Melinda Gates Says She Would Trade Her Billions To Empower Women Any Day

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It’s not often you hear millionaires talk like this, let alone billionaires. Would all those super rich rappers give up the Cristal and expensive cars and clothes in order for a woman in a third world country to live a prosperous and healthy life? We’re betting not…

Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and co-founder of their joint Gates Foundation (which is one of the largest private foundations in the world) spends her life and money advocating for women around the developing world in three key areas: access to key healthcare, education and financial independence. Her mission is to break the cycle of poverty and to include men in the process.

Together, Bill and Melinda Gates are said to have a combined net worth of $82 billion their foundation has $42 billion in assets, and $31.6 billion of that has been given away in grants. According to Global Citizen, an organization that works closely with the Gates Foundation and shares a similar mission, 70% of the world’s poor are women, so in order to elevate the economic status of many third world countries, empowering women should be a no-brainer.

The 50 year old philanthropist and human rights activist who turned 50 last year told Elle Magazine’s editor-in-chief Robbie Meyers that she would away all her wealth to save the world. In fact on her 50th birthday she said she was dedicating the “rest of her life” to empowering women and girls the world over. The awesome thing is, she doesn’t have to give it away, but instead uses it in strategic and powerful ways to fulfill her noble mission.

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Melinda says that often it will take a woman like her to point out certain inequalities, especially relating to women, for the world to recognize the need.

“You see this unbelievable need in the world and the unbelievable ingenuity of women, the great lengths they’re going to…. When I did this London Family Planning Summit, someone said to me, ‘Do you realize no one has ever raised this much money on a specific women’s issue?’ We raise money for children, for cancer, [and] specific women’s issues. Cultural change comes in different ways for women.”

Access to birth control and the topic of reproductive rights is a heavily-discussed one here in the US and around the Western world, especially close to elections. But in the developing world, it it a whole different set of complexities that Melinda is focused on fixing. The notion of family planning is a domino effect for the other two areas she is advocating for.

“If a woman can have voluntary access to contraceptives, she can time the births of her children, which starts her family on this virtuous cycle where she and her husband can feed the kids and hopefully bring in enough money to keep them in school. So contraceptives are an entrée, but they’re not enough,” she said.

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“You also need to look at: Can a girl make decisions for herself? Or is she forced into an early marriage? If she’s forced into an early marriage, she’s going to be pulled out of school and have a child right away—that’s the expectation. So can you keep her out of that situation? If she’s in school, she will be far more likely to plow the money she gets back into her family.”

At the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January where gender equality was a key focus, Melinda spoke on a panel about why putting money into the hands of a woman is more beneficial for the economy.

“The research suggests that every marginal dollar a woman gets she is 90% likely to plow it back into her family. So if you empower that woman you’re empowering everybody else,” she said.

“If she’s educated she’s more likely to marry later and she’s likely to have children later. For a literate woman, her child is 50% more likely to make it to their fifth birthday and if she’s educated she’s twice as likely to educate her daughter.”

She goes on to say how mobilizing more women in the workforce due to education and financial empowerment, some of the African countries’ GDP’s can be raised by 12%.

Malawi is the African country leading the way when it comes to making maternal health and neonatal care a priority. But back in 2008, Malawi had one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. ELLE Agenda Adviser and Global Health Corps CEO Barbara Bush said engaging men in this important issue was a key strategy to changing Malawi’s future.

“[They shifted] the responsibility for maternal health from mothers onto the tribal chiefs. If a woman died in childbirth or her child wasn’t born healthy, then the chiefs and their district were taxed. The economic incentive led to increased awareness around the importance of neonatal care and created a sense of shared responsibility—everyone had a role to play in ensuring that women gave birth safely in their district.”

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In the same way, Melinda believes engaging men in matters of women’s rights in other developing countries and even in the first world is a vital part. In November 2014 she told Cosmopolitan magazine how impressed she was to hear Emma Watson’s He For She speech which outlined a similar mandate.

“In a lot of countries you have to start with the men, then you can get in and talk to the women,” she said. “You don’t have to be a foundation that’s giving away millions. It’s individual acts that make a difference. Just planting that seed of empowerment.”

From what she has seen in her world travels for the Gates Foundation, which annually releases a comprehensive report on the what they are discovering in third world countries, Melinda sees hope and progress.

“The time is coming and you’re seeing it all over the world. We still have miles to travel, but we’re getting there. I see incredible change in the world.”

The decision to give their wealth away in other that the poverty-stricken in the world can attain a better life was one made long ago by Bill and Melinda, back in 1993 on their first trip to Africa just before they got married. Watch this inspiring TED Talk with the couple from 2014 where they share the reasoning behind their decision:


 

2 Comments

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