Here are the 5 ‘fanatics’ who inspired Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 2016

For those who inspire greatness, the question arises, who inspires them? When it comes the world’s richest man, Bill Gates has a short list of men and women he finds fascinating, intriguing and inspiring each year.

Some of the names on Gates 2016  list may ring a bell while others may encourage further investigation.

Starting off the list is former US President Jimmy Carter. Gates finds Carter’s long and illustrious life, career, and marriage impressive.

This fall Melinda and I were lucky enough to go to Plains, Georgia and spend an evening with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  At 92, Jimmy Carter hasn’t slowed down. For most, being President of the United States would be the high point of their public lives. For Jimmy Carter, it was just the start of a long career dedicated to human rights causes. He’s won the United Nations Human Rights Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize.  He started the Carter Center, which continues to work on improving the health of the poorest, including ending guinea worm. He’s an author. (I just read his book, A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, a strikingly honest memoir about his private and public life.) He continues to teach as well. Every month, he and Rosalynn go to Emory University, where he lectures in the departments of global health, political science, theology and holds open Q&A sessions with students. At home, he keeps busy too. During a tour of his home, Jimmy showed Melinda and me how he spent the last few years rebuilding the house himself. He also shared some paintings he’s done—in his spare time! His life should be an inspiration to all of us.

Next up, is self-proclaimed Nerd Farmer Nate Bowling who was deemed Washington State Teacher of the Year this year.

“I joke about being a nerd farmer. I’m trying to cultivate a kind of scholarship in students, and a passion for learning. So I bring passion to the classroom, and they see that and rise to the occasion,” he told me during our meeting in June. Nate teaches AP Government and AP Human Geography at Lincoln High School in Tacoma. Half its students are African-American or Hispanic and more than 70 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Many students at high-poverty schools like Lincoln struggle and do not graduate ready for college or high paying jobs. Thanks to Nate and his colleagues, Lincoln is bucking that trend. It has a graduation rate of 80 percent, above the average for Washington schools with similar demographics, and 40 percent of its students are taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Nate is a great example of what it takes to be an effective teacher. He works hard at his craft, always searching for ways to make a subject relevant for his students. For example, he uses Star Wars to help explain Civil Rights. It’s pretty amazing. “All kids can learn if they have the support,” he says.

A man after Gates own heart lands on the list in the third sport. Nandan Nilekani is one of India’s best-known entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and thinkers, hence the affinity Gates has towards putting him on the 2016 list of his Favorite Fanatics.

We met more than 20 years ago when he was helping to start Infosys, a technology and consulting corporation. I was impressed with him then and continue to be amazed by how he has lent his entrepreneurial passion to philanthropy and public service. In 2009, he left Infosys to serve as the chairman of India’s new identity card system, Aadhar, which has provided biometric IDs to more than one billion people. Now, Nandan is dreaming up ways to use this platform to help improve the lives of the world’s poorest. He and his wife, Rohini, have set up EkStep, a non-profit that uses smartphone-based apps to help children with early learning. Nandan and I share a common optimism about the potential of the digital revolution in India to improve lives through access to savings accounts, health records, and education. We had a great conversation with the Financial Times during my visit. And to learn more about Nandan’s vision for India’s future, you can read his book, Rebooting India: Realizing a Billion Aspirations. “We are much better off dreaming, taking risks, and trying to realize a billion aspirations; at best we risk falling flat on our faces,” he writes. “Far more egregious, and most dangerous to our country, is going about ‘business as usual,’ leaving a billion voices unheard and a billion frustrations unresolved.”

Ana Marie Cauce breaks up the brofest Gates has going on in 2016 by being a doctor, researcher, and faculty at the University of Washington.

Dr. Cauce, the president of the University of Washington, saw the need to help the university’s medical school, school of public health, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, environmental scientists, and dozens of other partners to collaborate together more effectively around common health-related goals. The effort, called the Population Health Initiative, has incredible potential to unlock the power of health research and data for the benefit of all. “Being truly healthy means far more than simply being free from ailments and afflictions. When we assess health, we must also take into account the many other factors that affect well-being—poverty, discrimination, climate change and violence, to name just a few,” Dr. Cauce said during her announcement of the initiative. In October, our foundation awarded a $210 million grant to the university to fund the construction of a new building to house the Initiative and help foster greater collaboration. I’m eager to see what this visionary effort will mean for improving health worldwide.

Last buy not least is someone who’s managed to teach the creator of Microsoft a thing or two. Ken Caldeira is climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Science who investigates climate, carbon and energy systems. He’s also among the handful of people who’s consulting and educating Bill Gates on climate change.

What I appreciate most about his teaching style is how he is able to explain complex ideas in ways that are accessible to anyone. You can see this at work on his blog, where he uses the challenge of managing his office’s shared coffee pot as a way to explain how we could fight climate change.  “We will not solve the climate problem by teaching people to be less selfish,” he writes. “If we have to wait until people learn to make self-sacrificing snap judgments before we can solve the climate problem, we will be waiting until it is too late.”

As with most things in his life, Gates has put a lot thought into his list and for anyone out there looking to be the world’s next richest person or well-known philanthropist, it may be worth looking into his pick a bit further.

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Who's inspired you this year and why?