As several simultaneous Live 8 concerts rolled out around the world Saturday, concertgoers and TV and Web viewers were treated to an unprecedented display of music royalty when performers such as U2, Def Leppard, and Paul McCartney rocked audiences on behalf of the starving and poor in Africa. But the people who got the biggest crowd reactions weren't musicians. South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela drew the biggest applause. And right behind him on the popularity meter, believe it or not, was a little-known software developer from the Seattle area--a surprise visitor at Live 8 in London. His name is Bill Gates.
In our industry, Gates is known for cocreating Microsoft, a company that dominates the market with hard-hitting business tactics and technological innovations. But since leaving the CEO post in 2000, Gates has been carving a new legacy for himself. He's been busy giving away his vast fortune. And most of that money has gone toward health-related concerns and to caring for the downtrodden.
The Live 8 concerts were designed to raise awareness about the death and devastation that's racking much of Africa, where one person dies from starvation every 3 seconds--a fact that was repeated again and again during the shows. The concerts were timed to occur right before this week's Group of Eight (G8) summit, a meeting of the world's top economic powers that will be held in Scotland. Live 8 certainly reached its goals: More than one million people attended the live events, and billions of people watched on TV and the Web.
As for Gates, the audience of 200,000 people treated him like a rock star, greeting him with thunderous applause when event planner Bob Geldof introduced him onstage at the London concert. If you know Gates only through his involvement with the PC industry, you might be confused by his mainstream popularity. But Gates is well on his way to leaving a much more important mark on this planet than just Microsoft's legacy. And it's fascinating to see how he's been able to reinvent himself as a philanthropist.
"Some day in the future all people, no matter where they are born, will be able to lead a healthy life," Gates said during his brief appearance onstage. "We can do this, and when we do it will be the best thing that humanity has ever done." He then introduced pop singer Dido and left the stage to cheers.