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If you had billions of dollars how would you use that money to make our world a better place?

Who would you help first? How would you make that happen? How would you make sure that your donations were not wasted?

These questions and concerns are part of the everyday life for Melinda French Gates, a philanthropist, businesswoman, and global advocate for women and girls. As co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she shapes and approves the foundation’s strategies, reviews results, and sets the organization’s overall direction.

How Does She Do It?

Let me start with a clue. You don’t have to be a billionaire. Of course, it helps, but money is not the key to her success.

Her fabulous new book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World is a good place to start learning how she does it.  It is an incredible read. Well written, entertaining and so inspiring.

On every page, French Gates gives us an uplifting tone of possibility and optimism. No hype – just crystal clear thinking and an appreciation of how very complicated and important things can be accomplished.

Gender Equity as a Path Forward

Her work with the Gates Foundation has led French Gates to focus on gender equity as an important path to meaningful change. In her book, she makes a bold claim: when we lift up women, we lift up humanity.

Her research shows how this can work.

“When you send a girl to school, the good deed never dies.  It goes on for generations, advancing every public good, from health to economic gain, to gender equality and national prosperity.”

My research and writing in A Warm Heart has highlighted the amazing benefits of worldwide education for girls and women.   i also wrote a short summary in a blog post, entitled Be the Difference. To me, these gains add up, almost like compound interest.

Her Not So Secret Superpowers

So what can we learn from French Gates’s powerful leadership? How can we help people like she does? I think there are a few key components to her approach.

1 – Listening and Learning with Empathy

In her personal and professional life, French Gates spends time to meet, listen and learn from the people she wants to serve.

Her kind and compassionate approach comes shining through in a long interview with David Letterman, on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. In this heartfelt interview, French Gates provides example after example of how she helps to lift others up.

She models the kind of deep empathy Brené Brown writes about.

2 – Thinking Like a Scientist

A scientific approach to solving problems usually means relying on evidence as a guide for action.

French Gates approaches all problems with clear data-driven scientific thinking, in combination with compassion and a true desire to help. This is a powerful mix that has lead to efficient and effective programs. These programs, and their results, are admired throughout the world, by charitable leaders as well as smart business people. Warren Buffett is a big fan.

3 – Courage and Openness

French Gates has written about finding the courage to move forward. She has had to dig deep, in confronting her own beliefs and values. For example, she has been quite open about promoting contraception, while still being true to her strong Catholic values.

French Gates is willing to share her personal journey to achieving equality in her marriage, finding her voice and becoming an advocate for women and girls.

4 – Impatient Optimism

Lastly, French Gates demonstrates an inspiring optimism. In fact, Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates describe themselves as impatient optimists. A very fitting description, I think.

It would be easy to feel depressed and hopeless when learning about the reality of many of the world’s most difficult problems. And she is quite open about how she has felt this way on many occasions.

Empathic listening, data-based planning, courage and optimism are just a few of the leadership qualities shown by French Gates in her personal and professional life.  I think we can all learn from her and feel some of her strength and determination.

What would you like to learn from this world leader?

This article was initially posted at Sixty & Me.

Until next time, let our warm hearts soar!


And thank you for caring that little bit extra – it really makes a big difference.

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“Education is the only thing that cannot be taken away. It is the key to fulfilling my dreams.”
Girls’ Education Program Participant

Room to Read Nepal