Jason Bell for Pivotal Ventures
Melinda Gates is on a learning journey to empower women…and she’s asking us all to come along. On April 24, Gates sat down with Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead and four other best-sellers, to discuss her own new book, The Moment of Lift. Gates’s first book discusses the complexities of feminism and the phenomenon that communities can only flourish when women are lifted alongside men.
Brown, who just became the first researcher to film her own talk on Netflix, commented on Gates’s first work, which was released on April 23. “My first response was, ‘I see you Melinda Gates…and I like you,’” Brown said.
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Brown’s reaction sums up how most readers will feel after reading The Moment of Lift. For the first time, Melinda Gates is allowing her name and voice to be the face of a worldwide campaign- one that aims to deliver contraceptives to any woman who seeks them. While she has worked behind the scenes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since its genesis in 1997, Gates chose to remain out of the spotlight in order to protect her children. As Gates began her work in family planning, she realized there was no other advocate but herself, which eventually led to The Moment of Lift.
Here are seven key takeaways from the famed philanthropist’s first-ever book:
Feminism is more complex on a global scale
Around the world, feminism is about more than equal pay. While workplace gender inequity is an issue that must receive our attention, Gates also discusses issues that are farther removed for most, including the lack of access to contraceptives and child marriages.
“There’s no silver bullet for lifting women up,” Gates said. That being said, she has a few ideas of where to start.
First, a major issue that demands attention is women’s access to contraceptives. Truly, women all over the world would demand to talk about the lack of access to contraceptives, even when Gates was there to discuss vaccines or how to stop the spread of HIV. Eventually, after hearing enough compelling stories, and seeing data to back up those narratives, Gates realized it was time to make contraceptives a priority for the foundation.
Additionally, women have to be able to control their own finances, which is where digital financial literacy comes into play.
“When women have money, it changes the power dynamic in a family,” Gates said.
The largest feminist act right now is providing contraceptives to women
Gates learned about the power of contraceptives by visiting villages and speaking with women about their struggles. Not only does family planning save and elevate women’s lives, but also, by extension, the lives of all those in a community. One thing became apparent while Gates was researching how the foundation could help this cause: she had to come out of her comfort zone and become a public advocate.
“Suddenly, friends, colleagues, and activists were pressing me to become a public advocate for family planning, and that alarmed me,” Gates wrote.
The reason it alarmed Gates was not only due to the political nature surrounding contraceptives but also because of her deep involvement with the Catholic Church.
“I wasn’t scared,” Gates said. “I was terrified.”
After 18 months of wrestling with her faith, Gates decided that the ban on contraceptives was a man-made rule, not one rooted in religion.
“I’m not going to let women and babies die because of a religious belief,” Gates said. “That makes no sense to me.”
Digital financial literacy allows women to set their own agendas
“If you don’t set your own agenda, someone else will,” is an important lesson that dates back to Gates’s childhood, when her mother would repeat this to her often.
Gates took this lesson to heart, which is how she landed on worldwide family planning as her focus area. Having the privilege to space her three pregnancies allowed her to craft the career, family and life that she wanted, and she believes all women should have access to that privilege.
Gates told a story of a mother in India who was able to have her own assets, which she used to buy her oldest son a bike. Immediately, that mother was treated with more respect from her children, husband, and mother-in-law. Gates also referenced more serious events, in which a woman is able to secure her assets from her in-laws after her husband’s death. Financial independence gives women power, and it makes a difference.
Set intentions, not goals
For the past eight years, Melinda Gates has not set a single goal. Gates discussed how she used to set (and reach) plenty of goals. For example, in high school she set a goal to study computer science at a top notch university. In 1982, after graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, she enrolled at Duke University.
Instead of goals, Gates now sets intentions to lead the direction of her life.
“An intention is saying, ‘I want to be in the world a certain way and act a certain way.'”
Gates’s current intention is to continue on a learning journey through her worldwide family planning work.
In order to lift a society up, you can’t hold women down
Women make up more than half of the population but are being underutilized in most cultures. Gates argues it’s time to break down barriers so that communities can reach their full potential.
“This is not about bringing women in and leaving others out. It’s about bringing women in as a way to bring everyone in,” Gates wrote.
Data proves facts, but stories change hearts
Throughout her work, Gates has conquered the balancing act that exists between using data and telling stories to identify issues and persuade others to help.
Even data about women comes with a bias, according to Gates. “You need a quantitative mix with qualitative so that you get a full picture of people’s lives,” Gates said.
The book, and Gates herself are filled with statistics, for example, that less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Data helps to identify the scale of an issue, but Gates’s call to action rests on the many stories from women she has met. “Stories are data with a soul,” Gates said.
Melinda Gates believes the “moment of lift” is right now
Gates has emerged as a public advocate for this fight because “equality can’t wait.”
“Even at the current rate we’re getting women into Congress, which looks promising, it’s still going to take us 60 years to reach equality in Congress,” Gates said during her Tuesday appearance on Good Morning America. “And that’s too long.”
The Moment of Lift comes from Gate’s background with space launches. “Those moments always gave me a thrill—especially that moment of lift when the engines ignite, the earth shakes, and the rocket starts to rise,” Gates wrote. “The moment we broke through gravity. That’s what I want to see for women and girls around the world.”
In the book, Gates argues that it’s time to make that lift, not just for women, but for all humanity.
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