Entrepreneur of the month: Melinda Gates
Since founding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, Melinda has pushed for giving in its greatest numbers. With more than $3.4 billion in giving for 2012 and $26 billion in grant commitments since 1998, her work has inspired big donors and global collaboration.
Melinda took a job at Microsoft Corporation in 1987. She started out as product manager, primarily developing multimedia and interactive products. Over the course of her nine years working for Microsoft, Melinda worked her way up to general manager of information products. The products she worked on included the budget trip-planning website Expedia, the interactive movie guide Cinemania and the multimedia digital encyclopedia Encarta.
The couple dated for six years before Bill proposed to Melinda. In 1994, the two were wed on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Melinda gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Jennifer Katharine Gates, in 1996. At that time, she decided to leave her job at Microsoft so she could focus on child rearing and philanthropic efforts. Melinda and Bill would go on to have two more children: a boy named Rory John and a girl named Phoebe Adele.
In 1994, Melinda and Bill Gates, along with Bill’s father, started the William H. Gates Foundation. In 1999 the couple combined the William H. Gates Foundation with two of their other charitable organizations, the Gates Library Foundation and the Gates Learning Foundation. They renamed the newly blended charity the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although the foundation’s initial goal was to place computers and Microsoft products in libraries all over the United States, over the years Melinda expanded the organization’s vision to include worldwide improvements in education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts also came to address global poverty and health issues.
In 2006, a friend of Bill’s, wealthy investor Warren Buffett, made a landmark donation of $30 billion to the foundation. In anticipation of dividing its assets among the most pressing needs, Melinda then restructured the organization into three departments: worldwide health, global development, and U.S. community and education. One of the foundation’s primary global health objectives has been to develop prevention strategies, vaccines and treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officially restated its mission as: “improving equity in four areas: global health, education, access to digital information via public libraries, and support for at-risk families in Washington State and Oregon.” In 2012 Melinda pledged $560 million toward improving access to contraception for women in third-world countries.
Melinda and her husband also remain committed to changing the state of education in the United States. Their foundation helps student fund their studies through the Gates Millennium Scholars program. As she wrote on her Facebook page, “Bill and I believe that education is the great equalizer.”
In 2015, Melinda and Bill Gates also showed that they support progressive workplace policies. They announced that the employees of their foundation would receive up to a year’s paid leave after the birth of a child or the adoption of a child.
In 2016, Gates and her husband Bill were recognized for their philanthropic work when they received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
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