The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent tens of billions of dollars to fund improvements in global public health. Melinda Gates sits down with Jane Pauley to discuss her long-held commitment to science and data, and how it is vital to combating hunger, maternal and infant mortality and malnutrition, and to improving access to education and family planning.
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 Microsoft has made $40 billion this year.
2 The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters are worth $500 million.
3 According to the United Nations, since 1990 global poverty has doubled.
4 One million children are the number of babies that die on the first day of life.
5 Polio has been eradicated worldwide.
6 The Gates Foundation has been successful in raising the education standards in US.
7 Microsoft wasn’t the first company Melinda got a job offer from.
8 Bill Gates asked Melinda out on a date for the following weekend.
9 Mary Lehman, Melinda’s friend, found Bill a bill dull.
10 Melinda made a point of being a working mum.
11 Melinda doesn’t like being the focus of attention.
12 Melinda got in trouble with the Vatican because of her position on contraceptives.
13 Bill Gates doesn’t devote much time to philanthropic work.
Melinda Gates is a name to reckon with in the world of philanthropy, just as the company started by her husband is a force to reckon with in the tech world, reason enough to sit down with her and him for a Sunday morning conversation.
They are the richest, and among the world’s most influential power couples. The foundation that bears their names has given away nearly $40 billion, so far.
Your name is carved in equal-sized letters in the front. Is it a partnership of equals?
It’s absolutely a partnership of equals, and it’s important to both of us that the world understands that we are running this place together. This is our joint values being played out in the world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private charity in the world. Its $500 million headquarters was intended to make a statement as bold as its mission. Inside they are literally trying to save the world.
I’ve asked an employee or two if to work here you have to pass an optimism test. Do you?
Well, yes, our work, the number of lives saved, I think just the exposure here would remind you that the plight of the poorest, as tough as it is, is improving. And we get to be a big part of that.
We are seeing progress. And I think that those points of progress are points of light that employees can point to and say, ‘I was part of that. We did change the world. We are changing the world.’
According to the United Nations, since 1990 global poverty has been cut in half. 122 million children’s lives have been saved through immunization, better nutrition and disease prevention, areas in which the Gates Foundation has been a leading funder.
What we’ve done as a world is we’ve done an incredible job of bringing down the number of deaths of children under the age of five, and that’s because of, basically, vaccines getting out there finally, and these malarial bed nets. This is the great thing about math and why data is so important. Not only does Bill like data; I’m a computer scientist. I like data because data tells us where to go and how to act.
For example, 1,000,000.
One million children are the number of babies that die on the first day of life. Can you believe that? Still a million children die on the first day. So now we know we need to work on that piece of the problem.
This number may astonish you: last year there were 37 cases of polio worldwide.
It’s the lowest number of cases we’ve ever had on the planet. And we think by next year we can drive that number to absolutely zero.
The Gates Foundation has a more modest domestic agenda, focused on improving public schools. They’ve invested in charters and promoted education standards. But success has been more elusive.
This is a tough problem. I don’t care how big your philanthropy is. We can set up experiences and points of light in places where we can show what can be done. Ultimately, everything that we’re doing takes government funding to lift it up and to fund it.
Raised in Dallas, Melinda French was valedictorian at a Catholic academy for girls in 1982. Five years later, she graduated from Duke University with degrees in computer science, economics and a masters in business… and a job offer from IBM, when a little known start-up caught her eye.
I came out and interviewed with Microsoft. And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I have to work at this company. They are changing the world. And if I get an offer, there’s no way I’m not going to take it.’
Speaking of offers, you married the CEO!
Wasn’t… that wasn’t part of my life plan!
I met her at a New York City sales meeting. And then it was only a week or so after that, that I went up to her in the parking lot and asked if she wanted to go out.
A week? Were you ready for that?
No. I wasn’t! When we met, and Bill is CEO of Microsoft and I was, you know, all of 23, he actually, at that first date, asked me out for two weeks from Saturday night. And I said, ‘Two weeks from Saturday night? How could you possibly know what you’re doing? My schedule doesn’t go out that far.’
I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t she know, she’s hardly met the CEO and he likes her!’
Mary Lehman and Melinda have been best friends since high school.
Did you imagine that she was going to marry him?
No. Probably not then. But I thought, you know, great for her.
She got to see what it was really like. I mean, games and puzzles. We played water volleyball one night in his pool, just the three of us!
What impressed me the most when I met him was just how down-to-earth he was and how fun.
After a seven-year courtship, they married in 1994.
The next year Microsoft released Windows 95, revolutionizing the personal computer, and at 39 years old, Bill Gates was named the Richest Person in the World. The following year, pregnant with their first child, Melinda surprised Bill with news that she meant to be a stay-at-home mom.
Am I right that Bill was supportive but maybe a little surprise himself?
He was surprised, he was definitely surprised. But I said to him, ‘You know, it just doesn’t make sense. You can’t be the CEO and go as hard as you’re going and… somebody has to be at home, right? We didn’t want our children raised by somebody else. I said, ‘You know, if we want them to have the values we have, somebody has to be home.’
Their three children grew up in a 66,000-square-foot mansion overlooking Lake Washington in suburban Seattle. Since creating the foundation in 2000, Bill and Melinda have travelled the world seeking out the places their money can do the most good.
But Melinda shunned the spotlight, until five years ago, when she took on a cause of her own, and discovered how harsh the spotlight can be.
When you think about family planning from the perspective of a woman, it will change the way you think about family planning.
Once you became a public figure, in fact the first time you set foot on the public stage, I believe you discovered how controversial contraceptives can be, as only a Catholic girl who got in trouble with the Vatican over it would know. You got slapped down by the Vatican.
It’s okay. I’m doing the right thing. There are 225 million women asking us for contraceptives. They’re asking us. And I meet women who’d die because they don’t have access to contraceptives. I meet women who beg me to take their children back to the United States. I had a woman say to me, ‘Take two of my children.’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t.’ She said ‘Well then, take one.’ I mean, these are people living in extreme circumstances. You can’t turn your back on people like that. And so I grew up in the Catholic church that has a social justice mission. In fact, they used to talk about the cries of the poor. I’ve heard the cries of the poor. And we need to give access to women to contraceptives.
What did Bill say? He admits that he thought women’s issues, including contraceptives, were ‘soft’ issues. Now, it’s, like, a priority for him.
It’s a huge priority, because he sees the data.
What do the two of you separately bring to your individual partnership that strengthens your capacities?
We both go out and try and see the people we serve. But she does that even better than I do, does even more of that than I do.
When I come back from a field visit, the first person I want to talk to about on the phone or at home is Bill about it, both to tell him the stories of their lives, but then also for us to put our brains together and say, ‘Well, what else could we do? How could we make it better? Do we really know that what they’re saying to us in the field, does that add up to the data that we’re seeing or not?’
Ultimately the key to the Gates’ legacy may be their philanthropy. Which makes you wonder: Would Bill Gates be having the most impactful second act since Andrew Carnegie without Melinda?
I read this poem that I loved at my high school graduation speech about what a successful life was to me. And it’s to know that one life has breathed easier because you’ve lived. To me, that’s success.
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