One of the worlds richest women, Melinda Gates, 53, did a rare visit to Sweden this week. Together with her husband, Microsofts founder Bill Gates, she works philantropical in Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Every year they spend millions of dollars on helping other people. Their main focus is women’s and girls’ rights. SvD Junior got the chance to meet her and talk about the work that she does.
– First of all, we are deeply honoured to welcome you to Sweden. I would like to ask some questions for the Swedish newspaper, SvD Junior, a newspaper for children, says the juniorreporter Fatma, 13, from Stockholm.
My first question is: Why are you active for girls and women's rights?
– Because if women have their voice in society and if they can make decisions, it changes everything, for their family and everyone around them. We should make sure that girls and women can have their voice and can do what they want to do with their lives.
That sounds good. How did you start? Did you get inspiration from somewhere?
Because of the vaccine found that we, and the Swedish government is part of, nine million children are alive. That’s something Bill and I are very proud of.
– I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world. I have spoken to many, many women in their homes and villages. As I’ve talked to these women they have really inspired me. They tell me what they would like for their lives. I met a woman named Maryann. She was in Nairobi and was raising two children. I asked her if she will have more and she said no, "because life is hard here and my husband knows it’s hard and we’ve decided to live in our family". She had started a small business where she was collecting blue jeans material from a factory and she was making backpacks. Because of that money, she was able to send her kids to school. Women like Maryann are inspiring me everyday when I think of what she’s doing for her life and her children’s life, with her husband.
Interesting. What things do you and your husband Bill Gates Foundation do for women's and girls' rights?
– Well, we do a lot of things. We work on HIV/AIDS, which affects many young women aged 15- 24. We also work on family planning, making sure that young women and moms have access to contraceptives. If you have access to contraceptives you can plan and space your births. We also work on vaccines so that moms know that they can grow up healthy. We also work on maternal mortality so that fewer women die in childbirth.
Which goals have your foundation achieved so far?
– It’s important to know that there isn’t anything that the foundation does that’s not in partnership with someone else. One of the things that we’ve been involved in is making sure that vaccines gets out to millions of people. Because of the vaccine found that we, and the Swedish government is part of, nine million children are alive. That’s something Bill and I are very proud of.
That’s great. What are the most important things your foundation does?
– Working on maternal health, childhood death, women’s economic empowerment so they can lift themselves up. We also try to eradicate polio of the face of the planet, we’re down to less than 15 cases this year left. If we could eradicate the second human disease that’s ever been eradicated of the face of the planet it would have huge momentum for the field and we would have far fewer kids that are paralyzed.
What are the things the foundation wants to develop in the future?
Demanding their rights, speaking up for what they believe in. I think girls should do that all over the world.
– I would like us to go even further into women’s empowerment, that’s something that we’re actively doing. Today there really isn’t great data around on how to invest for women. We’re involved in collecting more data, so we know how to invest on the behalf of women. If we invest for them and help lift them up economically, they will lift up everybody else around them. And we know that, because they invest in their families.
Which changes are you hoping for in the world?
– I’m hoping for so many changes! I would like to see women in our world truly be equal to men. That means equal in political representation, that means equal representation in running corporations as entrepreneurs. I think we should have a society where women can choose to work, or raise a family – or do both. And nobody should say anything bad about any of those things because they are both great choices.
What responsibility do you think girls and women all around the globe should take in this action? Is there anything they can do to make it better for themselves and the world?
– Using their voices. Saying when they see something that is not working for them, or not working in their community or in their city. Using their voices and coming out saying "that’s not right". Demanding their rights, speaking up for what they believe in. I think girls should do that all over the world.
Do you have any role models? I know that you are such an inspiration and a role model yourself. So, I’d like to know who is your role model?
– Well, some of my role models have actually passed away. One of them sincerely was Hans Rosling, he’s from your country. He passed away just a little over a year ago. The reason he was such a role model to me is was that he used data and he was willing to teach, but more importantly he was willing to speak what he knew and what he believed. That went back to when he and his family had lived in Mozambique, and what he had learned about human beings. He was all about data and facts and making sure that we spent this money well, I have huge respect for that. I love that he was willing to teach that to people and always remind that behind the everyone of those stats, there’s a human being. That’s a pretty important point.
What advice do you give to all Swedish youngsters about how they can contribute for the aims and purposes you have mentioned?
– Connect. Connect with issues that you learn about globally, connect with people online go and find an organization that does something you believe in and save a little money and give to it. Whether its ten dollars for malaria bednet, or whether is going contributing someway out in the developing world if you have the chance to travel. Or using their voice, saying to their government "I believe in this issue and I want you to invest in it". I want you to invest in malaria, or vaccines, or girls empowerment or in contraceptives. Use your voice and tell your government what you think. And also save a little yourself and invest alongside, because you learn something along the way.
First and foremost I am a mom, so I do sort of normal things that moms do. Like waking them up in the morning and getting them to school.
I know that you have a lot of money. How did your life change by having so much money?
– Well, it’s interesting because when you have a lot of money a lot of things are presented to you and you have to really decide how you want to live your life and what your values are. Because I think that things can tug at you. You can take an interesting trip all the time or build a new house more often than other people could. But if you don’t think very carefully about your values and who you are and what you want to be in the world, you can get tugged in a lot of directions. At least for me, living the life Bill and I live, I have to think very carefully about my values and how want to I spend my time and who I want to be in the world. That’s allowed me to be the mom I want to be and the foundation leader I want to be. Because I don’t want to be defined by my wealth, I want to be defined by who I am in the world and what I do in the world.
When you’re not traveling or at your job, what do you do in your spare time?
– Lots of things! First and foremost I am a mom, so I do sort of normal things that moms do. Like waking them up in the morning and getting them to school. But I also do a lot of things that I just enjoy. I like being outdoors; kayaking a lot, I like jogging and walking with my friends. And I like playing. My youngest daughter is really good at playing, so I like playing with her. Sometimes it means going out to the swing or jumping on the trampoline. She’s just a lot of fun.
You have three children. What do you do with your children in your spare time?
– We travel a lot as a family. I do fun things with them. My youngest daughter and I like to go out for lunch with a lot of other moms and kids. And just talk, talk about real world and real life issues. And we like to play together. We have a small waterski boat, and she likes to intertube behind me. And she gets me out on the intertube. And she likes to say "mom, get on the swing" or "get on the trampoline", so I like to play with her a lot.