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#InspirationStory: This Is What I Do

February 26, 2014

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center has partnered with StoryCorps to share audio stories each month from inspiring folks in the community on the topic of “Who Inspires You to Make a Difference?” This week, we’re launching the seventh featured story on our Facebook page.

Saara Romu tells her brother Robbie about an experience she had working as a Senior Program Officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in India.

We spoke with Saara and Robbie to learn more about what inspires them to make a difference and their experience chatting with StoryCorps. Learn more in the short interview below.

Saara, if you could craft a response to skeptics who don’t believe the poor matter, what would you say?

Saara: I tend to believe that people form ideas and opinions from the information they have and I think that it is important to share the full picture to provide a more accurate understanding.

I think Warren Buffett probably has the best explanation of the arbitrary lot we are given in life with the ovarian lottery and why it makes sense to help those born into disadvantage. But when people believe others do not matter, equalizing arguments like this may not change minds.

Another response to skeptics is to show how we are inextricably linked to one another and that taking actions that benefit the most vulnerable benefits everyone. Using women’s education is one example. When girls are allowed to stay in school there are immense impacts including healthier and more economically stable families, greater participation in the economy resulting in an improved country GDP, and ultimately an improved global economy. When you help girls, you help the entire world.

I know that it is a challenge to reach people who are not interested or don't think we can do anything, but making information approachable and engaging like Hans Rosling can help. And, we shouldn’t give up on communicating to skeptics because the more people who fully understand the issues and our connectedness, the more we will improve lives and our world.

Saara, what do you find most rewarding about your work?

Saara: It is rewarding to know that what I do might lead to saving lives and improving opportunities for the most vulnerable.

When I look at my work at the foundation, I am most excited to be working with an organization that improves the lives of women, which, consequently has a larger impact on the world (look at the data and evidence!). Of course, we still have a long way to go with equality in the developing and developed world, but attention to the issues that affect women and girls does make a difference. I’m inspired by Melinda Gates’s leadership, courage, and voice on these issues and being a part of this work is the greatest reward.

Saara, what inspired you to make your career about uplifting the world’s poorest people?

Saara: We are at a unique point in history. Due to innovation in technology and research, we are and can make an enormous difference. Knowing that guinea worm is almost gone and polio could be eradicated in 5 years is enormous! These are big audacious goals that require vast numbers of dedicated people around the globe and we can do it. Knowing that I can do something is inspiring enough.

Robbie, you and Saara, grew up in remote Canada. Do you think your childhood experience has given you a different perspective on the world and global development issues in particular? 

Robbie: Definitely. Growing up in a remote area without basic necessities like clean running water and electricity made me appreciate the strength and resolve it takes to survive, and even thrive, in difficult situations. I saw it first in my mother, who was determined to provide for us, regardless of the hurdles our uncommon life threw in her path, and then in myself when I realized that I could face adversity with similar courage and grace.

Saara and Robbie, what was the best or more surprising part of your experience recording your story with StoryCorps?

Saara: I certainly didn't expect Robbie to ask me about it not being my job to change the world. He has always been an inspiration to me. He writes about LGBT issues and acts as a mentor for at-risk kids. Recording our story with StoryCorps made me realize even more that despite our different personal storylines, we both choose similar ways of living in this world.

Robbie: I was quite surprised that I made her cry. She's one of the strongest, most determined people I know, so seeing her open up and become vulnerable was unexpected. It made me realize just how deep her passion runs.

Click here to listen to Saara talk with Robbie about her drive to change the status quo.

Get Involved with the Visitor Center

  • Join us at the Visitor Center to explore our full library of stories about making a difference. Stay tuned throughout the year as we publish new stories on our Facebook page each month.
  • Follow the Visitor Center on Facebook and Twitter, and inspire your community by sharing your own story of making of difference using the #InspirationStory hashtag.
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