The complex interplay between gender and global health and opportunity is also the subject of Melinda’s book, The Moment of Lift, which debuted in April. The stories within are often raw and moving.
But the real theme of the book—as it is with all things Gates, it seems—is optimism: what Bill and Melinda see as the endless opportunities to fix what’s dragging us down and to “summon the moment of lift for human beings,” as Melinda writes in her book.
“The enormously impressive thing is that Bill and Melinda both bring a kind of infectious optimism that these are problems that can be solved,” says Peter Sands, the former CEO of Standard Chartered who is now executive director of The Global Fund. “Humanity has enormous capacity to innovate and think through and find ways of doing things. And when you spend any time with them, they’re constantly in the mode of saying, ‘What do we do next?’ And I think that’s a fantastically catalytic and inspiring turn to have.”
Both Gateses acknowledge how central this bright-side view is to the mission—and seem to wield it in nearly every public speech and presentation. “Optimism is fundamental to our work,” Melinda tells me in our March interview in Seattle. “We have to be able to see the reality of what’s going on in the world, and to know that and to listen to that. But we have to believe in the world getting better. And we do believe in the world getting better because it is getting better.”
“Bill and Melinda both bring a kind of infectious optimism that these are problems that can be solved.” – Peter Sands, The Global Fund
A child born today is half as likely to die before the age of 5, compared to a child born in the year 2000, she says. The poorest parts of the world are less poor than they were. “And we have to hold that belief in progress and help others hold that belief so they’ll come along on the journey with us. Because look, the journey we’re on is not a solo journey. Many, many, many partners need to be at the table to create, for instance, a new vaccine or a new technology that’ll benefit everybody.”
Bill chimes in, “I’d say that kind of optimism is particularly important now where there’s a kind of turning inward [politically speaking], and the trust in various institutions is down a lot.
“A lot of the things we do take a long time,” he says. “I mean, we’ve been working on an HIV vaccine for over 15 years, and it’ll probably be 10 more years before we get there—so 25 years in total. Malaria eradication, if things go well, is 20 years away. The polio effort started in 1988; we didn’t get engaged until 2000. You know, it’s a long journey.” That’s challenging, he says, when it comes to getting people to commit—especially when the initial impact of the effort, as in malaria reduction, is far away from many of the donors’ front yards. “Optimism,” he says, “is a key part of it to engage people.”
“Yes, we have to believe in what’s possible,” adds Melinda. “It’s not at all a naive optimism. It’s a realistic optimism. We’re trying to envision the future—as leaders envision the future of where their company or their mission will go. And for us it’s a mission that all lives have equal value.”