Girl Power

A TFK Kid Reporter interviews Melinda French Gates.
By TFK Kid Reporter Alexa Oh

Melinda French Gates is a businesswoman and philanthropist. 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.

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.

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

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.

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

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?”

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

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.