They might be famous as the wives of their really famous husbands, but these women are strong individuals who know their mind and have their own achievements to boast of. Whether it is scaling up their career graph or undertaking humanitarian work that matches with their ethos, these ladies are here to make a difference.
Melinda Gates — computer geek and philanthropist
Bill Gates was the first to make computer nerds and their innate geekiness cool, but did you know his wife Melinda is quite the geek herself? Melinda was fascinated by computers while in school and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science way back in 1986. She joined Microsoft the following year, where Bill Gates was her boss. Over the course of her nine years working for Microsoft, Melinda went on to become general manager of information products.
The couple got married in 1994 after having dated for six years. Though she is said to have been initially put off by his over-planning tendencies, she found Bill Gates’ intelligence and sense of humour attractive. Melinda left Microsoft to focus on bringing up their three children but continued her philanthropic work.
In 1999, Melinda combined the William H. Gates Foundation (named after Bill’s father) with two of their other charitable organisations and renamed the charity the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The resource capacity of the foundation is staggering, founded as it was by the world’s richest man, followed by a landmark donation of $30 billion by the third richest, Warren Buffet.
Melinda has been focusing on four areas through the foundation — global health, education, access to digital information via public libraries, and support for at-risk families in USA. In 2012, Melinda pledged $560 million towards improving access to contraception for women in third-world countries. The foundation has also been working to develop prevention vaccines and treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The foundation also helps students fund their studies through the Gates Millennium Scholars programme. Melinda had shared on Facebook, “Bill and I believe that education is the great equaliser.”
Melinda is also an inspirational employer — the employees of the foundation receive perks like a year’s paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
Priscilla Chan — doctor, genius, visionary
Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla is a second-generation Chinese American, having grown up near Boston. Her parents were ethnic Chinese refugees who fled Vietnam during the war. When she graduated from high school, she was voted ‘class genius’ by her classmates. Priscilla met and began dating Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard while they were both students there. She graduated with a BA in biology, and taught science at a private school for a year before joining medical school and specialising in paediatrics. She graduated in 2012, and married Zuckerberg the same year.
Priscilla is known to be a practising Buddhist and it has been speculated that Zuckerberg’s decisions regarding philanthropy have been influenced by her philosophy. With a net worth of more than $44 billion and immense clout through social media, the duo is one of the richest power couples in the world.
Priscilla gave birth to their daughter, Maxima Chan Zuckerberg, last year. Priscilla and Mark have pledged about $1.6 billion to charities, including a donation of $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital, where Priscilla worked. They had previously donated 18 million Facebook shares (valued at more than $970 million) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and also pledged $120 million to public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In December 2015, in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Priscilla and Mark promised to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares, then valued at $45 billion, to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, their new charitable foundation focusing on health and education.
Priscilla’s charitable goals focus on education, healthcare, and science, because those are areas that she feels strongly about. She intends to launch an innovative non-profit organisation called ‘The Primary School’ this year, integrating primary education and primary healthcare, combining education, health, and family support services, starting at birth. What this means is women from underprivileged families will receive prenatal care during their pregnancy, and once the child is born, the organisation will support the child’s education and medical expenses till college.
Sudha Murthy — author and teacher par excellence
Infosys Founder and billionaire NR Narayana Murthy is known for his simple and low-key lifestyle. His wife Sudha Murthy espouses the same principles. Sudha began her professional career as a computer scientist and engineer. She is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation (which she founded in 1996) and a member of public health care initiatives of the Gates Foundation in India. She has undertaken several humanitarian initiatives like founding orphanages, bringing about development in backward, rural areas, and has been consistently working to equip government schools with computer and library facilities.
Being a teacher herself, her charitable activities have revolved around the field of education. She has previously taught at Christ College and Bangalore University. Sudha Murthy is also a prolific writer. She has published several books that illustrate her views on charity, hospitality and self-improvement through fictional narratives. She writes both in Kannada and English and her works in Kannada have been translated into several regional languages. Dollar Sose, a novel originally authored by her in Kannada and later translated into English as Dollar Bahu, was adapted as a televised series by Zee TV. One of her stories is also a part of CBSE’s high school curriculum.
Gauri Khan — producer, designer, and businesswoman
With the second richest entertainer in the world Shah Rukh Khan nicknamed ‘King Khan’ by his huge fan following, Gauri Khan is the honorary queen of the entertainment industry. The couple met in school and had a love story much like several of Shah Rukh’s reel romances. Unlike other partners of popular stars, Gauri was not content being relegated to the shadows. From continuing to model for select brands to producing blockbuster movies, this former model is comfortable in the limelight but not attention-seeking.
As Co-founder of Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, she has been actively involved in the production of several movies while also bringing up their three children.
While doing up the interiors of the couple’s plush bungalow, Mannat, Gauri developed an interest in interior design. In 2010, she got into a business partnership with Sussanne Khan to design exclusive interior projects together. Their first commercial project together was in Vadodara, an extravagant 60,000 sqft private home.
Gauri has also launched her own line of luxury furniture called The Charcoal Project. In an interview with Vogue, she stated that her interest in interior design was because of her interest in art, “I started off as an artist in school with various sketches. I continued that as a hobby for many years, and I think that is where my designs come from.”
Gauri Khan recently launched her signature line in Dubai, under the international design and architecture firm The First Ferry. Being an insider when it comes to the lifestyle of the rich and the famous, Gauri is well qualified to cater to wealthy clients, and her projects will include décor of private homes, restaurants, offices, retail space, and spas. Gauri also has a store named Design Cell in Mumbai.
Part of the money she makes is said to go towards charitable activities by the Gauri Khan Foundation, though she has not spoken to the media about the same.
Amal Clooney — lawyer, fashionista, and feminist
Hollywood star George Clooney might be the heartthrob and millionaire but wife Amal is the one who is more often in the news nowadays. Snagging the eligible bachelor is probably the least of her achievements. Amal Alamuddin is a British lawyer of Lebanese origin and is also an activist and author. Amal specialised in international law and human rights and her clients include names like Enron and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, whom she represented in his judicial fight against extradition. She has also represented the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko and Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
Born in Beirut, her family fled Lebanon to escape the civil war there. Amal was raised in England and studied at Oxford and New York University of Law. She has also been a part of several United Nations commissions and tribunals. She married George Clooney in 2014 and the couple stay at a multi-million dollar estate on an island on the Thames river in London. From her fairy-tale wedding dress to the designer gowns she wears at red carpet events, Amal is much admired for her fashion sense.
Amal has been a participant in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, which works to defend the rights of women in war zones, and will be representing Armenia in the European Court of Human Rights during its case against Turkey for the denial of the Armenian genocide. Amal has contributed multiple chapters to books on international law and has also co-edited a book on Lebanese Law, titled, ‘The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Law and Practice.’
When somebody has much power and the access to money and resources, it goes without saying that there is a social and moral responsibility to try and make a difference to the larger community, especially to empower the underprivileged or maybe just start projects, that could provide fair employment opportunities for others and that is exactly what these lovely ladies have been doing.