Melinda Gates describes herself as an “impatient optimist,” something that was nurtured in her while attending Ursuline Academy, the leading Catholic all-girls school in Dallas.
Since Melinda and husband Bill created the Gates Foundation in 2000, they have given away $33.5 billion of their massive wealth from Microsoft and from their close friend, billionaire Warren Buffett. The foundation started the same year as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the 15-year antipoverty campaign centered on 8 global objectives. The two programs share many priorities, such as fighting diseases, reducing extreme poverty, and improving maternal health. The foundation partners with a wide spectrum of organizations. Faith-based groups— including Catholic organizations, World Vision, Lutheran groups, and the Salvation Army—are key recipients of more than 125 foundation grants.
This January, Melinda and Bill Gates announced they were “doubling down” on their poverty-fighting efforts. “The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history,” they said. But along with the foundation’s big bets and big spending has come big controversy. In 2012, the couple helped launch Family Planning 2020, a global effort to make voluntary, artificial contraception available to 120 million poor women by 2020.
The foundation—which does not fund abortions—plans to spend $1 billion on contraception. This has stirred sharp criticism. In 2012, Melinda Gates made a public break with the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial birth control. She said in an interview that when poor women have little access to family planning, “We’re not serving the other piece of the Catholic mission, which is social justice.”
Over the years, the foundation has granted millions to Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International expressly for family planning and contraception. Human Life International (HLI) says the foundation’s claim about not funding abortion is “outright deception,” since HLI believes that some of the contraception methods work after conception, thereby ending the life of an unborn child.
But the new Gates-supported Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide has gained strong endorsement within the Christian community, including from singer Amy Grant, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Hope Through Healing Hands, Jena Lee and James Nardella of Blood:Water Mission and Lwala Alliance in Kenya, respectively, and Elizabeth Styffe of Saddleback Church’s HIV/AIDS Orphan Care Initiative. The coalition supports the goal of voluntary “healthy spacing and timing” of pregnancies—without resorting to abortion.
Timothy C. Morgan, CT senior editor of global journalism, recently spoke with Melinda Gates after she had returned from India, where she visited projects that the foundation supports. [Editor’s note: The views expressed do not imply endorsement from CT.]
You have said that the Gates Foundation catchphrase, “All lives have equal value,” comes from your childhood. Where were you first exposed to this idea?
I went to a Catholic school from K to 12th grade and attended church with my family every Sunday during that time. The New Testament speaks to me. Jesus was always reaching out to the poor, always trying to get people to not see the poor as different from other people. That was ingrained early for me. Ursuline nuns let us question church teachings in class and guided those discussions. The nuns taught us to go out in the community and serve, and that serving one person could make a difference. I served in the local elementary school, the Dallas County courthouse, and the hospital.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview by Timothy C. Morgan