Courtesy of BMGF
Melinda shapes the focus of the foundation as it evolves and expands. Initially the William H. Gates Foundation (named after Bill’s father), that later became the BMGF, focused on putting laptops in every classroom in the U.S. before expanding the goal to reforming the education system.
Melinda initiated global health as the foundation’s priority soon after their wedding in 1994, when she read a front page of the New York Times story about children in developing countries dying of diseases that most Americans never experience, such as rotavirus, malaria and tuberculosis. Melinda also has a personal interest in women issues around the globe, with programs to empower women as part of a significant solution to address general problems.
“When we started the foundation, I underestimated the power of contraceptives to lift families out of poverty. I began to see it because Melinda is a great storyteller—and that includes getting the story. When I was still full-time at Microsoft, she’d go out in the field and come back and tell me what she saw,” Bill Gates wrote in the foundation’s 2017 annual letter on how his wife motivated him to tackle global health issues.
Last year, Melinda announced a new mission: tackling women inequality in technology. This new goal seems to be personal. Melinda herself has a huge interest in computers and technology, as she graduated from Duke University with a computer science degree as well as an MBA and a BA in economics. She spent a decade working at Microsoft, where she met Bill. She quit that job to take care of their family and the foundation. So when Melinda learned that the percentage of woman with a computer degree is going down, it concerned her. The gap between men and women in technology would create a bias that could affect many things as technology becomes even more ubiquitous.
Forbes Indonesia had a rare opportunity to ask a few questions to Melinda when she visited Indonesia at the end of March. A follow up to Bill’s visit in 2014, she went to Yogyakarta to see the progress of the Eliminate Dengue Project at Gadjah Mada University and then to Jakarta the next day to meet President Joko Widodo and his cabinet. During her visit, she also checked up on the women and family planning program in the country. The following is an edited excerpt of an email interview done during her visit:
Forbes Indonesia: Can you share your agenda in Indonesia?
Melinda Gates: I’m here because Indonesia is poised to transform its economy into a global powerhouse. Women and girls are essential participants in that transformation—and I want to make sure they have the tools they need to drive Indonesia toward a bright future.
That means broadening access to family planning resources. When women have the tools they need to plan and space their pregnancies, it’s better for them, better for their children, better for families, and better for the entire economy. Parents can invest more resources in each child they have. They can better ensure their kids get a good education. Women can participate more fully in the workforce. Families—and entire communities—start realizing their economic potential. People in Indonesia know this better than anyone; for years, you’ve had one of the most successful family planning programs in the world.