Bill and Melinda Gates call on high school students to help solve global problems

Bill and Melinda Gates have turned to America’s school students to solve the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change and eliminating gender inequality.

Richard Vaughan

News article image

The philanthropic pair have penned their annual letter setting out their priorities for their their charity the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The letter was penned following a visit to a high school in Kentucky where students asked them what superpower they would choose. Mr Gates answered “more energy” while Ms Gates responded with “more time”.

The two “powers” formed the heart of their charity’s list of priorities, in which the co-founder of Microsoft called for school students to “study extra hard” to figure out ways to solve the problem of getting energy to people in the developing world and to tackle the ever-growing problem of climate change.

Climate and energy issues

“First, it’s important for everyone to get educated about this energy challenge,” he writes. “Many young people are already actively involved in climate and energy issues and I’m sure they could use more help. Your generation is one of the most globally minded in history, adept at looking at our world’s problems beyond national borders. This will be a valuable asset as we work on global solutions in the decades ahead.

“Second, if you’re someone with some crazy-sounding ideas to solve our energy challenge, the world needs you. Study extra hard in your math and sciences. You might just have the answer.”

And Ms Gates believes the time and energy are connected. Her priority focused on the imbalance in unpaid work between men and women. Women, particularly in the developing world are “time poor” to a far greater degree than in the developed world.

“In poorer countries...most women still haul water, clean clothes by hand, and cook over an open flame,” she says.

“The solution is innovation, and you can help. Some of you will become engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and software developers. I invite you to take on the challenge of serving the poor with cheap, clean energy, better roads, and running water. Or maybe you can invent ingenious labor-saving technologies.

“Can you imagine a machine that washes clothes using no electricity and very little water? Perhaps you can improve on the mortar and pestle, the 40,000-year-old technology I see women using to grind grain into food every time I travel in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.”

But in the end, she adds, the goal is to change the norm when it comes to splitting tasks, one where men and women take on a 50/50 share. 

The couple added that the reason they had addressed the letter to students was because they would be the ones to tackle these problems.

"We are dedicating this year’s letter to talking about the opportunities we see to overcome these often overlooked challenges. We’re writing to high school students because you’re the ones who will ultimately be solving these problems," the letter states.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

Latest stories