Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Gates Visitor Center: Young Minds Tackling Big Ideas with Global Agriculture Challenge

January 24, 2013

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center our mission is to educate visitors about the foundation, inspire them about the work of our partners, and motivate them to make a difference in areas they are passionate about.  In our first year of operation, we shared stories of our partners working to improve lives across the globe and highlighted the importance of giving every person the chance to live a healthy,   productive life with more than 40,000 visitors.

Nothing aligns more closely with our mission than working face-to-face with students – our future leaders – as they begin to grasp the depth and breadth of these challenges and simultaneously become inspired to incorporate global problem solving into their lives.

During the last two months I’ve had the privilege of working with 240 remarkable ninth grade students and three devoted teachers from Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Washington exploring global development challenges in the context of human geography. These students started with a classroom assignment to think critically about global agriculture, but before everyone’s eyes, it grew into much more.  

Working in small groups, students researched challenges in either Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia and devised a solution in the form of a mock grant proposal where they identified the strategies and resources required to help farmers overcome these issues. Then within each class, the students selected the best group presentation and idea to represent their class and present their solution in the Visitor Center theater to the public, members of our Agricultural Development team as well as representatives from our Foundation Management Team.

Because the students did their own research and chose solutions based on their findings, the final ideas were as diverse as the students themselves.  The students also captured many of the inherent issues that a proposal would need to address including gender, scalability, and support.  Their ideas were specific and sophisticated.  One group proposed more efficient border regulations between nations to make markets more accessible, whereas another focused on education and compared their project idea to a ripple, whose effects would radiate outward to expand the impact.  What was truly impressive, though, was the shift in the students’ self-perception, from high school students to future change-makers, capable of and excited to make a difference in the world.

Each group concluded their presentation by sharing some key things they learned. Here are some excerpts.

  • “Not every area is as fortunate as our own, but we can still work to improve the areas that are less fortunate in the world.”
  • “I learned that we have responsibility as a developed country to less developed countries.”
  • “Working with the Gates Foundation has shown us how difficult it is to solve global problems and gives us a greater appreciation for what they do.”

Many individuals working in development would likely agree with one student’s lesson learned - “I learned that this stuff is really hard.”

In keeping with the students’ final slides of their presentations, one lesson I learned is the power of projects like this to spark  inspiration that can help youth transition from high school students to future leaders with the potential and drive to solve global and local challenges.

While one of the goals of the Visitor Center is inspiration, I find it a bit ironic that with the passion and optimism of these students, I find myself wondering who in fact was doing the inspiring that day.

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