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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, one of the world’s largest private charitable organizations. She’s also an author and an advocate advocate someone who argues for or supports a cause (noun) She spoke as an advocate for the rainforest. .

When I spoke with French Gates, she said her background in computer science gives her a “logical mindset” about global problems. She told me that the best and most difficult parts of her job are the same: talking to people. This “on the ground” work is her favorite part of being a philanthropist, but hearing stories of despair is difficult. Here’s part of my conversation with French Gates.

What cause is most important to you, and why?

I’ve been working in this field for about 25 years. I really care about lifting up women and girls. I think that when girls and women can step into their full power in society, society changes for the better for everybody. So I’m very passionate about making sure girls and women have their full power, no matter where they live in the world.

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?

It depends on where I am. If I’m here in Seattle, a typical workday for me is being 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, trying to push a government leader to put more money or his or her voice behind something. Or, if I’m out in the field, it’s 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. And having that logical mindset, when you come across a problem in the world, you try to break it down into steps to understand it. I also know that 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.