NEW YORK (JTA) – Usually a “mazel tov” would go to the person being honored, but this week the American Friends of the Hebrew University is accepting congratulations for convincing one of the world’s richest men to accept an award.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates will receive the inaugural Einstein Award, the American fund-raising arm of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced Monday.
The award, which will be presented to Gates in December at a gala dinner in New York, is named for Albert Einstein, who helped found the university. It will be given only rarely to those who have made a significant impact on humanity, according to the organization’s executive director, Peter Willner.
American Friends officials say this is the first time that Gates is accepting an award from a Jewish or Israeli organization.
“We have been talking for a long time about creating the award and giving the award,” Willner said. “But we recognized that if we gave the award, it would be given infrequently because it has to go to an individual that has not only changed the world in terms of what they have done in changing their own industry, but in changing humanity.”
Only Gates was considered to be the first recipient of the award, which has been in the works for six years, Willner told JTA.
American Friends, which raises about $60 million annually for Hebrew University, was in discussions with Gates for about a year and a half before he accepted the award. Ultimately, according to Willner, Gates decided to attach his name to the university because of its vast work and research in sustainable agriculture.
Whereas the Rockefeller Foundation was perhaps the most influential charitable foundation in the 20th century, many observers of the philanthropic scene these days are pointing to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Since its launch in 1994, the foundation has given away more than $16 billion. And its efforts appear only likely to increase, with Warren Buffet announcing in 2006 that he would donate some $30 billion of his wealth to the foundation.
Gates stepped down last month from his job at Microsoft to work full time at the foundation.
The vast majority of the foundation’s money has gone to health and humanitarian projects in the developing world.
In January, the foundation gave $875,242 over three years to Hebrew University to develop novel methods for controlling mosquito vectors of malaria and other diseases, according to a database of grants on the foundation Web site.
Proceeds from the dinner will help fund cutting-edge plant and animal science research at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Israel.
“We are honored that The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the American Friends of the Hebrew University have chosen Bill Gates as the recipient of the first-ever Einstein Award,” the Gates Foundation told JTA in an e-mail statement. “Both Bill and Melinda believe deeply that all lives have equal value and began their foundation to help ensure that inequities are reduced in the United States and throughout the world.”