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Bill Gates, Now a Grandfather, Reveals His Hopes for the Next Generation

The 67-year-old reflects on the wisdom that comes with age and why he isn’t ready to retire

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Photo by: Daniel Berman

Bill Gates is seeing the world in a new light now that he has become a grandfather. His eldest child Jennifer, 26, announced the birth of her daughter in a March 4 Instagram post. But neither grandparenthood nor age — he recently turned 67 — is slowing down the Microsoft cofounder and cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who says he has no plans to retire. Gates promises to continue his goal of donating the majority of his wealth to fighting inequities in society and will measure the success of that effort by when his giving drops him off the list of the world’s richest people. AARP asked Gates to talk more about his short- and long-term plans and his hopes for his new granddaughter and her generation. Here are his written responses to AARP’s questions.

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You shared in your 2023 Gates Foundation letter, “The Future Our Grandchildren Deserve,” that you were now looking at the world through the lens of becoming a grandfather. Your granddaughter was just born earlier this year. How has that changed your perspective?

Now that I have a grandchild, I’m thinking even more about the future — and I’m more inspired than ever to make sure it’s a place where everyone’s children and grandchildren have the chance to survive and thrive. 

Becoming a grandfather has also given new dimension to my role as a dad. It’s thrilling to see the kids you raised figure out how they want to parent.

You’re 67 now, old enough to qualify for Medicare and collect Social Security, yet still hard at work. Your friend and fellow philanthropist Warren Buffett remains on the job at age 92. With all you’ve accomplished, what’s left? What is your top unrealized goal?

At home, I’m trying to be the best grandparent and parent possible. 

At work, I’m still going full speed on the project I began more than two decades ago, which is to help reduce the inequities I see around the world by giving the vast majority of my resources back to society. On a typical day, I might spend the morning talking about ways to reduce childhood mortality with our amazing team at the Gates Foundation; lunch meeting with some of the Alzheimer’s researchers I support; and the afternoon learning about next-gen clean energy technology.  

I don’t think my work will ever be finished — there’s always room to make the world better. But I’m especially focused on two concrete goals that I do believe are achievable in my lifetime: eradicating polio and eradicating malaria.

spinner image Aliko Dangote, President & CEO Dangote Group and Bill Gates, Co-chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation study pharmaceutical medicines at the Al Khair Primary Health Clinic, N'Djamena, Chad on March 20, 2018.
Aliko Dangote, President & CEO Dangote Group and Bill Gates at the Al Khair Primary Health Clinic, N'Djamena, Chad on March 20, 2018.
©Gates Archive/Sam Phelps

Emerging diseases like COVID-19 pose a serious threat, and even as the current pandemic is still with us, there’s growing concern about avian flu and fears over what the next pandemic could bring. You say in your 2023 letter that there needs to be a major global network to properly prepare for future outbreaks. What role should the United States play in that network?

The world needs to fight outbreaks like we fight fires. Fires are dangerous not only to one home but to an entire community if they’re left to burn out of control. The same is true for infectious diseases. That’s why we need a well-funded system that is ready to spring into action at the first sign of danger, just like we have for fires here in the United States. 

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I’m optimistic about a network the WHO is building called the Global Health Emergency Corps. To make this network successful, it needs to include global health experts from every country in the world, including the United States. We also need wealthier countries to step up and provide funding to make the Emergency Corps a reality.

It’s not just emerging diseases. As you allude to, polio, little more than a childhood memory for most older Americans, has re-emerged in the U.S., and malaria is a perennial threat worldwide. How can we harness the power of science and innovation, as we did so successfully in developing COVID vaccines in just a matter of months, to make the world a better place not only for the next generation but for the current aging global population?

spinner image Dr. Shahzad Baig and Bill Gates look at polio vaccination and COVID-19 response maps and data during his visit of the control room at the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) in Islamabad, Pakistan, on February 17, 2022.
Dr. Shahzad Baig and Bill Gates look at polio vaccination and COVID-19 response maps and data during his visit of the control room at the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) in Islamabad, Pakistan, on February 17, 2022.
©Gates Archive/Khaula Jamil

Polio vaccines are a great example of the power of science and innovation. The Gates Foundation supported a new vaccine — the first of its kind — that works on variants of the virus that causes polio. More than half a billion doses of this vaccine have been administered worldwide since 2021, protecting millions of children from being paralyzed by polio.

COVID vaccines are another great example. The fact that we were able to safely make so many of them so quickly is miraculous. One of the key reasons for that success is that we already had innovations in the pipeline — like the mRNA vaccine platform — that let us respond to a new virus quickly. We need to keep investing in the science that enabled this success, as well as support new breakthroughs that can save lives all around the world, including in low-income countries.

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spinner image Bill Gates visits the Kathonzweni Health Center in Wote, Makueni County, Kenya, on November 15 2022. Patricia Muthini, Clinical Officer in charge, provides a tour of the clinic.
Bill Gates visits the Kathonzweni Health Center in Wote, Makueni County, Kenya, on November 15 2022. Patricia Muthini, Clinical Officer in charge, provides a tour of the clinic.
©Gates Archive/Thomas Omondi

For example, I’m excited about the potential of gene therapy — which fixes genetic mutations that can cause debilitating and deadly medical problems — to treat diseases like sickle cell disease. Gene therapy can be used to cure sickle cell disease today, but it’s a difficult, time-consuming and prohibitively expensive process. The Gates Foundation is supporting work to make it easier and cheaper. I’m hopeful that this approach may one day also be used to cure HIV.

In your 2023 letter you wrote: “When I was in my twenties, I didn’t think that anyone my grandparents’ age had anything useful to offer the world at large. As I get older, though, I see how wrong I was.” What changed your mind? And what do you now believe that people your age have to offer?

There’s a certain amount of arrogance that comes with being young. You eventually realize that people with more experience — whether that’s in a particular field or just in life — have lots of wisdom to share. 

I think people my age have a unique understanding of how much progress is possible. We’re the children of parents who lived through World War II. And while I was lucky enough to be born right when the polio vaccine became widely available, I know people who were paralyzed by the disease. My generation understands how much better life can get, because we know how much progress we’ve made already. That’s a useful perspective at a time when the world faces so many seemingly insurmountable challenges.

spinner image Bill Gates speaks during "The Power of Innovation in a Post-COVID-19 World," a global health event presentation, in Doha, Qatar on December 11, 2022.
Bill Gates speaks during "The Power of Innovation in a Post-COVID-19 World," a global health event presentation, in Doha, Qatar on December 11, 2022.
©Gates Archive/Mohamed Farag

What’s the best advice you believe you can one day give to your grandchildren, and what’s your biggest hope for their future?

I think it’s more about the example you set than any one piece of advice. Little kids are so fascinated by the world around them — I hope I can foster that curiosity as a grandfather.

My hope is that my granddaughter’s generation will be the ones who find a way to solve the biggest challenges facing us today, like inequity, climate change, pandemics and wars. I’m lucky to meet with the young people leading on these issues often through my work, and I’m so inspired by the energy and creativity they bring to solving such huge problems. 

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