It’s not your typical Seattle tourist attraction and the Gates Foundation Visitor Center is changing. In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opened it across the street from Seattle Center, this northwest U.S. city’s most popular visitor draw. The Visitor Center is free and offers lots of information about the world’s problems, like malaria, that the Gates Foundation is hoping to impact, perhaps solve. “Enter Curious/Leave Inspired,” is this Center’s wish. This may actually happen after alterations are made.
Ruth & I arrived about 1 pm. There was a guided tour at 1:30. Knowing nothing about the Gates Foundation Visitor Center, we decided to take the tour. While we waited, Ruth & I were encouraged to look at the film currently being shown in the theater. There are about 2 dozen films in rotation. We saw enough of the one playing to get a good idea of the work of the Foundation and learn about Melinda Gates. In the film she was giving a speech to a large audience at something called TED X Change. Educated by nuns, Melinda was trying to convince the audience that women’s universal access to birth control is a good thing. She emphasized the idea that her wish is that such personal choices as # of children should be made at the family level. Melinda is clearly a force for good and a realist.
I learned during the tour that Melinda is taking a much larger role in what the Foundation hopes to accomplish, and that one of her big dreams is increased gender equality. The other 3 voices in The Foundation are Bill Gates, his father who was born in 1925, and Warren Buffett, who has pledged $30 billion to it. One of the more interesting bits of information I learned on the tour is that The Gates Foundation will cease to exist 25 years after the last co-chair dies. In the meantime, Bill & Melinda have pledged 90% of their wealth to make this world a better place.
Their goals are noble and this is a tough sell to tourists. Providing fresh water, innovative toilets, and economic improvement for billions of people, just 3 examples of global problems the Gates Foundation is attempting to solve, seem overwhelming. But I suspect that the hands writing the checks are increasingly realistic about what can be actually be done. Bill Gates, for example, recently indicated that the hardest problem to conquer is better education, one of the initial thrusts of The Gates Foundation. Goals, I suspect, have become more grass-roots with a focus on incremental results. In the meantime, this noble enterprise is about to help eradicate polio in India! I marveled at some of the innovative inventions that are being proposed and developed, like solar refrigerators and a tube that fits easily into a back pocket and can be used to make river water drinkable.
There were few visitors to the Gates Foundation Visitor Center the day Ruth & I were there despite its very desirable location. I suspect that this is one of the reasons why a 2-phase remodel is underway. I was told that this should be accomplished within a year, and that Melinda is deeply involved in what will be done.
The Gates are genuinely engaged in a serious attempt to tackle some of the world’s greatest problems. I admire the effort and wish their Foundation success. I’ll go back to this Visitor Center in 1 year, note the changes, and report on them.