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Melinda Gates' Education



The tag line of the Gates Foundation: we are impatient optimists working to reduce inequity

The Moment of Lift is about a slow awakening, over years and years, by Melinda Gates, the Co-Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The premise of the book is simple: Gates discovers that the fastest way to make the world a better place is by investing in women and making the world safer and equitable in regards to gender.


I’m in.


The brilliance of this short and engrossing read is that Gates bares witness to her own education as she travels the world, showing us how the slow but steady pivot brought her to embrace this mission.

To be honest, even to call what the Gates’s created with their wealth and now with Warren Buffet's contribution as well, a “foundation,” is an understatement and a misnomer. A better way to describe the potential effect of close to 60 billion dollars in funds is more like a sledgehammer. And, as Gates mentions throughout the book, the foundation has to be wary of how such game-changing wealth, used inappropriately, might lead to unintended negative consequences. One can appreciate the pressure this puts on Gates and the foundation to apply their power with a sense of judiciousness, intelligence and care.

The stories she tells are certainly inspiring, but they also almost always begin as heartbreaking to the point of evoking outrage as well. Women, around the world, attempting to meet the basic needs of family and survival, run up against the wall of patriarchal systems meant to keep them down, begging for scraps, and struggling to obtain some modicum of personal dignity. Inhuman and outrageous sacrifices necessary on the part of women abound.

In one story, she encounters Kakenya Ntaiya, a young woman in the sub-African Sahara who is forced to make the cruelest of compromises in order to continue with her formal schooling and education. Wanting to become a teacher, she negotiates with her father that she will submit to the practice of genital mutilation, which entails the life threatening removal of her clitoris. He will then not marry her off as a child bride and she will be allowed to continue with her education. So her calculus is: remove an essential part of my sexual self and identity so I may maintain my human freedom and dignity. The father agrees to the deal mainly to uphold his own reputation and Kakenya barely survives the ordeal, spending three weeks recovering from profuse bleeding.

Women, around the world, attempting to meet the basic needs of family and survival, run up against the wall of patriarchal systems meant to keep them down, begging for scraps, and struggling to obtain some modicum of personal dignity.

The will of this young woman does not end there. She convinces the elders of the community to go one step further, sending her to the United States in order that she may earn her Ph.D in Education with the promise that she will return to improve the lives of her community. The elders pay for her plane ticket and she does eventually return. She then, again, convinces the elders to open an all girls’ school (they wanted a boys’ school) with the premise that when the community sends away the boys for further schooling they never come back, but Kakenya returned, so who is it more worthwhile to invest in? Her girls’ school was built and thrives to this day.

What Kakenya’s story is an important reminder of is her understanding of the power of education and what people have been willing to sacrifice (even through inhuman compromises) in order to get what they need. For Kakenya, education was the doorway to her freedom and her commitment to her freedom was Melinda Gates’ education. 

Kakenya’s story also illustrated that, with all of the Gates Foundation’s resources, they are virtually powerless to effect change without the strength and leadership of a Kakenya. The wealth may be the tool, the sledgehammer to bring positive change, but you need the fearlessness, strength, and courage of a Kakenya to swing it.

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