Book Review: The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

I only review books that have blown my mind, helped me grow and taught me things I couldn’t possibly have figured out for myself.

My reviews are bulleted for easy consumption.


It’s a very frank, vulnerable, personal insight into the mind of a woman who we know as a hugely wealthy and high-profile public figure. I thought her honesty was very brave and generous-hearted. Insecurity and imposter syndrome does not go away with great success or profile, and she’s had her own insecurities to deal with, especially as the wife of one of the world’s most successful businessmen and most well-known philanthropists. I enjoyed reading about her struggles to carve out an identity for herself in this dynamic.

No one can accuse Melinda of not getting her hands dirty. She has put in years of work on the ground with some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world and brings huge amounts of experience and thoughtfulness to tackling the enormous problems facing developing countries.

I really admire the way the Gates have taken super-broad, over-arching stances in their approach to reach the maximum number of people in the most effective way possible. The way with which they focus on the issues that will have the maximum effect is very inspiring (eg maternal health & contraceptives). This book is a blueprint for the biggest ways to effect change, and it should make as much sense to economists and investors as it will to philanthropists.

The title is wonderful – it refers to the moment a rocket takes off, as the forces pulling it up become stronger than those holding it down. It’s a wonderful metaphor for marginalised women. She continues this metaphor: “I want us to see the ways we can help each other flourish. The engines are igniting; the earth is shaking; we are rising”

It’s really a book about humanity – about the incredible life-lessons that she has learnt from people in the most desperate situations, such as the resilience of the Indian sex-workers she’s worked with.

Her conflict with her Catholic beliefs was very interesting to read: Melinda has had to grapple with going up against the Church on very inflammatory issues such as contraception. She’s clearly wrestled with this, but her experiences on the ground, and her belief in the importance of contraception as a very foundational way to give women the breathing space to work, to keep their kids alive and to ensure said kids get an education, gave her the courage to choose humanity over doctrine.


“When women in developing countries space their births by at least three years, each baby is almost twice as likely to survive their first year—and 35 percent more likely to see their fifth birthday.”

““What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before?” I love this question because it honors how we learn and grow. Wisdom isn’t about accumulating more facts; it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way. Year by year … I see more clearly that the primary causes of poverty and illness are the cultural, financial, and legal restrictions that block what women can do – and think they can do – for themselves and their children.”

On coming in to work with communities:

“Their cup is not empty; you can’t just pour your ideas into it. Their cup is already full, so you have to understand what is in their cup.”

“In societies of deep poverty, women are pushed to the margins. Women are outsiders. That’s not a coincidence. When any community pushes any group out, especially its women, it’s creating a crisis that can only be reversed by bringing the outsiders back in. This is the core remedy for poverty and almost any social ill—including the excluded, going to the margins of society and bringing everybody back in.”

“It’s the mark of a backward society—or a society moving backward—when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what’s happening right now in the US.”

“If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven’t found it.”

On unpaid labour by women:

“As Waring wrote, “Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing,” especially as men recognize that “precisely because that half works for so little, it may have no energy left to fight for anything else.””

“the starting point for human improvement is empathy. Everything flows from that. Empathy allows for listening, and listening leads to understanding.”

“It’s often surprisingly easy to find bias, if you look. Who was omitted or disempowered or disadvantaged when the cultural practice was formed? Who didn’t have a voice? Who wasn’t asked their view? Who got the least share of power and the largest share of pain? How can we fill in the blind spots and reverse the bias?”

“That is one of the great challenges for anyone who wants to help change the world: How do you follow your plan and yet keep listening for new ideas? How can you hold your strategy lightly, so you’ll be able to hear the new idea that blows it up?”

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