Melinda Gates has become one of the most powerful individuals on earth whose primary focus is advocating for girls and women. The American businesswoman and philanthropist has a $41.3 billion endowment, and she can use it in just about any manner that she and her husband, Bill Gates, see fit. She intends to take full advantage of another philanthropic opportunity and challenge.
For the first decade and a half of its existence, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation positioned itself toward eradicating malaria and polio, as well as taking a hard look at global education issues. Now, Melinda Gates is focusing more attention on impoverished girls and women around the world.
This September, Melinda Gates and a group of prominent women world leaders met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, for a G7 conference. In attendance for the meeting with Melinda were Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Queen Rania of Jordan, former Prime Minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Soldberg, the CEO of General Motors General Motors, Mary Barra, and the Director of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan.
Forbes reports that after Chancellor Merkel had thanked her guests, she listened to reports on women’s political participation, and economic and health empowerment, After the presentations, Merkel opened up the floor for further discussion. Melinda Gates spoke first, giving an exact, passionate four-minute address.
A brief excerpt of Melinda’s speech included her view on girls and women in today’s world.
“When you get women in roles of leadership, we make things happen. It takes us using our voice, and it also takes us making investments, huge investments, in women and girls.”
What’s most interesting and unique about Melinda Gates compared to the room full of world leaders and many others is the fact that she can make things happen without all the red tape. CEOs have to get approval from boards, and prime ministers have to get consent from parliaments, which often delays badly needed programs.
To many people, 51-year-old Melinda Gates appears down-to-earth. She is one of the few public figures that does not travel with an entourage. For a few years now, Melinda Gates’ name has been on the letterhead of the largest charitable foundation, along with the influence that goes the follows, while becoming one of the most powerful philanthropists on the planet whose singular focus is girls and women.
In her quest to find a woman to lead her campaign, Melinda Gates expressed her desires.
“I kept looking for the advocate who would champion these issues. I knew it had to be a woman. We would talk inside the foundation, ‘Could we get this person or that person?’”
Unable to find a woman leader to champion her cause for empowering women and girls, Melinda made an executive decision.
“I considered other women leaders. But I couldn’t find the one who embodied to me the voice of women around the world. And so I thought, ‘If I’m the one, then I just need to do it. I have to have courage and not worry.’”
According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), women account for six out of 10 of the world’s poorest and two-thirds of the illiterate. Excessive female mortality in the developing world, according to the International Monetary Fund, means nearly 3.9 million girls and women are missing each year. In addition, close to two-fifths are never born, one-sixth die in early childhood, and more than one-third die during their reproductive years.
Melinda Gates asks the following, most pressing question concerning girls and women of the world.
“What’s the most pressing issue of our time? It really is ending poverty in the world. And we know to do that you have to put women and girls at the center.”
According to Melinda Gates, poverty is sexist, and it stems from the female gender being historically ignored.
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]