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He’s a Harvard dropout who revolutionized how people interact with computers and a very rich man who has changed the face of philanthropy.

Now Bill Gates wants to inspire college students to make their own marks on the world by devoting their time, brainpower and future incomes to solving what he calls the world’s greatest problems: poor healthcare and broken school systems.

“Are the brightest minds working on the most important problems?” he asked a capacity crowd Monday at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium. “My view is that we could do a lot better on this and it would make a huge difference.”

Citing the contrast between the proliferation of anti-baldness drugs in America and a lack of vaccines to prevent millions of young children from dying in developing countries, Gates urged students to focus on the life-and-death challenges facing the world.

 ”It’s unbelievable how few smart people” are working on global health issues, he said. The sentiment was echoed later in his speech when he talked of the need to figure out how to stock schools with the best teachers: “You’d be amazed at how little work there is in this area,” he said.

Gates told Stanford a story about seeing charity through the eyes of his child.

Gates’ talk at Memorial Auditorium, “Giving Back: Finding the Best Way to Make a Difference,” was the this year’s Payne Distinguished Lecture sponsored by Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

It was also the second stop of Gates’ five-college, three-day tour that kicked off Monday at the University of California-Berkeley, to promote the kind of work the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing.

“When I dropped out of college, I told my dad I’d go back,” Gates said. “And I’m doing that a day at a time.”

During his junior year at Harvard, Gates left school to focus on Microsoft Corp., the company he started in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen. The money he made running the software giant propelled him to the top of Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people. With a net worth of $53 billion, he currently holds the No. 2 slot.

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Also on Stanford Knowledgebase:

  1. Psycological Cues Can Limit Black Students’ Academic Success
  2. A 60-minute Exercise to Boost GPAs of Minority Students
  3. New Horizons and Old Problems Define Education

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