The donation, to a foundation run by Mr Gates's father, is unlikely to lead to financial hardship for the Seattle-based billionaire and his wife, Melinda. They are estimated to be worth $80bn, a sum rather larger than the gross national product of Ireland.
They have chosen to direct a lot of their new-found wealth to philanthropy, following in the footsteps of the great American industrial pioneers - the Du Ponts, Fords and Carnegies.
The donation comes as Microsoft comes under fire again in the anti- trust trial in Washington, but Mr Gates's spokesmen were at pains to say there was no connection between the events. "Our work at the foundation has nothing to do with Microsoft other than our founder is chairman of Microsoft," said one.
Mr Gates and his wife gave the cash to the William H Gates Foundation, named after, and run by, Mr Gates's father. It provides grants for health, population and education projects worldwide. At the end of 1998, it had committed $133m to organisations working in world health and population; $122m to educational concerns; more than $42m to community projects in the Pacific Northwest; and more than $60m to special projects and annual giving campaigns.
According to Giving USA magazine, charitable donations in the US shot up by nearly 9 per cent to $175bn last year.Reuse content