Name: Melinda Gates
Short biography: Melinda Ann French was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1964. She graduated as valedictorian from Ursuline Academy of Dallas in 1982, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics from Duke University. After earning her master’s in business administration from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke in 1987, she joined Microsoft, and worked on many of the company’s multimedia products. In 1994, she married Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They currently live in a “house”1 on the shores of Lake Washington with their three children: Jennifer, Rory and Phoebe.2
What they do: As the First Lady of Microsoft, Gates is currently the co-chair (with her husband) and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation’s core belief is “that every life has equal value.”3 In other words, “the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health with vaccines and other life-saving tools and giving them a chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to dramatically improve education so that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”4
Gates acts as a face for the foundation, traveling around the world to make sure that the foundation’s money and efforts are being put to good use, as well as finding new ways/people/places/etc. the foundation can help.
Why they matter: Gates is in charge of one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the world—with a huge amount of money and power backing it—and she therefore has the ability to make her words truly count. Recently, Gates has been in the news for her newest cause: women’s rights.
“I'm passionate about family planning because when I travel and talk to women in developing countries, what's universally clear is that they demand access to contraceptives,” Gates said, in a recent interview with CNN. “They want the power to determine their future. They know that when they can decide when they have children, they are healthier, their children are healthier, their families are more successful and their communities are more prosperous.”5
This newest passion is making waves with the Catholic church, of which Gates is a part. “I had to wrestle with which pieces of religion do I use and believe in my life, what would I counsel my daughters to do,” she said in a Newsweek magazine profile. The profile continues by adding, “Defying church teachings was difficult, she adds, but also came to seem morally necessary. Otherwise, she says, ‘we’re not serving the other piece of the Catholic mission, which is social justice.’”6
In addition to making contraceptives more universally available, the foundation is planning on putting money—part of the $30 some-odd billion in the foundation's coffers—into contraceptive research, helping companies create more effective drugs.6
Her other achievements include:
- Being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year alongside her husband and U2’s Bono in 2005.
- Being ranked No. 40 on Forbes magazine’s 2008 list of the 100 most powerful women; she was ranked No. 24 in 2007 and No. 12 in 2006.2
How they got where they are: In 1996, Gates retired from Microsoft and a position as General Manager of Information Products. Since then, she’s been working in the nonprofit world, (mostly for the Gates Foundation). Some might say that her current position was made possible by her marriage to Bill Gates, but regardless of where the power (and money) has come from, she’s obviously used her great power responsibly, and continues to do so.
References: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)