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Girl Power

MAKING A DIFFERENCE Melinda French Gates advocates for the rights of women and girls globally. JASON BELL

Melinda French Gates is a businesswoman and philanthropist philanthropist someone who helps others, especially by donating time or money to good causes (noun) The philanthropist decided how to distribute the funds. . She’s a cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It’s one of the world’s largest private charitable organizations. She’s also an author and an advocate advocate someone who helps others, especially by donating time or money to good causes (noun) The philanthropist decided how to distribute the funds. .

French Gates told me that talking to people is the best and the most difficult part of her job. This “on the ground” work is her favorite part of being a philanthropist. But hearing stories of despair is difficult. Here’s part of our conversation.

What cause is most important to you, and why?

I really care about lifting up women and girls. When girls and women can step into their full power, society changes for the better for everybody. So I’m passionate about making sure girls and women have their full power. No matter where they live.

STAND TALL French Gates visits third-grade students in Dallas, Texas. Her message for girls? “Believe in yourself and who you are.”

CHRISTOPHER FARBER—PIVOTAL VENTURES

What’s your typical workday like?

If I’m here in Seattle, I’m in the office [taking meetings]. Sometimes, it’s reviewing strategies. Sometimes, it’s allocating resources. If I’m out of Seattle, it’s often meeting with our partners. I might be trying to push a government leader to put more money or his or her voice behind something. Or I might be talking to families.

LET'S TALK French Gates meets with people around the world—here, in India—to understand their needs and rally support.

MANSI MIDHA—BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION

How does your background in computer science help with your job?

Computer science is very logical. I know you have a passion for math. So do I. [It’s a] logical mindset. When you come across a problem in the world, you try to break it down into steps to understand it. Numbers help us see things in the world. So I have a data focus. If I can’t explain or understand something, I’ll say, “What are the statistics about that? What do we know?”

HANDS ON French Gates visits Girls Garage, a nonprofit group and workspace in Berkeley, California.

BRYAN MELTZ—PIVOTAL VENTURES

What’s your advice for kids who want a career helping people, or working for a cause they care about, but don’t know where to start?

Start today. Start doing something you’re passionate about, whether it’s working at a food bank or volunteering at a library. There’s huge power in kids thinking about their time, their expertise, and where they can give back.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.