SEATTLE — Melinda Gates is the co-founder of the most prominent nonprofit of all time. While most know of her husband Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, few know that Melinda Gates is the real mastermind behind the successful Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Born Melinda French, she was a product manager at Microsoft and met Bill Gates in 1987. They married in 1994 and started their foundation in 2000. The foundation is known as the world’s largest, with an astounding $40 billion endowment.
Initially, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was committed to ensuring libraries had access to Microsoft products. However, that all changed when Melinda Gates elected to address global poverty and health issues. The foundation pledged $560 million towards improving access to contraception for women in underdeveloped countries. In 2012, that included supplying 120 million women with contraceptives.
Because of its rapid growth, Gates organized the foundation to focus on three areas: global health, global development and community education. She also defined one of the foundation’s core philosophies: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”
The Gates Foundation concentrates on advocacy efforts that encourage political leaders to fund initiatives supporting the elimination of global inequalities. Other notable efforts include initiatives centered around helping farmers in developing countries research and implement better agricultural practices. These include the production of rice and flour enriched with micronutrients.
Water sanitation, hygiene, and access to these resources likewise make up some of the foundation’s most concentrated efforts.
Melinda Gates is the most powerful woman in philanthropy. She maintains a focus on women’s issues like maternal deaths in Ethiopia, which has decreased a staggering 57 percent since the Gates Foundation’s efforts to encourage more women to give birth at hospitals.
Furthermore, Gates recently founded a new company called Pivotal Ventures that addresses the decline of women graduating with computer science degrees, a rate that has gone down to 18 percent from 37 percent in 1984.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Gates declared that the sector had to be “out doing everything we can to get more women into computer science.”
“If you don’t have a diverse workforce programming artificial intelligence and thinking about the data sets to feed in, and how to look at a particular program, you’re going to have so much bias in the system; you’re going to have a hard time rolling it back later or taking it out,” she said.
Pivotal Ventures is run independently from the Gates Foundation and strictly focuses on women’s issues around the globe. The small branch, with only 12 staff members, is an enormous advocate for family planning as well.
Gates believes that women play a crucial role in helping communities rise out of poverty. Research cited on her blog indicated that women are much more likely than men to buy things that set their families on pathways out of poverty, like nutritious food, healthcare and education.
Melinda Gates is a pioneer who has helped usher in an important era, one that emphasizes that large corporations like Microsoft should pursue philanthropy and social responsibility. This idea has been adopted by many other companies, and together they are becoming major players in alleviating poverty and advancing the quality of life for people all over the world.
– Hector Cruz