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In a conversation captured for the Global Moms Relay, Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation asks Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about the power of mothers.
What was something your mom said that always stayed with you and how has it affected your life?
My mom always told me, “set your own agenda or someone else will set it for you.” Now I tell my children the same thing. If you don’t understand what your goals are and where you want to go, it’s easy to get sidetracked or pulled off your path by others. But if you have a clear vision for what you want to accomplish in life, you can do amazing things.
Is there one thing that your mom taught you that particularly stands out?
Every day after school, my mom and I sat down over a glass of iced tea and talked about my day. We talked about what I was struggling with, what went well, what I was excited about. Knowing that I have my mom’s support, that she’s listening to me and that she’s there for me has been an incredible source of strength. I’ve tried to follow her example with my own kids and I make a point of being there and listening to them.
Is there something special you learned from another culture that has affected your world view?
I’ve had the privilege of traveling around the world and meeting so many families — in places like India, Senegal, Tanzania and right here in the United States. I’m always struck by the similarities I see in parents who come from very different places; we all want what’s best for our kids.
Earlier this year, my daughter Jenn and I spent a few days living with a family in rural Tanzania. As I got to know the parents — Anna and Sanare — they told me how worried they were about their middle daughter Grace. She didn’t pass her exams and wasn’t accepted into the local government school. They knew that an education was critical to her future and were willing to do whatever it took to make sure she could go to school. I don’t know a single parent anywhere who doesn’t worry about their children in precisely the same way.
What has being a mother taught you — or is still teaching you about yourself?
Being a mom has taught me to flexible. As my kids get older, I’m constantly learning (and re-learning) how to strike the right balance between establishing guard rails to keep them safe and giving them the room they need to grow and explore and become their own person. And every time I think I have it figured out, things change and I have to adjust again!
Melinda Gates with her mom and grandmother.
How did you learn to give and how are you teaching your kids to contribute to the world around them?
Giving back to the community was part of my family’s core values growing up. But it was when I was in high school that I really started to understand in my own way how important and rewarding volunteering to help others could be. I spent time tutoring students at the local schools, helping patients at the hospital, and working at the Dallas County Courthouse, and it was thrilling to feel like I was making a difference in people’s lives.
Bill and I have tried to instill the value of service in our own kids. They’re involved in volunteering in our community in Seattle through their school and the local food bank. But we’ve also involved our children in our work with the foundation. They’ve travelled with us to places like Zimbabwe and Haiti to see first-hand what life is like for people living in very different circumstances from ours — and to understand that it’s possible to empower communities around the world so they can lift themselves out of poverty.
Talk to us about what you have witnessed about the power of mothers around the world?
Our desire to bring every good thing to our children is a force for good in the world. Whenever I travel in developing countries, I take time to meet with women in the communities I’m visiting. It’s a great opportunity to just listen. Women will tell me their hopes and dreams for their children. They want to be sure their kids are healthy and that they’re getting an education, because more than anything they want their children’s lives to be better than their own. Unfortunately, many of the women I meet don’t have access to high-quality health care and education for their children. If we can fill these gaps, we can truly unleash the power of mothers. When that happens, life will get better for literally hundreds of millions of people very fast.
View Melinda Gates’ Global Moms Relay piece on Huffington Post here and learn how sharing this post can help moms and babies everywhere!