Time Magazine
December 19, 2005


By Nancy Gibbs

These are not the people you expect to come to the rescue. Rock stars
are designed to be shiny, shallow creatures, furloughed from reality
for all time. Billionaires are even more removed, nestled atop
fantastic wealth where they never again have to place their own calls
or defrost dinner or fly commercial. So Bono spends several thousand
dollars at a restaurant for a nice Pinot Noir, and Bill Gates, the
great predator of the Internet age, has a trampoline room in his $100
million house. It makes you think that if these guys can decide to
make it their mission to save the world, partner with people they
would never otherwise meet, care about causes that are not sexy or
dignified in the ways that celebrities normally require, then no one
really has a good excuse anymore for just staying on the sidelines and

Such is the nature of Bono's fame that just about everyone in the
world wants to meet him--except for the richest man in the world, who
thought it would be a waste of time. "World health is immensely
complicated," says Gates, recalling that first encounter in 2002. "It
doesn't really boil down to a 'Let's be nice' analysis. So I thought a
meeting wouldn't be all that valuable."

It took about three minutes with Bono for Gates to change his mind.
Bill and his wife Melinda, another computer nerd turned poverty
warrior, love facts and data with a tenderness most people reserve for
their children, and Bono was hurling metrics across the table as fast
as they could keep up. "He was every bit the geek that we are," says
Gates Foundation chief Patty Stonesifer, who helped broker that first
summit. "He just happens to be a geek who is a fantastic musician."

And so another alliance was born: unlikely, unsentimental, hard nosed,
clear eyed and dead set on driving poverty into history. The rocker's
job is to be raucous, grab our attention. The engineers' job is to
make things work. 2005 is the year they turned the corner, when Bono
charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's
richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the
poorest; now those countries can spend the money on health and schools
rather than interest payments--and have no more excuses for not doing
so. The Gateses, having built the world's biggest charity, with a $29
billion endowment, spent the year giving more money away faster than
anyone ever has, including nearly half a billion dollars for the Grand
Challenges, in which they asked the very best brains in the world how
they would solve a huge problem, like inventing a vaccine that needs
no needles and no refrigeration, if they had the money to do it.

It would be easy to watch the alliance in action and imagine the
division of labor: head and heart, business and culture; one side
brings the money, the other side the buzz. But like many great teams,
this one is more than the sum of its symbols. Apart from his music
stardom, Bono is a busy capitalist (he's a named partner in a $2
billion private equity firm), moves in political circles like a very
charming shark, aptly named his organization DATA (debt, AIDS, trade,
Africa) to capture both the breadth of his ambitions and the depth of
his research. Meanwhile, you could watch Bill and Melinda coolly
calculate how many lives will be saved by each billion they spend and
miss how impassioned they are about the suffering they have seen.
"He's changing the world twice," says Bono of Bill. "And the second
act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more."

For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-
engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and
then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono
are TIME's Persons of the Year.

As it happens, they have arrived at the right time, as America stirs
itself awake from the dreamy indifference with which the world's poor
have forever been treated. In ordinary times, we give when it's easy:
a gesture, a reflex, a salve to conscience. The entreaties come on
late-night TV from well-meaning but long-discarded celebrities who
cuddle with big-eyed children and appeal to pity and guilt. Maybe we
send off a check, hope it will help someone somewhere stay alive for
another day. That is not the model for the current crusaders or the
message for these extraordinary times.

This was already a year that redefined generosity. Americans gave more
money to tsunami relief, more than $1.6 billion, than to any overseas
mission ever before. The Hurricane Season from Hell brought another
outpouring of money and time and water bottles and socks and coats and
offers of refuge, some $2.7 billion so far. The public failure of
government to manage disaster became the political story of the year.
But the private response of individuals, from every last lemonade
stand to every mitten drive, is the human story of 2005.

"Katrina created one tragedy and revealed another," Melinda Gates said
in a speech after the hurricane. "We have to address the inequities
that were not created by the hurricanes but exposed by them. We have
to ensure that people have the opportunity to make the most of their
lives." That just about captures the larger mission she and her
husband have embraced. In the poorest countries, every day is as
deadly as a hurricane. Malaria kills two African children a minute,
round the clock. In that minute a woman dies from complications during
pregnancy, nine people get infected with HIV, three people die of TB.
A vast host of aid workers and agencies and national governments and
international organizations have struggled for years to get ahead of
the problem but often fell behind. The task was too big, too
complicated. There was no one in charge, no consensus about what to do
first and never enough money to do it. In Muslim parts of Ethiopia,
aid workers can't talk to teenage girls about condoms to prevent AIDS;
but in Tanzania they're encouraged to. How you cut an umbilical cord
can determine whether a baby risks a fatal infection, but every
culture has its own traditions. They cut with a coin for luck in Nepal
and a stone in Bolivia, where they think if you use a razor blade the
child will grow up to be a thief. There is no one solution to fit all
countries, and so the model the Gates Foundation and Bono have
embraced pulls in everyone, at every level. Think globally. Act
carefully. Prove what works. Then use whatever levers you have to get
it done.

The challenge of "stupid poverty"--the people who die for want of a $2
pill because they live on $1 a day--was enough to draw Gates away from
Microsoft years before he intended to shift his focus from making
money to giving it away. He and Melinda looked around and recognized a
systems failure. "Those lives were being treated as if they weren't
valuable," Gates told FORTUNE in 2002. "Well, when you have the
resources that could make a very big impact, you can't just say to
yourself, 'O.K., when I'm 60, I'll get around to that. Stand by.""

There have always been rich and famous people who feel the call to
"give back," which is where big marble buildings and opera houses come
from. But Bill and Melinda didn't set out to win any prizes--or
friends. "They've gone into international health," says Paul Farmer, a
public-health pioneer, "and said, 'What, are you guys kidding? Is this
the best you can do?'" Gates' standards are shaping the charitable
marketplace as he has the software universe. "He wants to know where
every penny goes," says Bono, whose DATA got off the ground with a
Gates Foundation grant. "Not because those pennies mean so much to
him, but because he's demanding efficiency." His rigor has been a
blessing to everyone--not least of all Bono, who was at particular
risk of not being taken seriously, just another guilty white guy
pestering people for more money without focusing on where it goes.
"When an Irish rock star starts talking about it, people go, yeah,
you're paid to be indulged and have these ideas," Bono says. "But when
Bill Gates says you can fix malaria in 10 years, they know he's done a
few spreadsheets."

The Gates commitment acts as a catalyst. They needed the drug
companies to come on board, and the major health agencies, the
churches, the universities and a whole generation of politicians who
were raised to believe that foreign aid was about as politically sexy
as postal reform. And that is where Bono's campaign comes in. He goes
to churches and talks of Christ and the lepers, citing exactly how
many passages of Scripture ("2,103") deal with taking care of the
poor; he sits in a corporate boardroom and talks about the role of aid
in reviving the U.S. brand. He gets Pat Robertson and Susan Sarandon
to do a commercial together for his ONE campaign to "Make Poverty
History." Then he heads to Washington, where he stops by a meeting of
House Democrats to nuzzle them about debt relief before a private
lunch with President George W. Bush, whom he praises for tripling aid
to Africa over the past four years. Everyone from Republican Senator
Rick Santorum to Hillary Clinton used Bono's October concert as a fund
raiser. "He knows how to get people to follow him," Stonesifer says.
"We are probably a good complement. We're more likely to give you four
facts about the disease than four ways that you can go do something
about it."

Bono grasps that politicians don't much like being yelled at by
activists who tell them no matter what they do, it's not enough. Bono
knows it's never enough, but he also knows how to say so in a way that
doesn't leave his audience feeling helpless. He invites everyone into
the game, in a way that makes them think they are missing something if
they hold back. "After so many years in Washington," says retired
Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, whom Bono recruited to his
cause, "I had met enough well-known people to quickly figure out who
was genuine and who was there for show. I knew as soon as I met Bono
that he was genuine. He has absolutely nothing to gain personally as a
result of his work. In fact, he has opened himself to criticism
because he has been willing to work with anyone to find help for these
children who have taken his heart."

This is not about pity. It's more about passion. Pity sees suffering
and wants to ease the pain; passion sees injustice and wants to settle
the score. Pity implores the powerful to pay attention; passion warns
them about what will happen if they don't. The risk of pity is that it
kills with kindness; the promise of passion is that it builds on the
hope that the poor are fully capable of helping themselves if given
the chance. In 2005 the world's poor needed no more condolences; they
needed people to get interested, get mad and then get to work.

Copyright 2006 Time Inc.