Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.



The 4 Ideas That Melinda Gates Thinks Are Changing The World

From mobile banking to contraception, this is what she thinks is going to drive the next wave of advances for people in the developing world.

For the past three years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has hosted TEDxChange, a TEDx event with the goal of spurring action around the ideas supported by the foundation. This year, host Melinda Gates introduced seven speakers—a theologian talking about faith and family planning, and children featured in the film The Revolutionary Optimists—who all discussed topics related to the event’s theme of "positive disruption." We talked to her after the event to learn more about some of the things happening around the world that Gates considers to be most disruptive—in a good way.


It’s hard to overstate the impact that M-Pesa, a mobile money system spearheaded by mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania, has had on its millions of users since launching in 2007. Gates believes that it’s one of the most innovative technologies out there. "More people in Kenya are moving money through the M-Pesa system than the banking sector," she says.

In Tanzania, Gates encountered a women’s savings group (a group where women collect money, make loans, and fund businesses) with three members, all of whom used to put money in a lockbox. Now the women are using M-Pesa instead. Their account has a six-digit PIN, and each member knows two of the digits for safety purposes. "To me, that’s incredible innovation and disruption," she says.

Local Development

Why has M-Pesa been so successful? One of the reasons, Gates believes, is that it was developed by Safaricom (the biggest mobile network operator in Kenya) with people living in the country. She points out that "the developing world is littered with pilot projects" designed without a local perspective. These will rarely succeed.

Digital Green

Gates cites Digital Green, an organization that helps farmers in India and throughout South Asia to create educational videos for other farmers, as an example of how communication can create social change. Digital Green solves a few problems: the issue of farmers not trusting advice from people outside their communities, and the challenge of quickly disseminating important information about farming practices. The organization hopes to reach one million farmers in 10,000 villages over the next three years.

Contraception Education and Access, From The Bottom Up

Melinda Gates is known for her safe sex advocacy; at last year’s TEDxChange, she made a splash with a speech promoting universal access to contraception. She believes that this can only happen from a bottom-up approach—not by setting huge goals and trying to systematically implement them (sometimes coercively, as with India’s forced sterilizations in the 1970s). "This is about…educating the women and giving them a decision. Let her make the decision, but educate her," says Gates.

The Gates Foundation does have some goals of its own—specifically, to get 120 million more women access to contraception by 2020. But, says Gates, "It’s very hard to connect to 120 million. It’s the human story that really moves people."

Add New Comment


  • Sam Jacqueline-Steiner

    You've heard of climate change, right? Of course you have, everyone has. Now, how about "Earth Hour?" Probably not, as it's not as common and/or heard about these days. Well thankfully, youtube has created a creative campaign video, that has officially gone viral on their youtube page, with several countries, including here in the U.S., and from all accross the world, as they participate in tonight's big 1 hour, "Earth Hour" event, starting at 8 p.m. EST. And what exactly is "Earth Hour" you ask? It's simply one hour, where everyone here in the U.S., and around the world, turns off their lights, to save electricity. I know it may sound crazy and ridiculous, but I promise you, that it is every bit affective. Saving the climate might sound tough at first, but in fact, it has become a lot easier than it has been, especially in recent years. Raising awareness in creating a greener earth, believe it or not, has become more important, especially with popular TV networks such as Bravo, E!, HGTV, and NBC participating in an annual "green week," for the past few years. And yes, this has proven as quite effective, with even Al Roker himself, mentioning his mode of transportation, his bicycle, to work a few times to dedicated Today Show viewers, through important broadcasts. With E!, HGTV, and Bravo on the other hand, they tend to sell cute, trendy, and environmentally friendly products, all in the name of celebrity during their "Green Weeks," as they overall, hope to gain a higher viewership, and ultimately, higher ratings. The creative team behind "Earth Hour," has always pushed the envelope and pitched the best ideas, and of course, this time is no different, as they filmed dance crews from all over the world, in addition to highlighting several iconic world structures with colorful sky beams and lasers bouncing off the structures, helping to creating the "Earth Hour" vision, vibe, and the youtube video campaign, itself. So, forget the modern day PSA, and view the "Earth Hour" youtube video however many times that your heart desires, as the campaign sheds light on the big 1 hour event tonight, March 23rd, 2013, starting at 8 p.m. EST, as those across the U.S. and across the globe, promise to turn their lights off at once, as they spread the powerful message of "Earth Hour," all in promoting a greener climate, and a greener world. With that said, it's finally time to step up to the plate and do your part! Now my question to you is, will you participate?

  • Trump

    Raising awareness in creating a greener earth, believe it or not, has become more important, especially with popular TV networks such as Bravo, E!, HGTV, and NBC participating in an annual "green week,  
    ----------- This is really just preening moral vanity at this point. A chance for some of these people/organizations to show they're concerned for a couple of days while enduring close to zero disruption in their lives. If these networks were REALLY and truly concerned with a greener earth, they'd close down. Because a large network (let alone a conglomerate like the NBC networks) is surely a very wasteful enterprise, no?

  • Trump

    Most of the world aspires to have lights against the cold and darkness. I will not be turning off my lights - in fact, I will turn on all lights and appliances in my home and celebrate Civilization Hour. In large swaths of the world, it is Earth Hour every single hour. They'd give much to be able to join us in the light that you want to dim.