Randall Lane, Forbes Staff
The richest man in the world and the biggest rock star in the world made a rare joint appearance Wednesday at the second annual Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy, discussing the genesis of their partnership, friendship and their goals as they work together going forward.
Bill Gates and Bono joined approximately 150 billionaires, near-billionaires, philanthropists and leading social entrepreneurs, as well as two Nobel Peace Prize winners, all of whom spent the day sharing ideas and seeking solutions to extreme poverty.
And what did this duo have to say? Over the course of a free-wheeling hour, which I moderated and encompassed more than a half-dozen questions from others in the room, ranging from Paul Tudor Jones II to Indian billionaire Prakash Hinduja, quite a lot.
Bono on trying to first meet Gates: “It’s an interesting story in not judging your friends. I said to Paul Allen, would you help me get to Bill Gates?…Paul’s a kind of shy guy, but he usually answers my emails. And he stopped answering them…I got a bit cross with Paul. I said, ‘That’s not very nice, this is one thing I’ve ever asked him to do.’ And I had no idea of course that he’d been asking Bill, but Bill was actually like, no, I’d don’t want to meet him. It’sSonny Bono.’”
Gates on Bono’s attempts: “I have to admit, I did not make it a priority.”
Gates on their first meeting: “I was kind of amazed that he actually knew what he was talking about and had a real commitment to making things happen. It was phenomenal. After that, we’ve been big partners in crime.”
Bono on his partner in crime: “I couldn’t do anything that I do without the Gates Foundation. We couldn’t move, neither ONE nor (RED).”
Bono on (RED), which has raised $207 million for AIDS drugs: “It was an attempt to piggyback on the great companies…to create heat and excitement around the issue of solving a problem…That’s what (RED) does; it creates heat.”
Bono on Africa: “It’s an incredible, exciting time on the continent of Africa…the richest continent on Earth….One of the biggest obstacles is corruption….There is a cure for that—a vaccine. We call it transparency…it’s really a revolution. A transparency revolution.”
Bono on his emergence as a numbers geek: “That’s just me pretending to be Bill. I’m Irish, we do emotion very well. You’re just experiencing some of it, and it can go on and on and on. I’ve learned just to be an evidence-based activist. Cut through the crap. Find out what works. Find out what doesn’t works. I don’t come from a hippie tradition of let’s all hold hands and the world is going to be a better place. My things much more punk rock. I enjoy the math, actually. The math is incredible.”
Bono on reducing poverty: “I love these numbers. These are sexy numbers. They rhyme somewhere in my head.”
Gates on using real-time data: “The poorest 2 billion are nowhere near the Internet. The infrastructure you build—the primary health care center, the school—can be hooked up. The data from the UN system is very slow to arrive, and in many cases, not that accurate. We can use satellite data… there are surveillance systems that can get you real-time data.
Gates on when to start becoming a philanthropist: “I do encourage people to start young…I think it’s amazing that people like Mark Zuckerberg, he’s starting in his 20s, doing good things. He’ll have a lot of experience by the time he gets to his 40s an 50s. I wish I’d started a bit sooner than I did. I think I would have been further down the learning curve.
Bono: “We do have a lot of fun doing this.”