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Melinda Gates: Global Impact

“What great changes have not been ambitious?”

Melinda Gates is a business leader and philanthropist, and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside her husband Bill Gates. Today, they are the richest couple in the world, but Melinda did not come from a privileged background. She has seen great changes in her life and the ambition that drove her in her education and career now drives her great ambitions in philanthropy.

Melinda’s father worked as an aerospace engineer in Dallas, Texas and her mother was a stay-at-home mom who came to regret not going to college. For this reason, her parents encouraged her and her three siblings to focus on their studies, saying, “No matter what college you get into, we will pay for it.” Melissa’s father created a side-line source of income in rental properties, and everyone in the family, including Melissa, helped to run and maintain the business by doing whatever jobs were required every weekend.

Daily Goal

When Melissa was 14, her father bought an early Apple computer to help with the family rental business and she took to it straight away, learning BASIC and then teaching her friends the programming language during school vacations. At Ursuline, the all-girls Catholic high school she attended, the motto is Serviam, translating from Latin as “I will serve” and the students are expected to get involved in volunteer projects, but Melissa was something of an all-round star pupil. Her former math and computer science teacher has said of her, “Every day she had a goal; the goals were run a mile, learn a new word, that sort of thing, but her ambition was never abrasive. Never. She was always lovely and charming, and she would win people over by being persuasive.”

It was during her Freshman year that Melissa discovered only the top two students from Ursuline had earned places in elite schools. She says, “I realized that the only way to get into a good college was to be valedictorian or salutatorian. So that was my goal.” She achieved her valedictorian goal, and her valedictory speech perhaps gave an indication of the philanthropist she would become: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Career Ambition

She achieved her ambition of earning a place at Notre Dame University. However, a visit to Notre Dame with her father led to disappointment as officials informed them the university was shrinking its computer science department, saying, “computers are a fad” – this was 1982! She chose to attend Duke University instead where she earned her BA, going on to achieve an MBA and then joining Microsoft in 1987. She was the youngest and the only female recruit in a batch of ten MBA’s, but her ambition saw her rise to the position of general manager of information products within nine years before making the decision to leave the company and concentrate on family life – having married the company CEO.

Impatient Optimist

But Melinda’s “goal a day” ambition didn’t stop there. Shortly after their wedding, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was born. Describing herself as an “impatient optimist”, the Foundation’s primary goal is to improve equity in the United States and around the world, and eradicate the illnesses that cause the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world every year. Just over two decades later and Melinda writes in the Foundation’s annual letter: “Polio will soon be history. In our lifetimes, malaria will end. No one will die from AIDS. Few people will get TB. Children everywhere will be well nourished. And the death of a child in the developing world will be just as rare as the death of a child in the rich world.”

A huge ambition, perhaps, but what great changes have not been ambitious? As Melinda says, “Goals are only wishes unless you have a plan,” so what’s your goal for today?

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The Dalai Lama: Man of Peace

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

The title of Dalai Lama was created in 1578 and the current holder is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet but he has lived in exile in India since 1959, so how is it possible for someone forced to flee their own country in fear of their life to believe that it is always possible to be kind?

Tenzin Gyatso was born into a farming family in a remote area of Tibet. His birth name was Lhamo Thondup, which can be translated as “Wish-Fulfilling Goddess” and he grew up as one of seven surviving children out of sixteen born to his parents. At the age of two, Lhamo Thondup was discovered to be the new incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and he was officially declared the spiritual leader of Tibet in 1940 at just five years of age. Now known by his new name, Tenzin began his education as a novice monk, with great emphasis placed on the study of Buddhist philosophy.

Death Threat

In 1950, at the age of fifteen, the 14th Dalai Lama was given full temporal (political) authority in Tibet after the invasion of 80,000 Chinese soldiers who took control of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city. His elder brother, who had been kept a virtual prisoner by the People’s Liberation Army of China, was set free and sent to Lhasa on the condition that he should persuade Tenzin to accept Chinese rule. The plan was that if persuasion failed, he was to kill his brother and he would then be rewarded.

Facing the threat of full-scale war, Tenzin asked Great Britain and America for help, but no help was offered, and he recalls “feeling great sorrow and frustration” that Tibet was alone against the might of Communist China. A delegate was sent to Beijing, tasked with persuading China not to invade Tibet, but he was forced, virtually at gunpoint, to sign an “agreement” returning Tibet to the motherland.

Escape to Exile

Tensions grew between Tibetan resistance fighters and the Chinese, and in 1959, Tenzin was forced to flee to the safety of India. It was a dangerous escape plan and the journey took three weeks to complete. The 14th Dalai Lama and some 30,000 or so Tibetan refugees who escaped with him have remained in exile ever since. His life has been threatened and he has been forced to leave the country of his birth, yet he still believes that kindness is always possible. How can this be?

Well, the 14th Dalai Lama has said, “An eye for an eye… we are all blind,” and as Tibet’s spiritual leader, he believes that with “truth, justice and courage” as weapons, Tibet will one day regain freedom. Through the teachings of Buddhist philosophy, he believes that it is only our enemies who can truly teach us the virtues of compassion, tolerance and patience. He has experienced sorrow and frustration but says, “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.”

Under his leadership, Tibetan cultural traditions continue to be practiced in his exiled community and his message of kindness and compassion in the face of hatred and anger has spread around the globe. When he says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible,” he reminds us of the importance of treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves… what simple act of kindness might you carry out today?

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Mahatma Ghandi: Quiet Strength

“Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.” 

Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement, famed for his use of non-violent passive resistance to gain India’s freedom from British rule. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of civil rights and freedom for all around the world, and his teachings inspired many political leaders to come, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. The story of his personal struggles and experiences in his early life not only help to uncover the true strength of his character, they also demonstrate the truth behind his words when he said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.”

London Bound

In 1888, at the age of 18, Gandhi set sail from India to study law in England. It was hoped that he would one day step into his father’s role as diwan (chief minister) of Porbandar state and a Brahmin priest advised his family that qualifying as a London barrister would help him to succeed in securing this position.

It would be 1891 before Gandhi returned to India, but his planned law practice in Bombay failed due to his difficulty with cross-examining witnesses. In 1893, he took a new post with an Indian company based in South Africa, also under British rule, in which he would work as a legal representative for Muslim Indian Traders. His contract was for one year, but Gandhi remained in South Africa for 21 years.

Discrimination

Gandhi was employed as a lawyer by wealthy Muslims and he also represented Hindu laborers with very few rights. The discrimination faced by Indians and all people of color in South Africa was something he was to experience first-hand, being physically removed from a bus after he refused to vacate his first-class seat. He was then beaten by a bus driver after refusing to give up his seat to a European passenger; prevented from entering several hotels, and kicked into the street by a police officer upholding the South African law that Indians had no right to walk on footpaths.

Witnessing the injustice, prejudice and racism facing Indians in South Africa led to Gandhi seriously questioning the place and standing of his people in the British Empire, proving to be a turning point in his life and the beginnings of his social activism – Gandhi’s will to change the world was on its way to becoming indomitable.

The Boer War

In 1900, Gandhi raised a group of over one thousand Hindu volunteers to aid the British in the Boer War as stretcher-bearers. They were medically certified and trained for front line duties, something Gandhi had been determined to achieve in response to the British belief that Hindus were not suited to physical, dangerous or “manly” tasks. As auxiliaries to a European (white) ambulance corps, Gandhi’s stretcher-bearers proved themselves when they carried wounded soldiers for many miles on foot across terrain that was unsuitable for ambulances, a feat the European volunteers were unable to match due to the heat and lack of food and water.

For their courage, Gandhi and 37 Indian volunteer stretcher-bearers received the Queen’s South Africa Medal. His life-long devotion to ending the “deep disease of color prejudice” and his will to endure whatever hardships this would bring was now indomitable.

Independence

Gandhi returned to India in 1915, but by 1919 he found he was no longer willing to pledge allegiance to the British government after the massacre of 400 unarmed, peaceful protestors, and he returned the medals awarded to him in South Africa. His struggle to achieve independence for India through non-violent civil disobedience would continue until 1947, a time through which he endured imprisonment on more than one occasion and undertook many fasts in protest.

Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and he was. While we may not face the challenges faced by Gandhi in our daily lives at the office, we’d all do well to remember that the changes we want to see in our environment and the people around us must first of all come from us – and our will to be the change we want to see in the world around us must be indomitable.