Slim put up $25 million for a new bioscience laboratory to bring world-class scientists to the station, which seeks to improve crop yields for poor farmers.
Speaking at a news conference with Slim, Gates said large U.S. foundations were at the core of work by Norman Borlaug, the agronomist and humanitarian who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yield cereal crop hybrids.
"Norman Borlaug's salary came from that Rockefeller philanthropy," Gates said, referring to the foundation set up by the family that made a fortune in oil. "Foundation funding has been key. It's a wonderful thing to have a huge impact."
Gates, still relatively young at 57, is fond of looking back at the work of the Rockefellers, Fords, Mellons and Carnegies. He often gives away copies of "The Gospel of Wealth," an 1889 article by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie that suggests a rich man who dies without giving his wealth away dies in disgrace.
The Gates Foundation has set lofty goals, such as eradicating polio by 2018. It has done more to combat malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis in Africa than any other group in history. Its annual spending of some $3 billion to $4 billion is comparable to the budget this year of the World Health Organization at $3.9 billion.
"He has been very strategic in tackling a relatively small number of issues to try to have a big impact," said Patrick Rooney of Indiana University's School of Philanthropy.
Gates has pushed fellow billionaires to sign his "Giving Pledge," which commits them to donate at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. He has won over scores of adherents, including Warren Buffett, the world's third-richest man, who in 2006 committed $31 billion to the Gates Foundation.
Among those who haven't signed on, though, is Slim, who says that tycoons should keep running their empires and employing workers.
"Why half?" Slim asked on CNBC in January 2011. "What we need to do as businessmen is to help solve the social problems. To fight poverty, but not by charity."
Even so, Slim has found some causes that he likes, including giving $50 million to the Mexican branch of the World Wildlife Fund, in part for its work in restoring and protecting habitat of the migratory monarch butterfly.
His foundations also have given $100 million to the Alas Foundation set up by Colombian rock star Shakira to provide education to young people and to the William J. Clinton Foundation to help small- and medium-sized businesses in Haiti.
Layton, the philanthropy scholar in Mexico City, said he sees little strategic vision to Slim's giving.
"The donations seem almost random in terms of their amounts and their recipients," he said. "In his public statements, he has repeatedly held that philanthropy can do little to promote development, yet he has sought out opportunities to join with Bill Gates, Shakira and Bill Clinton in their initiatives.
"This gives the impression that image and perception matter more than vision and substance in Slim's giving."
While Slim's foundations are giving money, Layton said, "his heart's just not in this."
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