Since founding his charitable foundation along with his wife, Melinda, former Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Bill Gates has become an agitator on behalf of those most in need.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has worked to help people out of poverty by providing healthcare and educational opportunities. In addition, the technology pioneer has pushed the idea (which he and his wife have backed with billions of dollars) that lives can be saved by using science and technology to help people.
That has resulted in new drugs, more effective vaccines, and progress made when it comes to eradicating malaria, reducing HIV infections, and making sure polio stays a disease of the past. Perhaps most importantly, the Gates Foundation has acknowledged on its website that one of its goals is to Inspire people to take action to change the world.
"We know our resources alone are not enough, so we work to change public policies, attitudes, and behaviors to improve lives," reads a message on the foundation's homepage. "We partner with governments and the public and private sectors, and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues."
Through partnering, Gates has been a forceful advocate, but in many ways, he has not been political. He plays in a political space, but the man who created Microsoft and helped launch the modern era of computing has not picked sides.
Gates wants to improve the world and he has put his money behind those efforts. He has also shown a willingness to work with anyone who supports the same goals. In that spirit, Gates, who still serves as a board member and technology advisor at Microsoft, has laid out his vision for how the next president of the United States can be an innovation leader.
What is Gates calling for?
In an Oct. 6 post on his GatesNotes blog, he acknowledged that the current presidential election has led to him thinking about what political leadership can do to accelerate innovation. He notes that "innovation is the reason our lives have improved over the last century," pointing out that it has given us everything from electricity and cars to medicine and planes. "Today, we are far more productive because of the IT revolution," he wrote. "The most successful economies are driven by innovative industries that evolve to meet the needs of a changing world."
He notes that many moves forward come from a mix of government investments in basic research and private sector creativity and spending. Gates made it clear that innovation does not come from private investment alone and he called on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (without naming them) to be leaders in the space.
"Accelerating innovation requires both political leadership and private sector leadership," he wrote. "The best leaders have the ability to do both the urgent things that demand attention today and at the same time lay the groundwork for innovation that will pay dividends for decades."
Gates laid out a number of goals -- call it a politely worded challenge -- to "whoever is elected in the U.S. in November." He named four priorities.
- Provide everyone on earth with affordable energy without contributing to climate change.
- Develop a vaccine for HIV and a cure for neurodegenerative diseases.
- Protect the world from future health epidemics, which might be more infectious than Ebola and more deadly than Zika.
- Give every student and teacher new tools so all students get a world-class education.
What happens next?
Gates has thrown down the gauntlet to both Clinton and Trump, challenging them to not only focus on immediate goals, but also to innovate toward longer-range goals. In a nonpolitical way, he lays out the economic case for innovation, pointing out that "when we innovate, we create millions of jobs, we build the companies that lead the world, we are healthier, and we make our lives more productive."
The one-time business leader, who has been part of the movement that has inspired other billionaires to donate their fortunes to worthy causes, makes it clear that he believes the presidential candidates have a responsibility to support innovation.
"I hope our leaders seize these world-changing opportunities by investing in great research institutions, which translate into big opportunities for innovators," he wrote. "When these ideas help shape a future that is healthier, more productive, and more powerful, it will be because world leaders stepped up to do the urgent and the important at the same time."