What kind of technology did Bill Gates study?

Melinda French Gates: The advocate of women

Melinda French Gates will soon have one of the world's greatest fortunes. She will invest the money to use innovation and digital technology to create equal opportunities for women.

The Gates' marriage ended in a few sentences on Twitter on Monday. The couple split up after 27 years, and Melinda French Gates uses her maiden name again for the first time. It must have felt like a relief for the 56-year-old, like a leap forward. And that could have global consequences.

Because after the divorce from the Microsoft founder, French Gates will have up to $ 60 billion, one of the world's largest fortunes. What she intends to do with it is obvious. The devout Catholic is likely to become a force in international philanthropy.

The daughter of an aerospace engineer and a housewife from Dallas wants to remain active in the $ 50 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, however, it went under that she has been promoting her own projects for some time. In 2015 she founded Pivotal Ventures. The innovative mix of foundation and startup is intended to bring about a “decisive turnaround” in the lives of disadvantaged women around the world. Since Monday, the website has written in capital letters under the logo: "A Melinda French Gates Company".

Two years ago French Gates published the book “We are many, we are one”, a mixture of manifesto and private revelations. She tells how, as a young woman, she was humiliated and abused by an unnamed boyfriend. And she describes how women are disadvantaged, oppressed and tortured by genital mutilation, for example, in societies ordered according to male ideas.

Gifted marketer

The text reads very personally in places. French Gates tells how she and Mother Teresa tend to the terminally ill and spend the night in mud huts with starving farmers in Africa. Compassion has spurred her on to find practical solutions to the one big question: What prevents women from leading a self-determined, fulfilling life?

She promoted the plant with a widely recognized tour of the USA and was happy to accept male help. A family friend named Barack Obama contributed a promotional video. Even before the book she had criticized the reluctance of women in the male domain of Silicon Valley and spoke plainly about the Gates Foundation: it was by no means just an event by Bill.

French Gates has an analytical mind, trained by studying economics and computer science at the prestigious Duke University. Intelligence and vigor had helped the young Melinda French from 1987 to a rapid career in the marketing department of Microsoft, where she was involved in the development of the computer program Word. She attributes the hurdles for women to fundamental things: the lack of control over their bodies. By using her money and promoting projects that enable self-determined family planning through birth control, she wants to give this control back to women.

She calls access to contraception “the problem that keeps me awake at night”. She is not afraid of confrontation with the Catholic Church. In Kenya, she has teamed up with authorities and communities to promote and distribute contraceptives.

She may also expand her role as an advocate in US politics and the public. After all, the US has restrictions on the family policy of countries that receive development aid. Partnerships appear as cornerstones in their thinking anyway. The Gates Foundation has shown how non-governmental organizations can lead the way in the fight against malaria and encourage governments to play a more active role.

French Gates also promotes their ideas via the online platform evoke.org. The site is intended to serve as a network for activists and creative people and to create a “community of optimists and innovative women”. The philanthropist recently dedicated portraits to five women whom she describes as “change makers”. She includes the poet and IT woman Joy Buolamwini, who explains the dangers of artificial intelligence and facial recognition software.

A line of its own

This ambitious, far-sighted combination of direct intervention, networking and lobbying sets French Gates apart from other founders such as MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, or the Walmart heiress Alice Walton. Scott did not set up a foundation of his own after their divorce in 2019, but used $ 6 billion as emergency aid for educational institutions or hospitals affected by Covid-19. Walton, on the other hand, is primarily involved in her art museum Crystal Bridges in Arkansas.

French Gates is more systematic. At Pivotal Ventures, she works to drive social advancement in the United States. The website says that obstacles for the disadvantaged must be removed with the appropriate means. The foundation has a team of data analysts and sees itself as a partner and investor at the same time.

How this works can be seen in ten funded start-ups. They want to use innovation and technology to tackle a problem many American women face that the pandemic has made even more dramatic. Around 48 million women in the United States today care for old, sick, and weak relatives, and the number is likely to increase as society ages. The companies Naborforce and Connect Care Hero are building networks to distribute care over as many shoulders as possible. Wysefit is working on an app tailored to the ailments of older people, such as arthritis.

French Gates represents a market economy philosophy that is committed to the high-tech industry's belief in technology as a panacea. It always includes the risk that projects can fail. But Melinda French Gates probably knows best herself how to master the greatest adventure of her life.