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Melinda Gates Finds Her Life’s Purpose in Philanthropy

The plan was to give all the money away. This was one thing Melinda French knew when she tied the knot with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 1994. While she, too, had been a high flyer at Microsoft, holding degrees in computer science, economics, and business from Duke, she had also been raised in a family given to service. Though Gates attended private school, she volunteered at a struggling public school down the road, where she learned quickly that “sometimes things weren’t equal for everyone.”

Gates is now in the business of righting those same inequities she saw as a young girl–and more. As co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, Bill, and father-in-law, Bill Sr., she is working toward the mandate to give “every person the chance to live a healthy productive life.”

Their foundation has made progress by partnering with organizations, governments, and other philanthropists to tackle difficult problems in global development, global health, and the U.S. education system – and by being a voracious learner. Early in the Foundation’s work, Melinda and Bill Gates learned about the rotavirus in an article, beginning their journey to take on diarrhea and its massive death toll for children. More recently, Melinda Gates’ travels have taught her that “all mothers want the same thing for their kids.” This universal desire for healthy and educated children has fueled Gates’ new focus on family planning. Gates reflects: if a mother can “plan and space her children, she has a chance of feeding them and ultimately of educating them.”

For Gates, the time, the trips, and the meetings, which are all on behalf of the Foundation and the families they serve, are not something she could have predicted. It’s been a surprise; yet, she has learned, “this is my life’s purpose and I absolutely love it.”

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