Wisdom//

How to Solve a Problem With No Apparent Solution, According to Top Problem Solver Melinda Gates

Solving problems like poverty and inequality takes some serious strategizing.

Courtesy of Bryan Bedder / Stringer / Getty Images
Courtesy of Bryan Bedder / Stringer / Getty Images

Melinda Gates knows how to get things done.

As one of the world’s most powerful women, Gates runs The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At its helm, Gates has invested in fighting diseases and finding solutions to poverty across the globe. She earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 for her philanthropic efforts.

Gates recently sat down with Business Insider US Editor-in-Chief Alyson Shontell to discuss her new book, “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”

During the conversation, Gates said solving problems like poverty and inequality takes some serious strategizing. You can’t just be a billionaire pushing your money and agenda on people because the right solutions aren’t always intuitive.

From Business Insider’s interview with Gates:

Shontell: What is your strategy for problem solving?

Gates: To surround yourself with experts and then go out in the field and do site visits and really hear from people on the ground what they want and how interventions will or won’t change their lives.

It’s only by taking the latest, greatest innovations in science and surrounding yourself with those people and understanding people’s lives that I think you can eventually create change.

One example Gates gave was helping combat HIV in an impoverished area. She went in thinking the solution was to give sex workers more condoms. Then she learned that if sex workers tried to force condoms on customers, they would often get physically assaulted by the men for making such a suggestion.

Gates’ team had to work with the women to first help solve the physical violence issue. They created an alert system for women to use when they felt they were in danger, and a nearby team could run to help scare off the man. It began to work, and eventually the HIV cases started to go down too.

In another instance, Gates recalled a trip to Malawi where she saw women walking ten to fifteen miles in searing heat to get their children vaccinated. Gates asked a mother whether she was getting shots for her children, and she responded that she was actually there to get a birth control injection.

“Why do I have to walk twenty kilometers in this heat to get my shot?” the mother asked Gates.

After speaking to women in the area, Gates realized mothers felt more frustrated by lack of access to birth control than to vaccination medicine. Not only were many women dying in childbirth, the mothers who lived had little resources to take care of multiple kids, Gates learned.

Those conversations with everyday women inspired Gates to make investment in family planning a large part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, something she might not have known to do if she hadn’t bothered to embed herself in the culture she was trying to help.

Today, the charity aims to bring high-quality contraceptive services to 120 million women and girls in the poorest countries by 2020.

“I have always carried in my head images of the women I’ve met, and I keep photographs of the ones who have moved me the most,” Gates wrote in her book.

“What was the point of their opening their hearts and telling me about their lives if I wasn’t going to help them when I had the chance?”

Originally Published on Business Insider.

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