Philanthropist, activist, role model – lessons from the many lives of Melinda Gates


An American philanthropist, former Microsoft executive, the Co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an activist for rights of women, children, and other marginalised groups – Melinda Gates dons many hats. She has been at the forefront of poverty alleviation around the world, bringing life-saving vaccines to children in developing economies, and influencing the overhaul of education systems. A relentless advocate of women empowerment and equal participation in male-dominated industries, Melinda is a role model for young women around the world, and she does it all with élan.

In her keynote speeches, books, and interviews, Melinda has wielded the power of words to say the things that need to be heard. Here is some Melinda Gates brand of inspiration which people from all walks can learn from in their efforts to overcome challenges:

Image: Flickr

Be the change

In an extremely unjust society, even the opportunities to get educated, earn a livelihood, and three square meals a day are privileges that not many enjoy. This is a point Melinda emphasises on while establishing the disconnect between our privileges and the need to be involved in charity and social volunteerism. So rather than indulging in armchair activism, it is upon us to use our position of privilege to help those who don’t even get basic rights. Our privilege needs to be paid forward and that is what differentiates change-makers from everyone else.

“In the course of your lives, without any plan on your part, you’ll come to see suffering that will break your heart. When it happens, and it will, don’t turn away from it; turn towards it. That is the moment when change is born.”

“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.”

“We have to be careful in how we use this light shined on us.”

Women and girls need to be empowered

Though feminism and equal rights are finally getting the print space they deserve, it is also equally important for women to fight the good fight together. So instead of judging each other’s choices and circumstances, we need to stand by each other and demand what is ours. Nothing less would work in a society which still believes that feminism is an outrageous idea.

Stories of women taking stock of their lives on their own terms must just be about personal choices, rather than being portrayed as a mere act of rebellion. As feminists or even just evolved men and women, the onus then is on us to bring these stories to the forefront. Social media can be the playground to give the stories of such women a platform where they can be seen, heard, and internalised. The notion of stereotypes and gender roles has begun to stagger, but the battle to bring down the male bastions needs to rage on.

“Women truly only get empowered when there’s a collective of them.”

“If we can show all these amazing things that women can do, it gives other women and girls role models to look up to and think, I could be like that entertainer or lawyer or entrepreneur or mom who chooses to stay home. It changes their aspirations of who they can be.”

“When you invest in women, you invest in the people who invest in everybody else. And if you gradually start to take action it won’t be long before you realise that investing in women is good for your mind, good for your soul, and good for your business.”

Learning is a continuous process

Our education system doesn’t quite prepare us to give back. Competition is rife and we are all only fighting to survive. But at some point, it is important to open ourselves to the wider world, get out of the bubbles of mundane routines, observe more keenly, and ask pointed questions. Only then do we realise how much we can contribute and pay forward and how much the world needs us to do so.

Ask questions...Learn where your passion is and where your passion and talent meet the world’s needs. If you keep asking questions, you’ll figure out where those two pieces intersect and give back in a way that’s right for you.”

“We have a lot of pieces to fix, both telling girls at a young age that you can be great at math and science and computer science...Education is the key. That is what we know lifts families up.”

“What I wish I’d known then – and what I tell young people today – is that to really seize the opportunity in front of you, you should learn to live at the limits of your comfort zone. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Your willingness to explore new environments and situations will reward you with a fuller, more interesting life.”

These lines are a lesson in getting out of our comfort zones, failing, and resurrecting ourselves all over again. When we don’t open ourselves up to failure and defeat, discomfort and discontent, we don’t know just how much we are capable of. In time, it also builds confidence to keep trying new things and keep learning from fresh experiences. This lesson is crucial, whether one is at the beginning of a new career, considering a significant change, or tinkering with the idea of entrepreneurship.

Which women leaders inspire you the most, and why? Tell us in the comments below!


Updates from around the world