Bill Gates, in 2001 the world's richest person, had a personal philosophy of philanthropy that seemed to reflect the views of Andrew Carnegie: "If they want to put in the consent decree that I'm going to give away 95 percent of my wealth, I'd be glad to sign that." A Harvard dropout, Gates had seemed an unlikely successor to his overachieving parents. His father was a prominent Seattle attorney, and his gregarious mother served on charitable boards and ran the United Way. At age thirteen Gates wrote his first computer program, at a time when computers were still room-sized machines run by scientists in white coats. In December 1974, his friend Paul Allen showed Gates a Popular Mechanics cover featuring the Altair 8800, a $397 computer that any hobbyist could build. The only thing the computer lacked, besides a keyboard and monitor, was software. Following complex developments, the company Gates and Allen formed, Microsoft, introduced the Windows operating system, and by 1993 Microsoft was selling a million copies of Windows a month. In 1986, when Microsoft went public, Gates became a paper billionaire at the age of thirty-one. Meanwhile, he increased his charitable giving: He earmarked $750 million over five years to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which involved an alliance with the World Health Organization, the Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF, pharmaceutical companies, and the World Bank.
In 1999 the Gates Foundations awarded more than $2 billion in grants, including what is believed to be the largest single private grant in U.S. history—$750 million to the global vaccine program over a five-year period. His vaccine project specifically targeted HIV and AIDS, which he identified in a speech in Redmond, Washington, on 18 October 2000 as having potentially dramatic consequences for the infrastructure of many countries, including Botswana. He also joined with Ted Turner on the vaccine program to give $78 million to eradicate polio from the world by the end of 2000. Gates's donations helped alert the world to the problems of disease as problems of international relations and of American foreign policy.