1. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates
for stepping up as the world's states falter.
Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway | Omaha, Neb.
Co-chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation | Seattle
If you were one of the 1,011 billionaires in the world, what would you do with all that money? Famed investor Warren Buffett (net worth: an estimated $47 billion) and Microsoft founder Bill Gates ($54 billion) have an idea: Give at least half of it away.
The two billionaires have been traveling the world -- first to China and soon to India, as well as around the United States -- on a mission to create a global club of "Great Givers" who will transform philanthropy from a pastime of the wealthy into a calling for everyone who is rich. Since 2006, when Buffett pledged to give 99 percent of his assets away to charity -- much of it to Gates's foundation, which spends more than $2 billion yearly on programs to improve public health and development -- the two have emerged as an unlikely and formidable pairing of wealthy evangelists, preaching a breathtakingly ambitious new gospel of how capitalist riches can solve global problems. That became clear this year when Gates joined up with Buffett's project to convince the wealthiest elite from Silicon Valley to Shanghai to donate half their wealth, a challenge that, if answered by all America's billionaires, let alone the world's, could bring an estimated $600 billion to needy and deserving causes. So far, 40 billionaires have signed up.
As the world has lost confidence in the ability of countries and institutions like the United Nations to solve global problems, Gates offers an attractive alternative vision: that the business community's relentless drive to innovate can help with our biggest challenges, from malaria to food scarcity to illiteracy. And he has the money to prove it. At a recent conference on HIV/AIDS, Gates pledged more than the government of either Norway or Australia, and almost as much as the entire European Commission. His foundation's funding for research into microbicides -- gels that would prevent HIV transmission -- helped lead to the first real breakthrough this July, when a candidate gel showed 39 percent effectiveness. Whether it's a green revolution for Africa or a vaccine for malaria, Gates's agenda is now the global agenda -- and he and Buffett won't stop until they see it through.