There’s much more to Melinda Gates than being the wife of one of the wealthiest men on earth. A philanthropist in her own right and an inspiring humanitarian, Gates has single-handedly steered massive amounts of wealth towards tackling some of the world’s most compelling problems.
She’s taken on the Pope himself! Melinda Gates, who through her foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the biggest private charity in the world) is on a mission to provide contraceptive solutions to countries in the developing world, is pushing (gently, yet sternly) the Pope and the Church to reverse its moral stance on the use of contraception. “We work very extensively with the Catholic Church and I’ve had many discussions with them because we have a shared mission around social justice and anti-poverty,” said Gates. “And I think what this pope sees is that if we are going to lift people out of poverty, you have to do the right thing for women. And so we have agreed at this point to disagree – ,” she said in an interview to the BBC.
She did not mince her words when it came to criticizing the American president either, openly expressing her dismay at Donald Trump’s recent decision to cut funding for family planning. “He [Trump] is proposing not funding family planning and that is a huge problem. If you believe in women, you fund family planning and so I’m counting on Congress in the US to hold up US funding on family planning,” she said recently at an international summit on family planning in London (which she co-hosted), where donors were anticipated to raise more than $2.5 billion to expand access to contraception.
The makings of a super achiever
People who have known Melinda Gates over the years aren’t surprised by her passion and quiet persuasive powers to get the job done and of her influence on her husband, Microsoft boss and the richest man on the planet, Bill Gates. “Lots of people like him (Bill)—and I include myself—are enraged, and we sweep ourselves into a fury at the wanton loss of lives. What we need is a much slower pulse to help us be rational. Melinda is that pulse,” said singer and fellow humanitarian Bono, in an interview to Fortune magazine in 2008.
Gates who grew up in Texas, the daughter of an aerospace engineer father and stay-at-home mother, realized very early on that she needed to excel in academics to get ahead in life and that’s exactly what she did. After graduating at the top of her class from Ursuline Academy in Dallas, Gates earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics from Duke University and an MBA from Duke’s famed Fuqua School of Business. The turning point in her life of course came when she met Microsoft boss and future husband, Bill Gates.
The better half of a power couple
Their love story is well documented- he asked her out (for a date two weeks in advance) and she turned him down (because she thought he wasn’t spontaneous enough) but eventually they married in a secret ceremony in Hawaii. Thus began a solid partnership that would in the years to come, change a lot of lives all over the world. Famous for his tight hold on his wealth, Bill Gates started to loosen the purse strings with Melinda prodding him into philanthropy. “I don’t think it would be fun to do on my own, and I don’t think I’d do as much of it (philanthropy),” Bill Gates has admitted in multiple interviews. Melinda who had been working at Microsoft as a marketing manager, left the company in 1996, to focus on her family and in 2000 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was formed. She was instrumental in having Bill move out of his active role at the company in 2008 to devote himself to the foundation full time. For more than a decade Bill Gates has donated more than $28 billion to the foundation. The couple continues to take on malaria, polio and other deadly diseases outside the States while working to reform education in the country.
Saving the world, one problem at a time
“From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” These words from a letter addressed to Melinda by Bill’s mom, Mary who was battling breast cancer stayed with her. These words were also the reason behind the creation of the first Gates charity, the William H. Gates III Foundation. The turning point for Melinda however was a New York front-page story about about children in developing countries succumbing to fatal diseases, most of which were unheard of (rotavirus) in the U.S. at the time. That set the ball rolling.
Over the years the Gates foundation gave to a plethora of organizations including the World Health Organization and UNICEF. “We spend the most time on our family life and on the foundation. Are we putting our voices behind the things we most care about? Are we teaching our kids in the right way about the responsibility we feel that we have as a family? We’ve been so incredibly blessed and lucky to grow up in the United States and for Bill to start Microsoft. We’ve oriented our lives all around, basically, the foundation work,” she said in an interview to Bloomberg magazine.
Batting for American women
Travelling across the world, Gates found herself returning to some pretty serious domestic problems such as the lack of women technologists, representation of women in U.S. politics, family leaves and venture funding for businesses headed by women among other issues. Being a computer science graduate herself and working for Microsoft early in her career, giving a boost to women in technology is a passion project. “For me, there are all these hidden inequities, these biases, that men and women have —bias about women working, what women should do,” said Gates. “But if we don’t look at those root inequities and we don’t talk about them and make them transparent, we won’t move forward as a society,” she said in a statement.
Melinda Gates could easily bask in her 66,000 square feet gorgeous mansion (Xanadu) on the Seattle waterfront, instead she chooses to work for mankind- getting rid of one life-altering developmental issue at a time. Good friend and fellow billionaire, Warren Buffett summed it up best in an interview. “He’s (Bill Gates) smart as hell, obviously. But in terms of seeing the whole picture, she’s smarter!”
Besides being honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, Melinda Gates was honoured with several awards internationally.
- In 2017, President François Hollande awarded Gates and her husband with the France’s highest national award – Legion of Honour in Paris for their charity efforts.
- In 2017 she was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal 2016 of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN), Berlin-Brandenburg, ″for outstanding services to peace and international understanding″ in the historic Berlin Town Hall.
- In recognition of the foundation’s philanthropic activities in India, Bill and Melinda Gates jointly received India’s third-highest civilian honor, Padma Bhushan, in 2015
- Gates was appointed an honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2013 for her services to philanthropy and international development
- Melinda and Bill received the Spanish Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation on May 4, 2006, in recognition of their world impact through charitable giving.
Pull quote :
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. —Melinda Gates, Valedictory speech, Ursuline Academy, 1982
Baisakhi Roy | The Edge Blog