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CNBC Transcript: Exclusive Interview with Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CNBC’s Tania Bryer. The interview will broadcast on CNBC International on Friday, December 1, 2017.

All references must be sourced to CNBC.

Tania Bryer: When I caught up with her at a Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen. I asked her why she felt the need to become more visible.

Melinda Gates: I had purposely tried to be behind the scenes even with the foundation work when the kids were young because I wanted them to get up and into school and have that privacy. And I always said that I wouldn't spend as much time on the foundation until our youngest got into kindergarten, and then when she did I started spending more and more time on the foundation. But as I got deeper and deeper in this work and I realized that one of the things I wanted to do was give voice to all these women all over the world, these women's voices I thought I can't do that unless I use my own voice. I can bring a perspective that's different than Bill's. I can bring these voices forward, and so I started to speak more publicly and then I took this stance on contraceptives which I wasn't planning to take but I felt like that really needed my voice behind it because we didn't have another global champion from it. And then it just grew from there.

TB: Tell me about using your voice for contraceptives because I know you were raised a Roman Catholic, your beliefs are still very strong, so did that sit comfortably with you in your own beliefs?

MG: Well it really was the women that I had met all over the developing world. I was just shocked by how many women were asking me for contraceptives. And so I realized we needed to do something about it. And I kept quite honestly looking for the global champion, I did not want to be the one to take it on and I couldn't find that person. And I thought well you know this work calls us to be our best selves. And it took a lot of courage to say, it's something I certainly believed and I believed in contraceptives for myself, I believed in telling my kids to use them and so I didn't have a problem with my values around that. But to stand up and say this is what I'm going to stand for the world, it took some courage...but the more I stepped into it the more I realized it had to be done and that I could get comfortable with it.

TB: I asked Melinda how her upbringing shaped her.

MG: I think I was incredibly lucky because both of my parents had the value that both my two brothers and my sister and I would all go to college, we were all college going. First of all my dad believed that women could be good in math and science. He role modeled that for me, he was part of the Apollo program putting a man on the moon, and he talked about having women on his technical teams and his teams were better. And at home my dad shared in the chores my brothers, my sister and my mom we all shared the chores because there was so much work to go around. We knew there wouldn't be time to do things as a family to give back or to go to the park and have fun or even to put us through college. My parents had rental properties and we had to all work on those rental properties repairing things fixing things. My sister and I mowed lawns because that was the income that was going to put us through college so as a family we were all working equally to make sure we could all go to college.

TB: You were taught by nuns at a Catholic school. How did that impact your beliefs?

MG: Well my parents sent all of us to Catholic school, both my two brothers and my sister and I, and my sister and I went to an all girls Catholic high school and the fantastic thing about that was the motto of the school was serviam. That is To Serve. And so those very liberal nuns taught us to be out in the community that we needed to give service. I worked at the local school down the road, the public school, I worked in the Dallas County Courthouse, I worked in the hospital but they also told us to question, to question what we were seeing in society and to come back to school and learn about that and even to question our own faith and to really struggle and wrestle with it. Don't just accept it for what it is. And so it taught me that when I was out in society to really look around and see what does poverty look like Why do I get to live in a middle income part of Dallas and people are living in a much worse circumstance in Dallas and what is it that an individual can do to contribute to lifting everybody out of society. So I think I came out of high school really thinking about those issues already.

TB: You went to college you went to Duke and you were studying computer science but there weren't many women or girls really in that field. What was that experience like for you?

MG: Well there were more girls in the field freshman year but they dropped out very quickly. (laughs) And so yeah I was programming with guys all the time and I didn't mind that. I mean I knew what I liked to do and I learned that I could be good on a team with guys, and in fact one thing I learned about programming is that I was actually better on a team than working on a problem alone. And so it was great because I got used even though I'd gone to an all girls high school, I got used to very quickly programming with guys and then that served me really well when I went into the tech industry because again it was so many guys when I went, and that didn't even seem unusual to me because that's what I'd had in college.

TB: Did they ever make you feel inferior though because you were one of the few women?

MG: I didn't really run into it with my peers or much in college. It was more after that and I didn't run into it inside of Microsoft but when I would be out in the industry and I would go out to present, it was almost as if people couldn't believe that a woman could be good at computer science, so that seemed a little strange to me.

TB: And how did you counteract that. What did you do, did you feel defensive or you just felt, I'm just going to show them what I can do?

MG: I was just going to show them what I can do. And I still face that a bit sometimes not very often now in philanthropy, but even in the early days when Bill and I would go into meetings sometimes people would assume well Bill's going to be the one to speak or he's going to be the one that knows what's going on here, and then.. So I just would learn to just overcome that pretty quickly. You know once I had my voice then I think people understood, no this is both of them doing it.

TB: What were the impressions that you had of Bill Gates and the company at the time [when she joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987]?

MG: Well my impressions were really more of the company than of Bill himself. I mean Bill had been on the cover of some magazines at that point so I read a little bit about him but I was going because of the company, I was going because of what this company was doing to further technology in the world and I completely believed in their mission. But I so love what the company did. I just knew I had to be part of it. That that was an industry I wanted to be in.

TB: And when you did meet Bill which was quite soon after you started working there, I believe he asked you out in the car park what happened?

MG: My impression was he was you know, he was very energetic and he was actually very very funny and very witty which I just didn't expect. We ran into each other, yes, in the parking lot at Microsoft and he asked me out. He asked me out for I think two weeks from you know Friday or Saturday night and he said because I have this and that the other thing going and I said well, I said that just, that's not spontaneous enough for me like you know call me up closer to the date. I don't even know what I'm doing. I couldn't believe he knew his calendar like weeks out and so he asked me for my phone number and I gave it to him and he called me about an hour later and he said is this spontaneous enough for you. But again he had two or three things before he was going to be able to go out that night. I finally said OK I'll meet you later for a drink.

TB: Once you were in the relationship, how did it feel at work? Did colleagues treat you differently?

MG: I went to great lengths. I didn't try to keep it secret inside of Microsoft, it's too small a place, but I went to great lengths to make sure that everybody understood that I did not talk to Bill about work. I had a very hard line about that because I was taking teams... I had to go in and meet with him and Steve Balmer about decisions and ask for resources and my teams had to do it routinely and I had to coach them on how to do it and those meetings were never easy. They were tough tough meetings. And so I had this very bright line about that to the point where Bill would tease me outside of work because I just would not talk about work. But everybody knew it inside the company and so there was never anything fake about it if we were there on a Friday night getting ready for a Monday meeting with Bill or Steve I was part of it and you know part of even the 'how do we get through this', 'what are we going to do about that', and I never ever went and talked to him at that time about people behind their back. I just couldn't do it because if I did I wouldn't have any integrity in terms of managing a team and then I wouldn't want to work there.

TB: Did people treat you differently though?

MG: After we got engaged yeah, there was a lot more sort of buzz or you know, I didn't have a ring at first and so, but you know people were kind of looking... And so finally I actually had a joke ring that I think Warren Buffett had given me at one point from Borsheims that was literally, it was a piece of fake silver and it had three little carrots, like the vegetables, carrots on them. So finally I wore that to work and people would say to me about... I'd say yeah I got a three carat ring you know and I thought it just would warm people up to the fact eventually I was going to have a ring. So it was a bit different. And also there was just a lot of press attention right away and so then we started to have to figure out how to kind of deal with that.

TB: I read somewhere that your mum said don't marry the CEO is that right?

MG: Well she didn't think it was a good idea to be dating the CEO. So when I called my parents, again not too long after I was at Microsoft, to say you know hey I'm actually you know this is the person I'm dating, because I didn't want to be talking to them on the phone about somebody I was dating and you know and then spring it on them six months later that you know I'm dating Bill. So I told them very early on and that wasn't the easiest phone call, because you know my mom kind of said Is that a good idea? And I said I don't really know, but you know I like this guy and. And then my parents came out to meet him within that first year and meet his family which was terrific and it was great. He was also nine years older than me. And I think my mom was more concerned about that. But then when my parents met him and actually spent a weekend with us and my younger brothers were there and they saw how young at heart he was, they really liked him. And my mom really liked him.

TB: Melinda when you and Bill went to Africa for the first time together that seemed to be an instrumental moment for both of you. What happened?

MG: We were engaged to be married at that point and it was the first time either of us had ever been to Africa. And so it really just opened our eyes. There was something about meeting the people and seeing that OK you know we could be in a nice you know Jeep or a Range Rover going around. And yet there are people who didn't have shoes and were carrying sticks on their head for firewood and to know that we were getting an airplane flying back home to a place where you have nice cars and great streets and there are people living you know a continent away and just completely different circumstances that you couldn't even imagine, that just didn't seem right to us. And so it really started this series of kind of questions and really for Bill and me a learning journey about well how did the world get this way. How do we get so unequal and okay, is there anything that you could do about that and that kind of started us on our path.

TANIA BRYER VO: In 2006 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was split into two - the foundation itself, and its money-making arm, the trust, which invests globally and funnels that money back into the foundation's work. That same year Warren Buffett came on board pledging to give 99 percent of his fortune to charitable causes. He's now a trustee in the Gates Foundation and a major contributor to the trust.

MG: Bill and I believe advances in science and innovation are what really advanced the world. And so we started with that science focus, we started with the disease approach because we felt like we had to get good at certain things before we would move on. But as we traveled more and more and saw people's lives around the world, we knew it wasn't enough just to solve diseases just to get them started in health, that they had to have something to be able to lift their lives up. And so that's when we started to get involved in the agricultural work, the financial services for the poor.. So that if you could start them on a healthy basic life with great vaccines making sure they didn't get malaria that they had some economic opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. That's how we started to get more into the social work. And when Warren Buffett's money came along, his assets that got announced in 2006, that's when we really started to scale up particularly the agricultural program. I think Warren sees both of our skills and I think he absolutely sees that we do this as a partnership and I think he sees that we both have unique skills and unique talents but that we we merge those together and we, you know Bill and I talk a lot about the foundation. We talk probably about as much as the foundation as we talk about our kids so that's saying alot. A lot of our vacations, still beach vacations, we take long walks on the beach to talk about the Foundation, what we're thinking, where we're going. But I think Warren sees that we bring different perspectives to the work, but we have so much respect for one another's opinions that where we do have differences of opinion we listen very closely and we work it out and we figure out how those differences actually make the work better. And so I think Warren sees the equal partnership and I think he likes that.

TB: There are critics that say that the foundation is too powerful or that you set the agenda or there's no accountability and there's too much power that you have in the Global Health area, what do you say to them?

MG: We're going to get criticized. We ARE doing things that are hard at times. Right. And so I listened to the criticism, Bill listens to the criticism. We decide whether we need to shift, is there something we've changed, you actually learn from criticism at times right. But here's the thing. The things that we're working on in global health are set by the United Nations. So the United Nations set the goal, 193 nations saying they wanted to halve childhood mortality. We look at that and said We believe that too we're doing the technical pieces of what the world has set for a goal so that's not our goal. We're not going out and saying to the world you will cut childhood mortality, we're saying you've set that as a goal. We believe in it too so we're going to go work on it. Same in maternal mortality, same in malaria so. So you know we're doing the best we can with the resources that we have.

TB: Is there ever pressure you feel, are we doing the right thing, are we going to the right projects, the right partners, a responsibility?

MG: Well I think we certainly feel a responsibility and I feel a responsibility not just from the wealth that comes from Microsoft but from Warren Buffett's wealth. I mean if you feel a responsibility giving your own wealth away, try giving away somebody else's money right. And so it means all the more you're thoughtful and responsible and careful about that.

TB: What would you like to achieve with that [80 million dollar investment in data for women and girls announced at the 2016 Women Deliver Conference] Melinda, and also is there something that personally touches you?

MG: Well what I would like to achieve with this 80 million dollar investment in data is to really understand what it is that women face all over the world and where we might make investments to make changes for women. So today if you look at the data there are just huge gaps. We don't know very much about the unpaid work that women do every day and there's lots of unpaid work whether it's carrying firewood chopping firewood carrying it carrying water but we know that all that unpaid work is also undervalued in society. And yet our economies are built on the back of that unpaid labor, and unpaid work whether it's work a woman wants to do caring for a child or an elderly person, or it's chores it's cleaning and cooking and carrying firewood. It keeps her from actually earning an income and being part of the productive part of society. So we need to look at that and decide OK what is it how much is it. Can you reduce it in certain countries. Can you bring in labor saving devices so that a woman has a chance to be a productive member of society to use her full talents it's one of those root hidden inequities that we don't even talk about. But if she can use her talents. Think about what she does then for herself and her family and society.

TB: And at home do you share the chores?

MG: At home we do share the chores. So after dinner all of us get up and clean the table do the dishes put out the garbage. In fact we finally have a rule, because I was still doing a little bit more when the kids were little, than the kids were, Bill was you know and I realised I was the last one in the kitchen even though everyone was helping. We finally made a rule that no one leaves the kitchen until mom leaves the kitchen. And guess what everything happens a lot faster after dinner.

TB: What's been your proudest moment of the foundation so far?

MG: The work that we've done in vaccines to really get vaccines out to hundreds of millions of children. I mean there are three million children alive today because of those vaccines and when we started in this work there was you know a 20 or 25 year lag between when a vaccine would come out in the United States and it would get to the developing world even when it got there it wasn't all the right strains that they needed. And so to know that children are alive because of vaccines and and even in this family planning work we've only been at it since 2012, but there are over 20 million women who voluntarily have gotten family planning access who wouldn't have had it otherwise.

TB: And personally?

MG: There was a woman I met actually in 2012 in the slums of Nairobi and her name was Marianne. And I had sat with a group of women and were talking about the importance of contraceptives to them and they were telling me all these things and laughing at the things I didn't understand about their lives. But finally when we were all finished talking about the importance of contraceptives she finally summed it up and she had a beautiful baby girl in her arms and she said you know I want to give all good things to this child before I have another one. And I thought Isn't that what parenting is all about? That we all want every good thing for our child, before you have the next one and whenever I talk to parents in the developing world it would be like talking to the moms in my book club right. We all want the best for our kids. Everyone's about the next generation. How do I make sure my kids get a great start in life and a great education. And it's those universal truths that I think keep me coming back to this work, and and the women that I meet all over the world.

TB: And will the Gates Foundation work ever be done and do you want your children to continue it?

MG: We definitely have an end date for the foundation. So 20 years after the last, whichever the last of us is to die, Bill or me, the foundation will be over because we feel like we don't have a crystal ball to project in the future what the problems of the world will be and it'll be up to those generations to do that.

And to our children, it really is going to depend. I mean right now what we've said to them is that we want them to live their lives we want them to figure out what their talents are what they're interested in doing in the world.

So you know our oldest is in college right now. She's figuring that out. Our son is in high school starting to figure that, our daughter in middle school figuring that out. I want to see where their passions go and what they want to do. And then later they can figure out you know in what way they will give back to the world. They certainly have the values inculcated in them though that we have a responsibility as a family, no matter whether they participate in the foundation or they don't at some point, they are lucky to have grown up in the United States, to have gone to great schools and so they have something to give back to the world. And that starts with their talents. And so I'll be excited to see what they do in that regard.

TB: And your passion will never have finish?

MG: No I don't think so. I think this will be work that I will do until I die. And I'm happy about that.

TB: Melinda Gates thank you so much for your time today, its been such a pleasure.

MG: Thank you.

For more information about The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation please visit their Web site.

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