareness according to its International Aid Transparency Initiative publications.

This doesn’t include the grants that the foundation has committed to funding including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Health Organisation, and Johns Hopkins University.

Between 2009-2015, the foundation donated over $3bn in grants to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) alone.

Has it been involved in any scandals?

Back in 2015, the Guardian revealed that the foundation held at least $1.4bn investments in some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies.

This is despite the foundation actively campaigning that the threat of climate change needs immediate action.

The investments were in companies such as Shell; BP, which was responsible for the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and Petrobas, the Brazilian oil company involved in the country’s ongoing corruption scandal.

The foundation says it doesn’t comment on individual investment holdings.

What do global health professionals think of the foundation?

Back in 2009, a piece in the medical journal The Lancet said that the foundation had made headways in vaccinations, HIV/Aids, and malaria, but criticised it for not engaging with maternal health and tuberculosis.

The foundation now reports that these issues are part of its core agenda.

As well, another article in the scientific journal Embo Reports commended the foundation for raising the profile of research into infectious diseases that predominantly affect the developing world.

Due to the sheer size of the foundation, and its balance books, it appears that the Gates’ can be credited with helping to change the global health agenda for the better.