You are the guardians of our stories. You pass along our stories. And our stories bring us together.”
Melinda Gates opened her talk at the 2019 American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Seattle January 25 with effusive praise for her hosts. Her admiration for libraries is well documented: As cochair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she has been at the forefront of philanthropic funding for libraries. The Gates Library Foundation, which closed in 2018, provided more than $1 billion to libraries around the world over the course of 21 years. Gates’s dedication to libraries was further cemented when it was revealed at the beginning of her talk that she will serve as honorary chair of National Library Week, April 7–13, in 2019. Gates spoke to ALA Midwinter attendees not as a philanthropist, however, but as an author.
Gates’s new book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World (Flatiron Books/Macmillan, 2019) offers raw data and touching anecdotes to demonstrate that women’s prosperity and health are intrinsically linked to the health and prosperity of the world at large. As women are “lifted up,” the world follows, the book claims. It’s also a call to action that shows how to improve women’s lives on both the macro and micro levels, from ensuring access to education and contraceptives to economic opportunity and equality in marriage.
“Demand for gender equality is growing louder and coming from all over the world,” Gates said. “We all need to step up, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as an advocate. This is the moment of lift.”
Gates was joined by librarian and author Nancy Pearl, who guided their discussion of the book’s stories, which were gathered by Gates on travels throughout the world while working with the foundation. The plights of women she encountered who needed contraceptives and family-planning tools; who experienced inequities at home and in the workplace; or who were denied access to education inspired both the book and Gates’s life direction.
“I heard a resounding cry and plea for help,” she said. Gates described multiple stories of women whose lives and families were stunted by lack of access to resources, including a young mother in Africa who tearfully asked Gates to take her newborn child back to the US. The woman was afraid she would be unable to provide her new baby a good life should she get pregnant again. That story and others led Gates and the foundation to raise $2.6 billion to help provide contraceptives to women in need.
The book also provides a rare look into Gates’s personal life and her marriage to Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates. Gates says that she had to be open about her own struggles for full transparency and show how these issues affect everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status or where you live in the world.
“We worked hard to get equality in our marriage,” she said. “We try to live an integrated life. What we’re role modeling to the world, we have to replicate at home.”
Gates shared an anecdote about her family’s morning routine to drive the point home.
When one of her daughters was enrolled in a new school years ago, Gates had to add an extra hour to her morning drive to get the girl to school on time. When her husband offered to take over that duty, it alleviated strain on Gates’s already busy schedule and had a ripple effect on others.
Gates said that other mothers noticed when she stopped driving her daughter to school, instead seeing one of the world’s richest men doing it. She said the women told her that the change inspired the women to tell their own husbands, “’If Bill Gates can drive his kid to school, you can too.’”
Melinda Gates on gender equity at home.
Melinda Gates on changing the world.
Melinda Gates on the moment of lift.
Melinda Gates on libraries as a place of connection.