The Newsweek 50: Donors Bill and Melinda Gates

Where big money goes, the spotlight follows, and that's especially true when you're talking about a checkbook the size of the Gates Foundation's, the world's largest philanthropy. Only 11 years old, the organization has become perhaps the single most powerful force shaping global-health priorities; the Gateses have spent billions trying to eradicate malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and childhood diseases. Now they're also major players in education reform. Since 2000, the Gateses have invested $4 billion to reinvent high schools, create more-effective urban schools, increase enrollment in preschools and provide more college scholarships. In December they announced a plan to lavish up to half a billion dollars over the next four years to reduce the college-dropout rate of low-income students in the United States. "In a time when a degree or credential after high school has never been more important, only 25 percent of low-income students can expect to earn one," said Hilary Pennington, who will direct the project. The Gateses' ambitious goal is to double the number of low-income students earning a college degree by the age of 26. (Story continued below...)