I didn’t know much about Melinda Gates except that she was married to Bill. He did most of the talking about their foundation during interviews.
After seeing her interviewed alone by David Letterman on his Netflix show, I got curious.
She found her voice. And in her book, her voice is powerful and clear. It is about her path to women’s empowerment and, at the end, includes a resource guide of organizations to support.
Her Inner Journey of Transformation
What I loved most is her vulnerability. She includes her inner journey of overcoming her fears and moving beyond her naivety as a wealthy American. She transforms from …
- a naïve acceptance of “women’s roles” to developing an equal partnership with her powerful husband.
- one unaware of the ways she contributes to pushing people to the margins
- to asking herself, “What gives me the right to get involved?”
- to studying the ways American billionaires mess things up
- to listening closely to the marginalized for what they need, what works for them, and what really is empowering.
- preferring to stay behind the scenes to an informed, articulate leader eager to learn from and partner with others.
- a shy private person to one willing to name the cultural, financial, and legal restrictions that block what women can do for themselves and their children … to become a public advocate for family planning.
- one who accumulates “facts” to one who understands truths in a deeper way because she learns from those with the wisdom of experience.
- one who studies issues, takes learning trips, and talks strategy to one who walks her talk
She emphasizes the importance for all of us to do this inner work so no human being is pushed out any longer.
Emphasis on Values
A devout Roman Catholic, Melinda learned values from her religion – from Jesus’ example of extending love. In her words:
Love is the most powerful and underused force for change in the world. … It’s a mark of our culture’s uneasiness with love that political candidates never talk about it as a qualification for holding public office.
For me, love is the effort to help others flourish – and it often begins with lifting up a person’s self-image. … If a girl can lift up her view of herself, she can start to change the culture that keeps her down.
Walking Her Talk
One of my favorite stories in the book demonstrates how Melinda walks her talk … by connecting with people and listening to what they think they need. I am in awe of her commitment to her mission.
Modeling Connection for Her Children
She and her 17-year-old daughter, Jenn, stayed for a week in the home of a family in Tanzania. Anna and Sanare lived with their twins in a small family compound they had built over the years.
Melinda and Jenn were put up in a goat hut. When they moved in, the goats moved out for a few days (unless they neglected to keep the door closed.)
Melinda exposes her children to the world not just so they give back to the people they meet, but so they connect with them.
If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven’t found it. … I hope the exposure to other people and places shapes what the kids do, but even more I want it to shape who they are. I want them to see that in the universal human desire to be happy, to develop our gifts, to contribute to others, to love and be loved—we’re all the same. Nobody is any better than anybody else, and no one’s happiness or human dignity matters more than anyone else’s. ~Melinda Gates
Experience is the Best Teacher
During that homestay, Melinda gained an understanding of people’s lives and the burdens women carry to make a home and farm run in a way that isn’t available in books and reports or frank conversations.
Melinda and Jenn accompanied Anna for the 17 hours a day she was in motion … from 5 am to 10 pm. Melinda felt the hours and intensity in her body — of chopping wood, walking thirty minutes to fetch water and carry it back on her head, preparing food for the whole family, and finishing the dishes with the other women in the compound.
The Reality for Many in Our World
Anna’s unpaid labor took all her time … dashing her dream of starting her own business.
Her husband, Sanare, walked an hour to work unless his neighbor gave him a ride on his motorcycle.
He didn’t want his daughter’s life to be like his wife’s. But her work around the house didn’t leave her as much time to study as her brother enjoyed. She had already failed to pass a test to gain admittance to a government-funded school, something her brother had already accomplished.
She had only one more chance. If she didn’t pass, Sanare and Anna could not afford to send her to a private school. She would lose her chance for a better life.
Speaking Truth to Power
Her values about love give Melinda the courage to speak truth to power, confronting dogma and institutional structures.
Disrespect for women grows when religions are dominated by men. ~Melinda Gates
The Moment of Lift also tells the story of brave women and men who can’t find their way out of poverty because of religious and cultural constraints. She shows them the utmost respect as she searches for a way to empower them.
WOW! WOW! WOW! I wrote in the margin on page 199.
It may strike you as a little odd that a chapter that opens with gender in farming would close with a discussion of religion, but we have a duty to trace women’s disempowerment up the stream to its source. Women around the world who are trying to reshape their faith, who are wresting the interpretation of scripture from the grip of a male monopoly, are doing some of the most heroic work for social justice and economic opportunity in the world today. They’re on the edge of a new frontier. These women and their male allies, especially the men working for reform inside ancient institutions, deserve our gratitude and respect. ~Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates is my new shero! I highly recommend her book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.