Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates • Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates on Tuesday ruled out running for office, choosing not to join the parade of rich businessmen who have tried their hand at politics.
Asked at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit about running for president, he said his current job with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was “a very nice office” and that it didn’t require him to raise funds to “try to get elected,” nor does it “have term limits of eight years,” as do some elected American offices.
“I decided the philanthropic role is where my contribution would be more unique, and so that is what I will work on the rest of my life,” Gates said. “I actually think, maybe I’m wrong, that I can have as much impact in that role as I could in any political role. In any case, I would never run for political office.”
Gates said he would be happy to offer the U.S. president his advice.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who ran the private equity firm Bain Capital, is the latest wealthy business figure to enter the political ring. Among those who preceded him were 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot and former eBay Inc. chief executive Meg Whitman, who spent $142 million in her losing 2010 effort to become California’s governor.
Gates devoted much of his speech to charitable causes and his foundation, especially its work toward eradicating polio from the three countries where it is still found — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
“It’s the top priority of our foundation. We are convinced that ending polio is achievable and will bring lasting success,” Gates said. “It will lay the foundation for a better public health system for children in the poorest and most remote places.”
Gates said one of the biggest challenges in fighting polio was getting vaccines into high-risk areas. Health care workers have faced Taliban opposition in Pakistan and suspicions in other countries. He praised the United Arab Emirates for helping get doctors into remote areas of Pakistan, where they vaccinated 20,000 children against polio and measles.
“It is also a mark of why this region can play a pivotal role in improving the lives of the poor,” Gates said. “The leaders and citizens here can reach out as partners to countries where they have special access and special kinship — areas where the rest of the world doesn’t have the standing to intervene in the way that leaders here can do.”
Gates called on Gulf citizens to embrace philanthropy and develop technology that can help the poor.
“For too long, we in the West worked almost exclusively to develop and apply technology to meet the needs of the rich world, only for those who could pay. As you grow into a world hub for research, I hope you constantly search for ways to apply technology to help people who can’t pay,” he said.
Gates also discussed new media, promoting the Microsoft Windows 8 and its soon-to-be released Surface tablet computer. He also advised caution to an entrepreneur in the audience planning to start an online Arab news channel station.
“I think it’s a little too early to put all your money on the interactive side unless you are just trying to go after high end audience,” Gates said.