At the beginning of every year, Bill and Melinda Gates publish a letter in which they outline the goals of their philanthropic organization. Their latest letter is written directly to high school students, the group they say will ultimately solve the world’s biggest problems.
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In the letter published on Monday, the couple reveals what superpower they would choose, writing that they were asked this question recently by high school students in Kentucky. Bill wrote that he would want “more energy,” and his letter addressed the critical needs of the “energy poor” world.
He said in his letter that poverty wasn’t just about lacking finances.
“It’s about the absence of the resources the poor need to realize their potential,” he wrote, noting that more than one billion people around the world did not have electricity.
Melinda said she would want more time, and she wrote about addressing the needs of women around the world. Even in 2016, she wrote, girls and women “will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility.”
Bill and Melinda Gates spoke to “GMA" co-anchor Robin Roberts about their letter. The couple was in the Times Square studio, where several teens from the New York Academy of Sciences’ Global STEM Alliance and iMentor had also gathered to speak with them.
When Roberts asked Bill why this year’s letter was directed to teens, and he said it was because young people would be tasked with finding the answers to the world’s most pressing problems.
“So it's the young generation that's got the innovation and the perspective that'll help drive what probably will take a generation or more to fully achieve,” Bill said.
Roberts asked Melinda about the outlook for young women.
“If you poll our young teens today, they think that women are going to be different in the home 15 years from now, different than their grandmother's generation. But it's actually not true. Especially when you look at this unpaid work that women do at home,” she said.
That unpaid work has an impact, she said.
“When I talk about unpaid work, it's some of the caring things we want to do at home, like care for our children or the elderly. But it's things like chores. And if you are spending your time, particularly in the developing world, carrying water, chopping wood, or even in the U.S. doing laundry or chores, it means you don't reach your potential,” she noted.
Bill explained his wish for more energy.
“Well, energy is probably more fundamental than people realize. Life started really improving a few hundred years ago when we got energy. And so the idea that you can just flip that light switch, that's pretty magical. We all take that for granted. And yet there's several billion people who don't have it,” he said.
The students had lots of questions.
“So we all know about wind and solar technology. But I'm wondering -- what other technologies are you excited about that are less well known?” Gabe asked Bill.
“That's a very good question,” Gates replied. “Wind and solar, if we could bring the price down even more dramatically and be able to store that energy because it's intermittent, that's one cap to a solution. Another cap is instead of taking the sun and making electricity, which is hard to store, to directly make gasoline...so it may come in a form that we don't recognize as one of our key sources right now.”
Another student, Urooba, pointed to the question of women in Pakistan who faced obstacles in their careers. She asked Melinda how those women could overcome the “problem of time poverty."
Melinda replied that first the issue had to be acknowledged as being a problem. She also said women should participate in the political process.
“I would say in terms of reducing this inequity, go into STEM fields,” she said, using the term that refers to the study of science, technology, engineering and math.
Those fields are the ones that will give rise to innovations that will help women spend less time laboring over chores, she said.
“And lastly I would say, redistribute the work load in your own home,” Melinda added. “You need to talk with your partner even before you're married about whose roles and responsibilities. What are the hidden expectations of this work?”
Noland asked how the “simple act of turning off the faucet” or lights could help save energy on a larger scale.
“Well, it's important we're aware that Americans use twice as much energy per person than even the other well-to-do countries,” Bill replied. “And so if you get that mindset of ‘how do we conserve it?’ you help with the local water shortage, you save money. Awareness is where it all begins, and conservation is a piece of what we need to do.”
The Gateses ended their annual letter by issuing a joint plea for young people to get involved.
“We’re not saying that everyone needs to dedicate their lives to the poor. Your lives are busy enough doing homework, playing sports, making friends, pursuing your dreams. But we do think that you can live a more powerful life when you dedicate some of your time and energy to something much larger than yourself. Find an issue you’re passionate about and learn more. Volunteer or, if you can, donate a little money to a cause,” the Gateses wrote. “Whatever you do, don’t be a bystander. Get involved. You may have the opportunity to make your biggest impact when you’re older. But why not start now?”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the largest private nonprofits in the world. It works to help people improve their health, lift themselves out of poverty and get the best possible education.