Global Goal 5, gender equity, is both a purpose in itself and a vital accelerant to achieving all of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. “We’re trying to move past the gravitational forces, the barriers that hold women back,” explains Melinda Gates, philanthropist, author and mother of three. “Because if you can remove those barriers and help lift women up, they will lift up the world.”
In this special episode, Claudia Romo Edelman and Edie Lush share the How To Academy podcast in which journalist Hannah MacInnes interviews Melinda Gates in front of a live audience in London. For the last twenty years Gates has been on a mission to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. One lesson she has learned is that to lift society up you have to stop keeping women down.
The How to Academy hosts leading artist and thinkers in London for public talks, debates and conferences. Selected talks are featured in the How to Aacedmy’s podcast series, available wherever you get your podcasts.
Melinda Gates is an American businesswoman and philanthropist who—with her husband, Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates—cofounded the charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. Gates has maintained her position as most powerful woman in philanthropy as co-chair of the Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable foundation. She’s increasingly visible in shaping foundation strategy, solving tough global challenges from education and poverty to contraception and sanitation. As part of the foundation’s mission to help all people lead healthy, productive lives, she has devoted much of her work to women’s and girls’ rights. She released her first book in 2019, titled The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. Now, Gates’ mission is to close the funding gap for female founders, through her investment and incubation company, Pivotal Ventures.
Hannah MacInnes is a regular host and moderator for the How To Academy, chairing interviews, events and debates across a wide range of subjects and current issues. Before going Freelance she worked for over 7 years at BBC Newsnight, as Planning Editor and as a producer / filmmaker. Whilst there she secured a number of newsmaking interviews with leading figures, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Mikhail Gorbachev and a UK broadcast exclusive with Hillary Clinton, as well as with a range of cultural names from Helen Mirren to Benedict Cumberbatch. She writes for the Radio Times and moderates at other major literary events including Hay and Cheltenham Festivals. Hannah also writes print journalism and hosts the “#ACupOfTeaWith” monthly interview series and podcast with Good & Proper Tea, which gets authors as varied as William Boyd and Dolly Alderton discussing their new books over tea cocktails and crumpets. She enjoys running and swimming in her downtime, and is an advocate for the power of exercise for changing your mood.
Melinda Gates (00:04):
That moment we’re in, the engines are ignited and the ground is shaking and it’s rumbling and, and finally the rocket lifts off to space was just such an exciting and thrilling moment.
Melinda Gates (00:17):
So when I thought about the title of the book, I thought, you know really that is what we’re trying to do for women. We’re trying to move past the gravitational forces, the barriers that hold women back. Because if you can remove those barriers and help lift women up, they will lift up the world.
Claudia Romo Edelman (00:49):
This is a Global GoalsCast,
Edie Lush (00:51):
The podcast that explores how we can change the world.
Claudia Romo Edelman (00:54):
I am Claudia Romo Edelman.
Edie Lush (00:55):
And I am Edie Lush and we have something special for you today.
Claudia Romo Edelman (00:59):
Yes we do. Our friends at the “How to Academy” have shared the recent podcast with us and we are sharing it here with you.
Edie Lush (01:09):
Claudia, we have spoken many times on global goals cast about the importance of global goal five: gender equity.
Claudia Romo Edelman (01:17):
Exactly. It is about empowerment of women and girls. And in this episode of the “How to Academy” podcast, you will hear from one of the most important voices for gender equity, Melinda Gates.
Edie Lush (01:30):
How to Academy is a place for people who think big. I love their courses. In fact, Claudia, I actually teach a How to Academy masterclass here in London. Can you guess what it is?
Claudia Romo Edelman (01:40):
Oh my God. Um, let me see. It’s not about cooking or dancing, but do you do anthropologie trying to find Mayan ruins.
Edie Lush (01:50):
I don’t, but I do teach about how to speak in public.
Claudia Romo Edelman (01:53):
There you go, well, you know Edie, since you can get their podcasts wherever you listen. You hear these thinkers wherever you are in the world.
Edie Lush (02:03):
Just like Global GoalsCast, the How to Academy podcast has featured Elizabeth Gilbert, Eric Schmidt, Lisa Taddeo and now you’ll hear journalist Hannah MacInnes in a live conversation with Melinda Gates.
Hannah MacInnes (02:19):
Hello everyone. Good evening. And I’m delighted to see so many of you here as Daisy said, and as you might feel from the slight squeeze, it’s a sellout. Sold out I think in record time. So well done for getting your hands on such a coveted ticket. I’m thrilled to see that there are quite a few men in the audience too, so thank you very much particularly for coming. We need you on board with this as well. As you’ve heard from the video. I am delighted to welcome Melinda Gates here this evening on behalf of the how to Academy. It’s a real honor to have this unique chance to spend an hour hearing about her extraordinary work as a philanthropist, a business woman, and a global advocate for women and girls. She is, of course, the co-share of the bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which means that she is responsible for the direction and for deciding the priorities of the world’s leading philanthropic organization. She is also the founder of pivotal ventures, which is dedicated to improving social progress for women and for families in the US she’s the mother of three children. And of course she’s the author, as you now know of this book, The Moment of Lift. How empowering women changes the world, and that’s really the inspiration for our talk together this evening. The book is about and this evening will also be about how what Melinda has learnt from her exploration’s looking at the world over the last 20 years on a mission to save really those with the most urgent of needs. And of course from what she’s learned from these inspirational women as usual here that she’s met along the way. And I think the main point of the book, and you will hear this, is that it’s really driven home for her and brought into focus the fact that for any society to function, to function healthily and to function at all, we need gender equality. She says that no other single change can do more to improve the state of the world. So the main message really is that it’s for all of us, not just philanthropy, not just business, and certainly not just women to force that change. And I should say that the book is not just about women. Of course, it’s about anyone who society might deem to be an outsider. This week particularly, we might all be looking at the news feeling a bit despairing, thinking that we’re going backwards rather than forwards. But I feel that if anyone can restore a sense of optimism, it’s certainly, it’s certainly used. So thank you so much again for joining us and thank you all for being here. I should say that we asked you as you probably know, to submit your questions in advance and I will weave those into my questions this evening. I promise I will say when they’re yours, I won’t try and pass them off as my own. So thank you for coming.
Melinda Gates (04:57):
Thanks for doing this tonight and thanks everyone for being here. This is great to see such a great audience.
Hannah MacInnes (05:03):
So the first question I have for you is this title of your book, The Moment of Lift, how empowering women changes the world, where did it come from? And, tell us a little bit about the meaning of the title.
Melinda Gates (05:14):
Yeah, so I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I’m one of four children and my dad was an aerospace engineer and he worked on the first Apollo launch. And so those Apollo launches, I saw many of them over the years, but they were so central in our lives when I was a kid. And it was the one night that my sister and I got to stay up late and put our jammies on, and my parents would drive us across town to another engineer’s house. And we would sit in front of that black and white TV and the thrill of watching that rocket launch. And I had, even as a little girl, I had some sense of how hard it was for those engineers to pull off because my would talk about it so often. He was so excited in our house. And I would meet the other engineers, males and females at his company picnics. And so that moment where you know, the engines are ignited and the ground is shaking and it’s rumbling and, and finally the rocket lifts off to space was just such an exciting and thrilling moment. And so when I thought about the title of the book, I thought, you know, really that is what we’re trying to do for women. We’re trying to move past the gravitational forces, the barriers that hold women back. Because if you can remove those barriers and help lift women up, they will lift up the world. And that’s how I came up with the title.
Hannah MacInnes (06:38):
So you’ve been doing this for 20 years, you’ve been on your mission for 20 years. As I said, why did you wait till now or why do you decide now is the moment to write it all down.
Melinda Gates (06:48):
Well, I’ve been thinking about a book for a little while and as you say, I’ve been really incredibly lucky to travel on behalf of the foundation for 20 years and I have met so many women in the developing world and I go in as a Western woman and a pair of khaki pants and a tee shirt is all they know that I’m there to listen and learn about their lives and what the West might do to invest in help. And these women’s stories over the years, they just, they feed me and they’ve eventually called my life to action in ways I never could have imagined 20, 15 years ago. And I thought, you know, if those women’s stories called me to action, I want to write them down and also share part of my journey in hopes that it might cause others, inspire them to action.
Hannah MacInnes (07:36):
And you’ve been touring with the book since April, I think you’ve been everywhere from Oprah, David Letterman and of course book tours. How have you felt the reaction to has it has been and what’s the conversation that’s been built up around it?
Melinda Gates (07:50):
Well, it’s interesting because after the Me Too Movement, I was also traveling the globe and had a number of stops. Literally right after the me too movement sort of started in the United States. And I was first of all surprised how swiftly it was moving around the planet and how excited people were, whether you’re in India or France or anywhere else, places in Johannesburg. And it’s another impetus for me to do the book now because I felt like, you know, I lived through some of these times where we thought the window was open for equality, but it shut again. And to me this has blown the top off of it the Me Too Movement and so I want to keep that conversation alive with this book because I think there’s so many things we need to do. So one of the things that’s been surprising to me though that I would not have guessed having done book tours is the chapter on unpaid labor is the one that seems to resonate the most for women but also for men. I have had so many men come up to me and say, I just never really thought about the distribution of tasks at home and we never really had that conversation in my home. I just sort of assumed my wife was going to do these things or she assumed it and that’s what why I wrote that chapter and I was even pretty personal about my own home is because I think we, we go into our partnerships often and we just sort of assume the woman and the man both just sort of assume she’s going to take these tasks on in the household. And if we don’t stop and really look at that and look at it as work because it is work, our economies are built on the back of this unpaid labor. And if we don’t look at it, then we make mistakes. So here in the UK women do a hundred more minutes of unpaid labor every single day than a man does a hundred minutes. And if you average it out around the globe, it is seven years of a woman’s life. Now, I don’t know about you, Hannah, but I know what I could do with seven years of my life. I might go back and get a PhD or a couple of them. You know and so that unpaid work, if we don’t look at it and redistribute it, it keeps women from focusing on their own health or doing something productive in the workforce. And some of the labor at home, we have to be honest, are things we want to do, caring for our loved ones, reading to our kids at night when they’re little, but some of it is just chores and it’s filling lunch boxes and doing the laundry. And doing the dishes and so we have to look at that and decide who’s really going to do what. And I don’t think I really thought about it terribly on my own until I saw all the unpaid labor being done in the developing world by women carrying water, chopping wood, cooking in the cooking hut for six hours that I came home and started to realize how much of it we do in my own country in the United States. It’s again, it’s 90 minutes more a women does every single day than her husband in her home.
Hannah MacInnes (10:50):
Now you’ve pulled that chapter off. I will ask you, you write very honestly and very openly in that particular chapter and you say you found that quite hard to do. Why did you decide to be so honest about what goes on in your own home and what lesson are you trying to teach people from that?
Melinda Gates (11:06):
I want people to relate to me. I think sometimes they think, well, you could farm every single task out in your home. I suppose I could, but I wouldn’t be raising my kids with the values that I want them or that Bill and I want them to have. So one of the things we do every single night after dinner with the kids is we do the dishes. All five of us do the dishes and you know, and so that was actually going pretty well. Everybody expected to participate, clean up the table, do the dishes. But I realized at night, one night, gosh, I’m spending another like good 15, 20 minutes downstairs when Bill would sort of wander back to his computer upstairs and do, I don’t know what. And the kids would wander off to do their homework or you know, text a friend and I’m thinking, why am I still down here doing the last minute things? So I’m not always very eloquent and my home, they will tell you. But I got pretty frustrated. One night I finally just said, nobody leaves the kitchen till mom leaves the kitchen. And guess what, those last minute tasks, instead of taking 15 or 20 minutes, they get done in about three minutes or five minutes and everybody goes upstairs at the same time. And, but I think it’s important to say that to recognize the actual work for what it is, it is work. Just because economists didn’t choose to call it work, they said they could only measure productive labor. Well, when that productive labor got set as a measurement, it was males who were deciding what was productive labor. But I think there’s a lot of productive things that happen in our home.
Hannah MacInnes (12:34):
And there’s a particular story about when you were deciding a school for your child.
Melinda Gates (12:39):
Yeah, so our oldest daughter, Jen, she’s 23 now, but when she was about four, Bill and I had to decide on an elementary school. We looked at a lot of them. We absolutely agreed on this one school and once she started she was going to go there all the way through middle school. We both agreed on the school, but as we got close to signing her up, I was like, ugh. I could see the years ahead, you know, in the minivan and it was not close to our house. It was a good 40, 45 minutes away, round trip. And so I said to Bill, let’s just put her in the neighborhood preschool for a while and then we’ll move her when she gets further in elementary school. And he felt very strongly that she began at this school at the beginning. And again I was pretty frustrated. And then he, he asked a question but then he answered it immediately himself. He said, what can I do to help? And then he turned around right after that he said, you know, I could drive a few days a week. And I, at first I wasn’t sure he was serious. I had to look at him and say, are you serious? Because for him it meant an hour round trip cause he would drop her at school and then go back to Microsoft. And inadvertently two things happened. One is he learned that he so valued the time in the car with her and she valued it, that he kept it up with our other two children after they were born. And about three weeks into the school year, some women kind of sidled up to me in the classroom and they said, did you notice anything in the classroom? And I said, yeah, it seems like they’re more dads dropping off. And they said by gosh, we went home and said our husbands if Bill Gates can drive, so can you! So inadvertently by asking for what I needed in my household and Bill being able to step up and responded, we ended up role modeling something we didn’t expect. But that’s why those conversations in our own homes are so important. You know, we have to look at quality in our homes, in our communities and our workforce. And I think often one of the places we need to start as in our homes.
Hannah MacInnes (14:41):
You say in the book that I think it was around 23 years ago, you were first asked if you were a feminist and you didn’t quite know what to say to that. Now you say you are an ardent feminist. What changed and what is a feminist to you?
Melinda Gates (14:53):
Yes, so the first time someone asked me about 23 years ago was actually a Catholic nun. She was running an all girls school in Seattle. She asked me to do a speech and she asked me if it would be okay to ask me on stage if I was a feminist and I had to really think about it and I said, I’m not ready to answer that question because I didn’t feel that I was, and it took me quite a while with wrestling with the term and then all the years of travel to realize I’m an ardent feminist because I think we have to take the definition, take hold of it for ourselves. There are some things that got attached to feminism, the first wave of feminism where they got labeled angry feminists by the side that didn’t like them. And yet sometimes it takes anger to break through to break through heart issues. What I know now to be true is that to me, feminism means that when woman has her full voice and her full decision making authority in everywhere, that she lives her home or community and her workforce that is the definition of feminism. And if that’s the, that is my definition and I can more than embrace that. And I think that when a woman has her voice and her full decision making authority, what I know to be true, both from seeing it in the developing world and my own country and from the statistics is she empowers everybody around her. And yet there are so many barriers that hold women back in both direct and indirect ways from having their full voice or decision making authority.
Hannah MacInnes (16:25):
I want to come back to developed countries in a moment. But you obviously have spent a lot of time working in developing countries and I think you started your mission with family planning and contraception. You saying contraceptives are the greatest life saving poverty ending women empowering innovation ever created. Is that still your number one priority and why is contraception so important when it comes to the barriers between them?
Melinda Gates (16:51):
Yeah, so we originally started in vaccines. We did a little bit of family planning or contraceptive work in the beginning, but what we really came to do deeply at the beginning of the foundation’s work were vaccines because they saved so many children’s lives. And when we got into that work, we realized there used to be a vaccination system that worked worldwide, but it had crumbled. And so it was taking 25 years from when a vaccine would come out, say in the UK or in the US to make it to various countries in Africa or even India or Bangladesh. And even when it got there, it didn’t have the right strains for, for those strains of the disease they had in those countries. And so we kept thinking a 25 year lag, are you kidding? Like there has to be something we can do. So we got deeply involved in the vaccine work and I would be out in villages or in health clinics talking to women, standing in line about vaccines for their kids. And they would tell me the great lengths they would go to get their children vaccinated because they knew it saved lives. But if I stayed long enough and really sat with the women and talked with them and let them turn the conversation back to me, what they wanted to talk about were contraceptives and they kept saying to me, but what about my shot? Why? Why is it I used to come to this health clinic where I get my kids vaccines and I can’t get my shot anymore. And the number one type of contraceptive used in most countries in Africa is something called Depo-Provera. It’s a shot, actually a very painful shot you get intramuscularly and a woman gets it once a quarter. And so she has to walk a long distance and get it. And as I started to hear this, this sort of rallying call all over the world, I was shocked how much women knew about contraceptives and how much they were asking me for them in country after country, village after village, you know, slum after slum. And so I got that that just can’t be. And so when I came back and read the global data. Again, there’s a problem with data and statistics we can get into around women’s issues. We don’t fund them. But anyway, the global statistics said, well, contraceptives are stocked in, well what was stocked in were condoms because of all the AIDS work that had been done, which was great, but women will tell you over and over again, they cannot negotiate a condom even in the context of their marriage because they would be suggesting that either their husband had been unfaithful and was, might bring AIDS into the home, or that they had been unfaithful and might have HIV AIDS. And so they were going these great lengths to walk and get these shots because it was a covert way of getting contraceptives and they knew it was life saving for their children. So in 2012, after hearing this and learning so, so much and learning about it, I finally decided that we would step up and it was actually the UK government that came and said, will you host an enormous global summit and help us raise the money around the world to get this back on the global health agenda? And I kept kind of looking for the other advocate who would do it. I was willing to put money and funding in, but I kept trying to look for the global advocate who could do it. And then I finally realized somebody’s got to do it and I guess it’s gotta be me.
Hannah MacInnes (20:06):
You had quite a struggle in many ways deciding that it was going to be you because of course you’re a.
Melinda Gates (20:12):
Hannah MacInnes (20:12):
You’re a very strong Catholic and the Catholic church is very opposed to contraceptives. So how did you reconcile that and did it, do you question your faith because of that?
Melinda Gates (20:23):
I wrestled with my faith for probably two years to really square that circle and I couldn’t, I mean at the end of the day I had met so many moms and dads who had lost babies. I mean you go into a village and you sit with a group of women on a mat and there might be three dozen or more women there to talk with. And if you ask them, do any of you know someone who has died in childbirth? Almost all the hands go up. I mean, they know death because they’re having babies too soon and too often and their bodies aren’t ready for it. Or they will say to you, it’s not fair to the children I have for me to bring another in the world. I can’t hardly feed these. And so I kept thinking, okay, if my faith tells me we’re just supposed to not have children die or mothers die needlessly and yet we’re not delivering what they’re asking for, you know, you have to say, where does that rule come from? And at the end of the day, that is a manmade rule and yet it’s a life saving tool. And I also have this total belief in social justice. I got that from these amazing Ursuline nuns that I was educated by in high school and you know, they sent us out in the community to work and they taught us that one person can make the difference in the life of somebody else. I worked in the local school, local hospital, Dallas County courthouse. And so finally I just thought I finally came around to the fact that, you know, I use these tools and when I started to think how will I counsel my own three children when they get older, my two daughters and my son, I knew I would counsel them to use contraceptives. So if I believe and use the tool, I have to be willing to speak out on it. So I eventually told my parents that’s what I was going to do. They fully supported me cause they’re very Catholic and you know everybody around me that was in the Catholic community and I decided it was just the right thing to do for women around the world.
Hannah MacInnes (22:25):
One of the audience questions is about that struggle and whether you’ve seen it, whether it’s happened to you anywhere else. She says you’ve talked in other interviews about this two year battle you faced with yourself in the decision to make contraceptives a priority in a platform for the charity. Have you faced a similar battle initiating other platforms to raise attention to and funding and why?
Melinda Gates (22:45):
Well, I describe in the book that after we’d led this big family planning summit in the UK, I think it was July of 2012 I was, I was first of all exhausted and I felt like, Oh my gosh, we have finally raised money. We raised $2.6 billion on behalf of this cause we’ve got it back on the global health agenda despite the various controversies and particularly lots of controversy in my country. And so I kind of thought, okay, we’ve done our job. Like, I’ll keep pushing. You know, I knew there was lots of work ahead on family planning. We have to build a data system. We had to get the supplies out, we would have to fundraise again. I knew in five years, but I thought, okay, this is the issue. But as I described in the book, I went to a dinner that night with a group of women, almost all from the UK, very influential women doing work in their various sectors in the field and they basically opened my eyes and they said, don’t you see what you’ve done? And I said, yeah, this is supposed to be a celebratory dinner. We’re all having a glass of wine. I’m thinking we raised this money, we’ve got on the global health agenda. And they said, no, you’ve just begun. There is so much more that has to be done on behalf of women. And I thought, Oh my gosh, I am not signing up for that. That is no, I know how big that agenda is. And I knew how hard it would be to drive the agenda, but as time passed I realized no, there are so many more things we need to do. And yes, at times it takes courage and at times, you know, stepping out and saying this is the right thing to do. You know where to go into a meeting. I go into meetings in the UN where nobody used to talk about women, much less girls in the UN and investing in them and now I stand up in front of rooms of mostly men and say this is what we need to do. This is the agenda of the future. And my job is to get men and women on board with that. And I’ve gotten more confident doing that over time. But it takes a while.
Hannah MacInnes (24:43):
I mean one of the things that you’ve gone in and talked about is child marriage. That also is a chapter in the book. Tell us some of the heartbreaking stories. We can’t go into all of them now, but some of the stories about child marriage and why that is such a, again, another huge barrier in the developing world.
Melinda Gates (24:57):
Yes, that is a huge barrier and there are many advocates who lead that. And let me just be clear. Everything I’m talking about tonight, every single issue, whether it’s vaccines, whether it’s women’s issues, children’s issues, girls issues, these, anything the foundation does is in partnership with somebody else. We do nothing alone. We could not begin to achieve these goals. So I had met Mabel van Oranje over many years. She’s from the Netherlands and she has been leading an effort on child marriage with many partners in the field. And as I would come upon the issue out in the field, I wanted to learn more about it. And so I met, one of the stories I tell in the book is I went to Ethiopia and I met with a group of young girls. First I met with a group of girls who had been pulled out of school and were already in marriage. And then another group of girls who were still in school. But knew they were going to be married off and these girls, they are so young and talk about not having your voice. I mean it just, it broke my heart. I mean some of them are nine, some of them are 11 some of them are 12 and they will tell you I want to stay in school. I’m doing everything I can to stay in school. But their families would often, you know, trick them. They would think they were going out to get the water, which is what most young girls do. You’re assigned that task usually by your parents in the developing world. They’d go off to get water and they’d say we need water, fresh water. Go to the water well to get it, cause we’re going to host a party today. And they would come back and find out it was their own wedding. And when a girl is married off young, she is often the property essentially of the other family. And you want to talk about losing your voice, no chance for education. And then you basically are in a destitute situation, a life of slavery and many of these girls are, you know, they marry somebody who’s of course not of their village and so they may travel a long distance and not even know how to get back to their home and have no contact. That is just sad.
Hannah MacInnes (26:59):
But you’re trying it in these places essentially to change culture and tradition. One of the things that you seem to wrestle with a bit in the book and you bring up Hans Rosling who I also been very lucky enough to meet the statistician, he said to you, was warning you that American billionaires giving away money will mess everything up. When you’re helping in these areas, how do you try and make sure that that isn’t the case? What was he talking about?
Melinda Gates (27:25):
Yeah, he was really concerned and rightfully so, and I think we all have to watch for this all the time is you can’t just take a Western idea into community and decide we’re going to change this. We want to fix this. You know, you have to try and take your Western hat off and say, if I was living in this community and somebody was bringing in a new idea or a new piece of technology, and by technology I mean even a vaccine, what would I have to know or, or want or need to understand before I would listen to that person? We’ll often, well first of all, if somebody comes in with their own point of view, and a judgmental point of view, you’re not going to get anywhere. And second of all, it takes the people around you to educate you with the right information. So what we have learned early on, I was lucky enough that president Jimmy Carter came to the foundation very early and I said to him, president Carter, he had been working in global health and for many, many years after his presidency and doing very effective work. And I said, president Carter, what is it we should know that took you a while to learn that hopefully we wouldn’t have to relearn. And he said, you know, Melinda, you have to go into any community, whenever you’re going into community, to bring knowledge or new information or trying to help change society. The community has to want what the information you’re bringing in and they have to own it and they have to see it as theirs. And if you don’t do that, you might get a little bit of change for a while while you’re there. But as soon as you leave they’re going to go back to what they were doing before because it’s not that they really believe you, they might be incentive to do what you wanted. And so we work with partners who’ve been working on the ground in these communities often for 30 or 40 years and the partners often have people who are from the community working there and so they have to start conversations and build trust and knowledge and hear what’s interesting to the people in the local community, in the village, work on those things first and then start to bring new knowledge and see if the villagers want to take that up.
Hannah MacInnes (29:24):
Do you think that the conversation then in that is more important than the science and the technology?
Melinda Gates (29:29):
No, I don’t think it’s one or the other. I think that you absolutely have to have new technology. I mean, why do we not face polio in the United, in the United Kingdom or United States? Why are we essentially eradicated smallpox in our countries because of vaccines? You know, I have an aunt, I write about her in the book. I’m very close to her. She is still paralyzed from polio. My mom was ostracized. No one would play with her because once her sister got polio, they didn’t know how it was spread and they thought maybe my mom had it. So we forget the difference these vaccines make, but it’s that science that moves the world forward. But the way you bring it into a community and get them used to the idea has to be done with a lot of trust and a lot of listing and a lot of cultural context. Now when you go to Africa, people are asking us for vaccines or contraceptives because they see and know the difference it makes. But without that technology, I don’t care how much conversation you have, but if you don’t have a good vaccine for pick your favorite disease, smallpox, it’s going to likely break out in that community and children are going to die. No amount of conversations going to change that. So you have to mirror together the best science and the latest science and thinking. Bill and I are absolute believers in innovation but with the right way of doing what we call delivery. And if a parent doesn’t trust you, they’re not going to accept a vaccine in their body or their children’s body and for good reason. I mean we’re all concerned about what we put in our bodies and our health, so it has to be done. You have to put both together the great science and the great trusting relationship to get people to trust and to bring, accept new knowledge and then to carry it forward.
Hannah MacInnes (31:13):
One of the things that really struck me is the technology obviously can be so simple. And the difference between having a phone, the story back to child marriage of the girl who had the app on her phone, which saved her from a child marriage. Tell us about that.
Melinda Gates (31:27):
Yes, she was in India and she was going to be married off and quite quite often the family is marrying the girl off because one, they sometimes don’t have the assets to feed all the children they have and two, they think they’re protecting the family’s honor by making sure that she’s married and married young, so she’s not in a violent situation or she’s not promiscuous. But anyway, this girl did not want to be married, but her parents had arranged for a marriage and she was lucky enough to have access to this app on her phone in India where she could push a button and and a notice when out, an emergency notice went out to some trusted sources and a group came in and pulled her out of that situation and saved her. Now that is an amazing first start because she wasn’t then married off. But think about it. She’s from that family and she’s from that community that believes in marrying girls young. So without the knowledge and teaching the villagers how and incentivizing them for their, how their families will be better off if they don’t marry their girls young, you’re not going to get the cultural change. And so you both have to have great policy at the top. You have to have ways of enforcing it, and you have to have community change. So communities start to accept, we just shouldn’t marry our girls off.
Hannah MacInnes (32:44):
I’m going to bring in one of the audience questions here because you were speaking about the decision and the difficulty. Someone else was asking about how to decide, where to put, where to, where to dedicate. And this question is, with so many issues that need to be addressed, how did you decide which areas to focus on from the world’s most pressing problems?
Melinda Gates (33:04):
Well, initially, you know, initially we took a very economic approach. I mean, we want to make sure that every, you know, $100, a hundred pounds if we, if we go and ask the British government to put down a hundred pounds of tax payer dollar, we want to know that money’s being spent well. And so we initially looked at what is the, where does the greatest death happen in the world for children and for adults and disabilities for adults that if you get several bouts of malaria, you then don’t go, you miss, you know, many weeks or months of work in the developing world. So we looked at the biggest death for children and death for adult and disability for adults. And then we started to say, well where could a philanthropic organization make the most change in that? And what are the levers? Are there levers for change? So we first worked on childhood diseases and adult diseases, which takes you very quickly to vaccines and fixing the vaccine system coming out with new vaccines. The two biggest killers of children are diarrhea and pneumonia in the developing world. Those are needless deaths and vaccines will save many of those children. And actually are now. So we started with innovations in health. We started to work then on delivery. How do you deliver those in the ways that I talked about earlier and over time we have come deeply to this women and girls work because we realized that if you make an assumption about a new tool, a new piece of innovation, getting out equally into the hands of men and women in the developing world, that’s a false assumption and you have to do specific programming to reach women because quite often the system doesn’t reach them and yet it’s the women and their husbands who will tell you over and over again. It’s my wife’s job to feed the kids and to look after their health and then it’s our job to make sure we have the fees for school and so we have to do specific programming to help women, but we are basically, our goal is to try and help people lift themselves out of poverty and we look for the greatest levers of change that we can help create with our partners to make that happen.
Hannah MacInnes (35:09):
You say the world’s richest countries don’t care about the poorest, and I’m sure you know that here there’s often a debate about 7% and people who don’t think that we should be giving that away. And I have an inkling, I might know the answer is your answer to them to those complaints.
Melinda Gates (35:27):
I think people do care. I think you have evidence of it in your own country with red nose day. I mean look how generous people are on red nose day. Look at what happens. There’s an emergency situation and it’s almost, it’s obvious that money will help, right? People step up and give. And so I think sometimes though you get this backlash from a small group that says we shouldn’t do that or we should care more about our own or for good reason. People ask and they should ask, is this aid being effective? That is a fabulous question. And because we do need to measure aid and know that every hundred pounds that’s put up of UK payers money is well spent. But what I think sometimes you get pushed back from this small group of loud voices and sometimes it’s quite honestly driven by the press. And what I know to be true is that when you make investments on behalf of others in the developing world, when you make these foreign aid investments, it’s not forever. South Korea is a perfect model. Lots of foreign aid went in. They grew from low to middle to high income. They now give aid because they see the difference it makes, but it’s also if we want peace and prosperity in the world, people have to have a good functioning health system. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t mean you have to have big gleaming hospitals all over, but it means you have to have a functioning health system and that often means you have a health clinic that’s maybe three quarters the size of this stage. That’s the first place a mom and dad goes. And so you have to make sure people have good health where they are because then their kids can go on to get a good education and then they can go on to create prosperity in their own society. And when you do that, people by and large want to stay where they are. If their country and their community is prosperous, they want to stay with the people that they know and they want to be able to lift up their families. But conversely, if they can’t, then they will do the horrific, horrific thing of uprooting their family and ending up on the high sea in a high risk situation in the Mediterranean. So if we want peace and stability in the world, we have to invest in low income countries and help them get on their way to being middle income countries because that is their goal ultimately for themselves.
Hannah MacInnes (37:45):
When you look around your own country, I know you write quite openly in the book that you’ll have great frustrations with the US administration. I obviously, your main point of the book is about overcoming the need to create outsiders, and that’s the greatest challenge as human beings. I don’t want to dwell too much on Trump, but how do you, how exasperating is it for you? How much despair do you feel trying to do all these things across the world when you have a president who’s telling African American women to go back to where they came from? Or do you think there’s a sense that there’s a spur behind all of that and people galvanized more than they were because against it?
Melinda Gates (38:24):
Well, I think we have to understand that what Trump wants us to do is focus on Trump. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what he’s doing every single day. He’s creating some sort of outrageous or he’s trying to right. But what I know to be true is luckily in the United States, the administration proposes a budget, but Congress disposes the money, now. So this administration chose to zero out. The proposed budget was to zero out the accounts that had to do with women or women’s reproductive rights, but Congress in their wisdom held up the funding because they know the difference that that makes. So what it means is yes, the job is harder when we go to Washington DC now, absolutely for Bill and me and all of our partners, but there is still wisdom on the Hill and what we have to do on Capitol Hill. What we have to do is make sure we find this coalition of the willing, and it is harder though because Americans are more polarized just as you’re seeing more polarization in many countries, but you have to find the places where we are the same. And I do think people care about other human beings and we witness it all the time in an emergency disaster relief when there’s a catastrophe, people open their pocketbooks and they give money. So we have to stop focusing on him because that’s what he’d like us to do and focus on what’s actually possible and then make a decision that we’re going to keep focusing on that and doing the actual work. So I haven’t changed what I’m doing. Bill hasn’t changed what he’s doing. Yes, we call on different people, fewer people in the administration. Believe me, we still made the rounds and the administration, but luckily the people making many of those decisions are on Capitol Hill.
Hannah MacInnes (40:05):
I want to come onto the workplace where you spoke about at the beginning, and obviously we’ve already talked about inequality in the home and this is obviously a huge problem in developed countries in the workplace. You experienced it yourself at the beginning of your career. Tell us a little bit about that and what you learned from those experiences you had about perhaps how we should aspire to be as women in the workplace.
Melinda Gates (40:31):
Yeah, so I, I by and large had a fabulous career at Microsoft. I was there nine years. I’m a computer science graduate, undergraduate, but have business degree. So there were not very many technical women at Microsoft at the time. I had a fabulous career inside the company. I learned a lot. It was very hard charging. Outside, when I would go in industry, I would see a lot of bias against women. But I will say this inside the company, you know, we were moving fast, we were aggressive, the company was aggressive. And I will say after I had been there a little less than two years, I thought I might leave because I really enjoy the products. I enjoyed building products. I knew we were changing the world. We were, we were creating things that didn’t exist, but I didn’t really like that abrasive culture. And we would go into meetings and you kind of fought your point tooth and nail every single time. It kind of felt like the boys debating club. And I learned to be great at the boys debating club, but when I would be off at the grocery store, you know, or interacting with somebody in the community, I didn’t like who I was becoming. And so I thought, you know, I’m probably going to leave. That’s okay. I knew I could get another great job, that would’ve been fine. But I thought, well, I’ll try just before I leave, I’ll try being myself. And I was pretty sure it would fail. I was quite sure it was going to fail and just fall flat on my face. And I actually sort of warned my parents that I was probably going to leave the company. And anyway, I tried being myself and it worked. And when I started to realize was that cause I was managing large teams by then, people would say, how did you get that amazing developer off of that other product to come work for you in the consumer division? And I would say, well maybe he just wanted to work in an environment that was supportive and not embrace it. And I embraced teams. I believe that a really great team and getting the best out of people’s talents as a team, you can create great things in the world. And we had each other’s backs. And so I learned from that to just be yourself and let people take it or leave it. If they don’t like it, that’s okay too. But I know that if we can be our full selves at work, people are more fulfilled and more likely to stay in the place that they’re working, if they can bring their whole self to work.
Hannah MacInnes (42:42):
So obviously women often think that they should emulate men and male culture. It happens today a lot. And your message is absolutely that, that they shipping themselves. And that can be the change.
Melinda Gates (42:52):
Yes. But it often takes a group of women or it takes a man to stand up for a woman. So if you’re sitting in a meeting and a man re-explains a woman’s point, it really should be another man that says, Hey, not okay. She already just said that. Right? Or if a man interrupts a woman, somebody should stop the meeting. I’m lucky enough now at the foundation, I sit at the head of the table. So when I see that happening I’ll say, Oh wait, it looked like that person. She wanted to get her point in. Right. And so we have to look at all these small behaviors that we do. And it’s not just men, it’s women too. But we have this norm because in pretty much every industry you can look up and young men can see, you know, three dozen different archetypes of male role models and they can say, I don’t want to be like those 20 but you know, those other 16 are pretty good guys. I want to be in that industry and be that type of person. A woman looks up a young girl or young woman and she doesn’t see very many archetypes of women and particularly of women leaders and particularly in the past you’d get one who made it in an industry or two and they often had to assimilate and be like a man to get where they were. Instead of saying, Hey, what is it we need to change about our culture? All of us so that women and men can show up as who they are. So I applaud when a man says he’s leaving work to go to his kid’s soccer game. I’m like, great. I think that’s a great thing. When a woman leaves the workforce at five o’clock to go to her kid’s soccer game, fabulous. It has to be okay for us. If we have kids to both be parents and work hard and be in the workforce.
Hannah MacInnes (44:31):
One of the things you talk about though is that it’s a vicious circle because of the culture. Women are often that have riddled with more self-doubt than men and call themselves perfectionists. There’s a sort of fear they have to wait till they’re absolutely perfect to go for anything. How do they overcome that?
Melinda Gates (44:50):
I had to look at that in myself a lot because I definitely grew up thinking I had to be perfect to achieve certain goals and I think we all have to look at that and say, no, no, no. It’s okay not to be perfect and though we have to change the workforce and the culture because the workforce is saying to women all the time, you’re not going to get there unless you’re perfect unless you do it. Unless you act a certain way, you’re expected to look good and be able to present and not look too bossy or look too aggressive. Who can achieve all of that? Are you kidding? I met with, I had several meetings today where the women came in. I guess in the UK you call them trainers and I was like, why am I not smart enough to do that? Like I should just do that more. Right? I mean we have to how we dress and how we act. You know, why is it the cultures always telling us we have to be a certain way. No, we can be any way that we want to be and we should be free to do that. So I think we have to look at it in ourselves, our own perfectionism and doubt. I think women create doubt for other women at times. I think men create some of that doubt, but we have to look at it and bring that down for everybody.
Hannah MacInnes (45:59):
Before we end on a more positive note again about the solutions, perhaps you can, there’s some very depressing statistics and you say gender discrimination is in law across the world.
Melinda Gates (46:10):
Tell us a little bit about the slightly depressing scene before we work out how we can get away and do something about it. Well, I think without going through all of them, I think we have to look at every place in society where women can’t have their full voice or their full decision making authority. I’ll give you an example. In the United States, we are the only industrialized country in the world. The only that doesn’t have a paid family medical leave policy at the federal level, the only country, and think about what that means for women. More than 50% of women in the United States work now and yet they’re doing this second shift. They’re doing unpaid labor at home and they’re trying to work. That is an impossible task. So in the U S one of the big things we have to do, first of all is look at how do we get paid family medical leave. The federal game is too hard right now. So we’re bringing it to the States. The States are starting to roll it out, but only 14% of our workforce US workforce has paid family medical leave. So that’s a huge issue in my country. In other countries, some of the issues are child marriage. We have to look at, you know, how is it that we get more women to run for politics? Are they being funded? Do they have a chance of running? Do they think they can run? How do we help women with their self confidence? We know having women at the head of political institutions makes an enormous difference. So I sort of look at four industries in the developed world. I look at finance, politics, the media, because they tell our stories about ourselves and I look at tech and we are not far enough in any of those industries and we need to push on all of that because I know equality can’t wait in the world’s going to be better if we get it.
Hannah MacInnes (47:49):
Often the argument is that it’s biology or it’s nature and not nurture. You said it’s unimaginable to me how flawed that logic is. And yet how widely believed opportunities have to be equal before you can know if abilities are equal and opportunities have never been equal.
Melinda Gates (48:04):
Right, until the opportunities are equal, we don’t get to run that experiment. So just saying it’s biology doesn’t make any sense to me. I mean, even in the tech industry we sort of say, Oh well women aren’t as interested in tech. No, part of the reason women aren’t interested in tech is it turned a certain direction and they’re not interested in having jobs where they go in and they’re not welcomed in the industry or where it’s too abrasive for them. You don’t. We marketed computers in the United States when personal computers first came out. At first they were neutral. I played the Atari games, the pong games, everything that were completely non genderized, but then all of a sudden the IBM PC came out and within a year they started marketing it as a boy’s toy. So boys started playing with the home. They started getting really good at coding so girls weren’t offered this computer. I was in my home. I was really, really lucky. My dad actually got my sister and I one. I loved programming. It was fabulous, but then the games became very male dominated and became shoot them up games. So many, many things happened that then drove women out of the industry. So in my country where women were on the way up in technology, computer science degrees. When I was in college late 1980s we were on the rise, just like medicine and law. Medicine and law, now in my country, 50% of graduates are women. Same with law. In fact, slightly more so we weren’t sure women could make it or were they interested in medicine? Were they interested in law? Turns out they are. Well in technology, we went up and then unlike medicine and law, we came down because of what happened in the way that was marketed. We need to bring that number back up because our future, in my opinion is being influenced massively by tech. I think that’s a good thing, but if you don’t have women with a seat at the table or you don’t have minorities with a seat at the table, we are baking bias into our systems. Systems that have profound effects on our legal system, our health, so we have got to get women back into tech and we have to work on that, but it’s not that women aren’t interested. We made it unwelcoming inadvertently.
Hannah MacInnes (50:14):
I said at the beginning that the message was, we can all individually, not just you doing great work and business, but when people walk away from the room, obviously there’s a huge amount, but what are your main bits and advise people to go away and be a force for change for themselves. And it’s the How to Academy, so to take away.
Melinda Gates (50:33):
I would say start in your home. Do you feel like you have a quality in your home and if not, speak up about it. Do you feel like even what you’re telling, if you have a son or a daughter, you tell her, are you giving them the same messages? I wasn’t in my own home. I had to look at my own bias of what I was doing in my home. So look in your home, look in your community. Are there things you can do to lift up another girl or a woman in your community? Whether you’re a woman or a man, what can you do to mentor somebody? What can you do to sponsor somebody for that very first job in the workforce? That first job makes an enormous difference. What can you do if you work in the workforce already? What can you do in your workplace? Can you demand transparent pay? Do you know whether men and women are paid equally for a given piece of work? Does your company have a great paid family medical leave policy? You know, are women promoted at the same rate that men are promoted? Can you help sponsor a woman for a job? Tell her you are ready for that job. We know when a good job opens, men all think they’re qualified. They’d all throw their name in the ring whether they had the qualities or not. There’s good research around this. Whereas women wait until they feel like they have 100% of the qualities. Whereas a man jumps in when he has 60% so how do we help women know they actually are ready for that promotion and to put their name in the ring or go to another manager and say, this woman over here, let’s mentor her because she will be ready for that job in a year. Those are all things we can do. And if you do any of those things in your home, your workplace, your community, or your workplace, I’m telling you, it makes a difference.
Hannah MacInnes (52:11):
I’m just going to finish with a couple of the audience questions and someone asked what impacts do you hope that you and the foundation will have made 15 to 20 years from now? And they’ve said, please be as specific as you can.
Melinda Gates (52:26):
Okay, I’ll, I’ll just be incredibly specific. So we and many, many partners around the world, including amazing investments by DFID, the UK government of UK tax payer dollars as a world since 1990 we have cut childhood deaths in half in half. So that means that means every single year, 5 million more children are alive. Who wouldn’t have been alive. And when a mom or a dad in a low or middle income country knows that two of their children will survive till adulthood, they actually bring down naturally the size of their family because they’re, they want to make sure a couple of their kids survive. So a very specific goal we have is to cut that childhood death rate again yet in half in the next 15 years. And it can be done. It’s not going to be easy, but it can be done.
Hannah MacInnes (53:25):
And the other question was advice for people who want to get into impact investment.
Melinda Gates (53:30):
Well, I list in the back of my book, I list a whole bunch of organizations that you can invest in. And what I want people to know in the room is think about your own assets. You have your time and your energy. You have your intellect and knowhow and you probably have some resource and any one of those three are worth spending on somebody else to make the world better. And you can do it in any combination you choose, one, two or all three and I’m will tell you it makes an absolute difference on someone else’s life. And you might find along the way a little bit like Bill and me. It also gives great meaning and fulfillment to your own life. So I hope everybody thinks about it, how they can do something for someone else.
Hannah MacInnes (54:15):
That feels like a good place to end. Thank you very, very much indeed.
Edie Lush (54:31):
What a powerful discussion. Claudia.
Claudia Romo Edelman (54:33):
I always love hearing from Melinda Gates. We’re very grateful to the How to Academy for letting us share their podcast with you.
Edie Lush (54:40):
Subscribe to follow them the same way you subscribe to Global GoalsCast.
Claudia Romo Edelman (54:44):
and do not forget to like and share both the How to Academy and the Global GoalsCast. See you next time.
Edie Lush (54:50):