The selfless woman behind the richest man in the world

Melinda Gates, often referred to as Bill Gates’ other half, is the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She is also viewed as one of the world’s most humble, kind and powerful women. Melinda and Bill work together as a perfect team and family; but alone, Melinda is just as extraordinary.

Photo Credit: Makers

Upbringing

Melinda grew up in a middle class family in Texas with three siblings. Neither of her parents went to college, but it was important to them that all four of their kids had the opportunity. In order to make enough money to send their kids to university, Melinda’s father started a side business for rental properties. All of the kids would ultimately help him keep the business going by making sure everything was running well and organized. They all learned at a young age what it was like to use and handle money within the business, which seemed to have helped Melinda balance her priorities.

Melinda’s schooling taught her to be confident as a woman from a very young age. She went to an all girls’ catholic high school, and says that it empowered her in many ways.  She explains that school without competition against boys allowed her to use her voice. This allowed her to accomplish the things she was passionate about.  She became fascinated with computers when her dad brought home one of the earliest Apple computers and wanted to know everything about it.  She knew she wanted to study computer science at a top school when she was older. Throughout high school she had the goal of graduating Valedictorian, and was aware that it would be necessary to get into the schools she wanted to attend. She achieved her goal and wrote a beautiful speech to go with the honor. In a way, it encapsulates everything she was going to achieve in the future. She proposed “If you are successful it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction, remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person just as you were helped”. This line was ultimately what signified her passage into her adult life, and she has never stopped fulfilling this idea.

She started her College career in computer science at Duke University. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1986 and quickly earned her masters in business administration and economics the year after, in 1987. During her last year of college, Melinda had a job offer from International Business Machines (IBM). She explained that she couldn’t except the offer until she interviewed for one other company.  When Melinda told the IBM manager that the company was Microsoft, the manager firmly told her she should take that job if it was offered to her.

Melinda was offered the job at Microsoft and gladly took it. Three weeks in, she was sent to New York to meet with the CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates. She enjoyed his humor, which was different from the typical corporate engineer behavior and after denying him once, she agreed to a date.

They dated for six years before getting engaged, and on their first trip to Africa they agreed on giving most of their wealth back to society.

Inspiration

As exhibited throughout her life, Melinda has had the advantage of being confident in her womanhood from a very young age. Her efforts to help women around the world have shown that she has forever been inspired to empower women to use their voice and find the power within themselves. Melinda tells a story of her first trip to Africa, in 1993, when she and Bill first discussed their wealth.  After seeing so much devastation, they knew they wanted to spend much of their time and money towards contributing to others.

A shocking moment on this trip shows Melinda’s eagerness to help women around the world from a young age. She describes this defining moment when she and Bill were proudly invited back to a small village to go to a man’s sister’s ceremony in which they would be cutting off her outer genitals. This is a dangerous procedure that often results in infection, and Melinda was very disturbed by how powerless the women were in this situation. It was heartbreaking to her and it was a big starting point for her to begin learning more about how to help the world fight through so many of these different health issues. The pain of others constantly inspires her to do more. This passion is what started the creation of the Gates foundation. Originally it was called the William H. Gates Foundation, and it was meant to fill libraries all over the U.S. with computers. Eventually, Melinda expanded the organization, re-naming it the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to work on improvements in education around the world. It now covers poverty and health as well. She was behind the scenes in the company until 2008, but then decided to become more involved publicly in order to portray her voice as a woman to her daughters and other women around the globe.

In an interview about “How to Volunteer When You’re Not a Billionaire” Melinda explains that she is inspired by the tough stories of the people she is helping. She feels “fulfilled” when she connects with people she would not normally get to interact with. It seems to be what keeps her going. Melinda does not see herself in any way “above” the people she is helping. She is their equal and she is just as inspired by them as they are by her. These intimate interactions make her want to do more.

Melinda explains in many of her talks and interviews that she sees her volunteer work as her responsibility rather than a choice or good deed.

Her family’s circumstances are unbelievable to her and she feels it is necessary for her to give back to the world.  As she said in her high school graduation speech, someone who raised her gave success to her, and now it is her duty to give back, just the way they did for her.  Melinda is inspired by the cycle of empowering others around her, and teaching others to encourage each other to be confident enough to use their voice.

Method

As the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda needs to use intense research in order to really affect society. As half of the richest couple in the world, she has an extreme amount of power, and since 95% of the Gates’ wealth is returned to others in need, she is cautious about directing this money to the most important causes. She needs to be sure to spend their money, as well as the money of others wisely. In order to provide the most detailed level of care, she and the rest of the foundation curates studies for specific regions that are in need of support. The Gates Foundation works with partner organizations in four areas: Global Development Division, Global Health Division, United States Division (working to improve education), and Global Policy & Advocacy Division (for building relationships to advance their work).

Melinda personally travels to visit struggling people around the world and talks to them about their personal issues before distributing any money anywhere.

She does not tell these people who she is and makes sure to travel with the persona of any other visitor so she can collect the most honest answers and come up with the most efficient responses. After talking to enough people and fully understanding the cause, she will do more research and finally find a way to put a dent in these struggles.

For the past couple years, Melinda has been fighting to distribute contraceptives to women in third world countries.  However, Melinda explains that in many villages in Africa, women struggle to use condoms even if they are provided with them. Men in Africa are very offended by condoms and take them as a sign that the woman has HIV or that the woman believes he has HIV. This forces so many financially struggling women to have more children than they can support and it also puts them at risk for HIV. Even if we offered an endless supply of condoms to women in Africa no difference would be made. Melinda learned by connecting with the women in these countries that this is a common problem, and that these women ultimately require a shot that is used to space out their pregnancies.

Melinda, a Catholic, opened up to society and began to promote contraceptives. This is very controversial within the Catholic community, but she knew that as a woman with power she needed to use her own voice to help women in need. In 2012, after a long fight with promoting birth control and explaining how it has helped her personally, Melinda was able to put $560 million dollars into providing the shots that these women were hoping to obtain.

Melinda personally uses this intimate and humble method to find the most effective way to support education, healthcare and eliminate poverty around the globe.

Execution

The Gates Foundation has done an unbelievable amount of volunteer work around the world and the results are outstanding.

With 95% of the Gates 79.8 billion dollars returning to society, they have cut poverty and maternal mortality in half in the last 15 years.

Without boasting about her good deeds, Melinda humbly and elegantly continues to plot how they can help even more.  The Gates Foundation gives millions of dollars to countless organizations, grants and funds in order to put an end to poverty and improve education and health care. The few causes they do not support are listed on the Gates Foundation website: “direct donations or grants to individuals, projects addressing health problems in developed countries, political campaigns and legislative lobbying efforts, building capital campaigns, and projects that exclusively serve religious purposes”.

In 2015, Melinda and Bill announced they would now be giving a year paid maternal leave to show support of progressive workplaces.

This is almost unheard of in the current business climate.
As co-founder of the largest private foundation in the world, Melinda continues to do research to uncover the most important problems in the world. Bill and Melinda are the epitome of returning their good fortune to the world and would like to see their foundation advance for as long as possible.

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