Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Using Our Voices, Being the Change, and New York City Drivers

November 13, 2017

When is the last time you asked someone to change their behavior?  How successful were your efforts?  Perhaps even more challenging, when was the last time someone asked you to change a behavior of yours?  How did that go for you?

Here’s an embarrassing example from my own life:  I grew up in New York City, and learned how to drive jockeying against taxicabs and truck on the streets of Manhattan.  I copied my father’s annoying habit of shaking my finger at drivers who cut me off or glided into my lane without using their turn signals.  Those habits die hard, and even after 28 years driving in the far friendlier streets of Seattle, my friends, (and my husband), still gently chastise the remnants of my New York driving habits that mark me as an East Coast jerk.

So, change is hard.  And despite my own personal challenges with change, I love working at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation precisely because we encourage positive change. The change we seek includes developing tools to expand opportunity and equitable outcomes – tools like contraceptives, vaccines, mobile banking, and consistently high educational standards.  We also encourage people to change their behaviors to make use of these tools, as in family planning, vaccinations, small business and agricultural practices, and networks of teachers who share lesson plans and best practices. Although both types of change-related efforts are challenging and difficult work, changing behaviors is – in practice –  much more difficult than creating new tools.

Most of the communication about change that we do at the Gates Foundation targets very specific audiences and very specific tools and behaviors. We help prevent (and maybe even eradicate) specific diseases in specific countries. We connect the dots between economic security and being able to choose when to have children. We want to increase the productivity of small farms in sub-Saharan Africa.  We believe that education is the path to opportunity and every young person should have a fair and equitable chance to reach their full potential.

The newly re-opened Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center in Seattle is one of the few places where we invite everyone, from anywhere, to learn more about our work in a deep and meaningful way—the Discovery Center brings stories of progress from around the world to life, and offers an opportunity to create your own stories of progress on issues that matter to you. If you arrive curious about what it takes to improve lives and make a difference, you will leave inspired with specific actions you can take in your own life to be a change-maker.

Whether you are a millennial high-tech worker coming to an event for young professionals, a student on a school tour or part of our ongoing educational projects, an informed resident drawn in by our public programs on homelessness or women’s empowerment – or even just someone who wanders by – we seek to spark ideas about how you can make a difference in the place you call home, wherever that may be. 

We invite you to discover stories of how determined individuals, working in their own communities, have become part of the transformation that creates new opportunities, challenges the status quo, improves people’s circumstances, and saves lives. Major transformations in health, culture, development and education begin with the behavior changes of individuals in the places where we live, work and play. These changes depend on how we show up, and how we speak up.

Nate Howard, a young activist in Southern California who started Movement BE, puts it this way: “If you don’t have your own foundation, your voice is your philanthropy.”  Very few of us will ever have our own foundations.  At the Discovery Center, we’re encouraging individuals of all ages, in all communities across the planet, to embody the changes they want to see in the world.  To use their voices and actions as their philanthropy.  The contents of the highly interactive exhibits are all about changing how we behave with and towards each other, and, as importantly, changing the ways in which we perceive ourselves as agents of change.

If you live in or are visiting the Seattle area, I encourage you to drop by the Discovery Center—near the Space Needle at Fifth Avenue North and Harrison Street.  I guarantee you’ll leave with ideas about how you can make a difference in the world.

What’s one step that you can take, today, that will help make your own family, neighborhood, or community more like the place you want it to be? While you’re thinking, I’ll commit to my own behavior change—to be a friendlier, less New York, driver--skip the road rage and instead use my voice to inspire change.

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