A photo of a book called The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. The cover has a blue background with yellow and white writing and three white streaks on each side of word lift.
Macmillan Publishers, design by Keith Hayes

Lessons Learned From: “The Moment of Lift”

In her book “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World”, Melinda Gates, cofounder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses a number of ways women are discriminated against, denied their rights, or held back in some way. To demonstrate this, Gates looks at the rights, or lack thereof, of women and girls in areas such as education, family planning, unpaid work, and agriculture. The book presents a fascinating look at the work the Gates Foundation is doing around the world while also acting as a memoir of sorts, detailing Gates’ journey from an all-girls Catholic high school to working at Microsoft, becoming a mother of three, and finally, to co-founding the Gates Foundation.

“Their cup is already full”

In one example, the Foundation funded the work of Vishwajeet Kumar, a doctor working in Shivgarh, a village in Uttar Pradesh, India. Kumar’s organization, Saksham, examined data around births in poor areas of India and found that many common practices were actually high risk for babies.

You can’t meet a need you don’t know about

Another important challenge Gates discusses is around data, or more specifically, what the data doesn’t capture. In one example, Gates notes that women who collect data on contraceptive use in Kenya, known as Resident Enumerators (RE), learn a lot about the women they meet with that they cannot easily record. One example given was that of a woman whose husband was against family planning and refused to let the RE speak to his wife and daughters. Gates notes that they have no way to include situations like this in the data.

“American billionaires…will mess everything up”

One common criticism of international NGOs I’m glad Gates addressed is the tendency to think they can swoop in and solve a problem without recognizing the customs and traditions in place in the country of interest. In Gates’ case, skepticism of the Foundation came from someone who would later become a mentor, Hans Rosling. Prior to a talk Gates would be speaking at, Rosling thought “American billionaires giving away money will mess everything up.” (30) Rosling’s mind was changed after the talk however, as Gates discussed the trips she’d gone on and what she learned from the people she met, rather than basing her ideas on data she analyzed from afar.

When you lift up women, you lift up humanity

Ultimately, “The Moment of Lift” highlights the need to work in a way that lifts women up, especially when designing, implementing, or funding development projects. Using multiple examples, Gates shows the dangers of excluding women from this work and the benefits of including them, both at the individual and societal level.

MPA. Currently an immigration paralegal, interested in migration, international development, research, and policy writing.