Bill, Melinda Gates focus on US poverty

Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are wanting to focus their efforts on US poverty.
Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are wanting to focus their efforts on US poverty.

Bill and Melinda Gates, as the world's top philanthropists, are rethinking their work in America as they confront the country's growing inequity and a president they disagree with more than any other.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the couple said they're concerned about President Donald Trump's "America first" world view.

They've made known their differences with the president and his party on issues including foreign aid, taxes and protections for immigrant youth in the country illegally.

And they said they're now digging into the layers of US poverty that they haven't been deeply involved with at the national level, including employment, race, housing, mental health, incarceration and substance abuse.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year funded a grant for the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities to look into state and federal policies that can reduce poverty.

Once the world's richest man, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has marked a decade since transitioning away from the tech giant to focus on philanthropy.

Melinda Gates, who left her job at Microsoft to raise their three children before turning to the foundation full-time, has called out Trump's behaviour, saying the president has a responsibility to be a good role model when he speaks and tweets, and that his verbal attacks don't belong in the public discourse.

"You just have to go look in Twitter to see the disparaging comments over and over and over again about women and minorities," Melinda Gates said. "That's just not what I believe. It's not the world that I see."

Since 2000, the Seattle-based private foundation has amassed an endowment worth over $US40 billion ($A56 billion).

The Gates Foundation has given money to various programs in more than 100 countries, as well as in all 50 states and Washington, DC

About 75 per cent of the foundation's resources are dedicated to global health and development. Bill Gates said they're proudest of their efforts to help eradicate polio and curb the number of child deaths, calling those global health improvements a miracle.

But he concedes the same level of progress didn't happen in the US with their strategy of chasing equity through education reform. The $US450 million the Gateses spend annually on the issue makes them the top funders of schools reform in America.

The Gateses say they're going in a less prescriptive direction on US education by funding efforts through regional networks of schools, which will lean more heavily on educators at the local level. They also intend to support new curriculum development and charters catering to students with special needs.

The foundation will spend $US1.7 billion on education over the next five years. But as they take stock of the country - from the West Coast's growing income gap to the generations of racial inequities in the American South - the Gateses say they're looking at myriad problems that hinder children in the classroom.

"Poverty is like education, where there's not enough philanthropic resources to take on responsibility, but if you can show how to have a lot more impact, then the policies will benefit from that," Bill Gates said.

Australian Associated Press