Casa Familiar Rural makes high school possible for young people on remote farms scattered across a rural region of Bahia, Brazil. Students live at the school one week, then return to their families for two weeks, where they’re visited by school monitors and expected to share what they’ve learned. Here are the questions the students had for me.
Geiane Macedo, 19: What motivated you to leave Microsoft to devote yourself to philanthropy?
Bill Gates: I’ve been lucky that my shares in Microsoft became extremely valuable. That created both the opportunity and the responsibility for me to be personally involved in returning my wealth to the world in the most beneficial way. For a long time I knew I would eventually switch to full-time foundation work, probably in my fifties. In fact, I was 53 when I chose to make that change. I’m lucky that what made my work at Microsoft so fun—learning new things, working with smart people—I can still enjoy in my philanthropy work.
Maricélia Soares, 20: What is your biggest dream, and what’s your greatest joy in life?
Bill Gates: Having a young family is my biggest joy. My kids are 13, 10 and 7 right now. Doing new things with them, watching how they learn—the greatest joy for my wife Melinda and me is being with our kids. I’d also say my job brings me a lot of joy, because of the progress we’re making. We can go out and meet the farmer we helped whose rice crop didn’t get wiped out, and visit the village where the malaria rate has dropped in half. We meet scientists who are able to do important work with our support. I got a letter recently from Robert Glass, a scientist who's worked on a vaccine for rotavirus. It’s fantastic that we could help him fight a disease that kills a half-million young children each year. My biggest dream is a world where everyone can get an education and where meeting basic needs is not a daily challenge.
Maurílio de Jesus, 20: What helped you become a great entrepreneur?
Bill Gates: It’s very valuable to have confidence that you can understand something, if you try hard enough. It’s easy to get discouraged. Like when you start a business, there are all these financial questions to figure out, with a lot of special terminology. But if you have reasonable math skills, and you seek out the people who can explain these things, it’s really not that complicated. You need to be willing to ask, “Hey, what do these things mean?” The real experts are the ones who can explain. For example, one big concept in business is the time value of money. That’s kind of complex, but Warren Buffett explains it as “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” A simple proverb explains the key principle of business. Enjoying learning, finding people who can help you, and just persevering when something appears too complicated—that was very helpful to me.
Marilan Souza, 18: What are the major crises you have been through and how did you manage to get through them?
Bill Gates: I’m very lucky in that I haven’t had a lot of terrible things happen to me. My parents were well-off economically, and we got along very well. My school career was great. My work career has been great. The most negative thing in my career was the series of legal troubles that Microsoft ran into. I was helped by the advice I got along the way from my dad, Warren Buffett, Melinda, and Steve Ballmer. I have a strong business partnership with Steve, and he helped me keep things in perspective. That was very helpful.
Education in this Region
Casa Familiar Rural is a school in Presidente Tancredo Neves, a city of 20,000 in Bahia, Brazil. The school serves students from across a region of small farms with little access to information technology and where few finish high school. Opened in 2003 with support from the Odebrecht Foundation, the school uses a method known as Alternation Pedagogy, in which students spend one week at school, two weeks at home. Students range in age from 15 to 21. For three years, they study the standard high school curriculum (math, biology, Portuguese, etc.) and also learn new agricultural techniques. While at home, they share their learning with their families and communities, helping extend informal education and improved farming practices to remote rural areas.