A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

Four people who are lifting up humanity

Melinda Gates stands with a group of women at the Prerna School alongside founder Sister Sudha

When you lift up women, you lift up humanity. That's the idea behind my book, The Moment of Lift, which is a collection of stories about people I've met who are dedicating their lives to lifting up others.

Here, I'd like to introduce you to four of those people. They've passed laws, built schools, and saved lives. I hope they inspire you as much as they've inspired me.

Portrait of former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Between 1989 and 2003, back-to-back civil wars killed nearly 250,000 people in the West African country of Liberia. When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia two years later—the first woman in Africa to be elected head of state—securing a lasting peace for her country was at the very top of her agenda.

“There was no roadmap for post-conflict transformation,” she said. “But we knew that we could not let our country slip back into the past.” In 2011, she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, which she accepted in a speech dedicated to women around the world, “especially those who have seen the devastation that merciless violence can bring” and had paid its price “in the currencies of blood, of tears, and of dignity.”
Portrait of Sister Sudha Varghese
Sudha Varghese

Sister Sudha Varghese was a young girl attending Catholic school in southwestern India when she read an article about nuns and priests who worked with the poor and knew instantly she’d been called to a life of service. Her faith taught her to go to the people on the margins, so after she became a nun, she began working to improve the lives of women and girls from one of India’s most underserved communities—the Musahar. Today, Sister Sudha runs a free school that teaches girls lessons in everything from reading to karate. But most importantly, Sister Sudha teaches her students to look at themselves differently—to gain self-confidence, to develop their gifts, to defend their own rights.
Patricia, a seed grower from Malawi, stands in her field.

High-quality peanut seeds are incredibly difficult to mass produce, which means farmers in Malawi often have to plant low-quality seeds that are susceptible to disease and pests and don’t yield bumper crops even in the best circumstances. One solution to this problem is the hard work of women like Patricia, a smallholder farmer who decided to be a seed multiplier to help her neighbors grow enough to support their families. Patricia was selected because after attending workshops about gender roles, she and her husband learned to make decisions together and work jointly to use new tools and techniques to improve their yields. Patricia devotes so much of her time to producing high-quality seeds for the other farmers in her village because she wants them to see that their farms can secure a prosperous future for their children, especially if men and women work them together.
Portrait of Pastor David Opoti Inzofu
Pastor David Opoti Inzofu

Barriers between women and contraceptive access look different in every country. In Kenya, the most powerful obstacles are cultural and religious. Pastor David Opoti Inzofu understands how important male allies are when it comes to overcoming them. He was raised in a conservative family in Western Kenya and, as a young man, thought family planning was a population-control conspiracy. Today, that is exactly the kind of myth he uses his pulpit to help dismantle. In his sermons, he educates his congregation about the benefits of timing and spacing pregnancies and explains why he believes the bible teaches that families should have only as many children as they can care for. He also encourages other men to reject the idea that family planning is a “women’s issue” and instead start seeing contraceptives as an essential tool for keeping families healthy and thriving.