What did Bill and Melinda Gates tell a room full of teenagers from around the world?

If you had 75 minutes to talk to a room full of super smart teenagers, what would you say?

The next generation is inheriting quite a few problems on ol' planet Earth. What advice do you have for them as they grow up and lead our future?

Would you try to inspire them? Encourage them? Lecture them?


This year's "annual letter" from Bill and Melinda Gates was written specifically for the next generation.

After releasing their highly anticipated annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates decided to throw an event for the people they wrote it for: teenagers.

Moderated by author and awesome Internet person John Green in YouTube's New York City studios, Bill and Melinda fielded real questions submitted by a group of about 50 teens from all over the world.

As the 75-minute conversation continued, the powerful couple also used the time to go beyond the main themes of time and energy (please be sure to read about them!) to drop some really important life lessons and big ideas to consider.

Here are four of 'em.

1. When you're solving a big problem, it might be helpful to turn it into an actual problem — a math problem!

All photos from TheGatesNotes/YouTube.

In their annual letter, Bill honed in on energy supply being one of the most imperative problems to solve for our future.

But figuring out a true solution is super hard and super scary. So Bill broke down how we can work toward a solution with a straightforward math equation.

Image via Bill and Melinda Gates' 2016 annual letter, used with permission.

Let's work backward. What's causing all the CO2, which is represented as the result of this math problem? It's a combination of people (P), services they use (S), the energy those services need (E), and the carbon dioxide produced by that energy (C).

When it's broken down like this, the priorities not only become clear but sort of comforting in their simplicity. Bill goes into more of the nuances in both the letter and a video explainer, but this kind of problem solving exercise can be applied to many problems.

This solid formula serves as a blueprint to follow and provides some solid guidance on how to achieve a solution, while leaving the bulk of the creative journey to those taking on the challenge.

"Don't forget to be awesome." — John Green

2. The world is not always what it appears to be.

Melinda shared a personal story of seeing pictures of Africa as a child that portrayed the whole place as just one giant dustbowl.

"It's anything but," she said. "It's this thriving economy."

In Ethiopia, which is Africa's second largest country, they talked about getting to know a "health army of women" who are actively creating better access to health care by setting up small-yet-mighty clinics that especially cater to maternal health.

It's a portrait of an African country that you don't see often in the media — empowered, successful, thriving. We must continue to challenge the stereotypes of developing countries to lift each other up and truly collaborate the world over. Solutions are happening everywhere.

"When we share our story, we share our humanity. And when we share our humanity, that's when we connect." — Melinda Gates.

3. Diversity in our leadership matters.

At one point during the conversation, Melinda put a quote from the annual letter up on the screen: “Most girls don’t think they’ll be stuck with the same rules that kept their grandmothers in the home … if you think that, you’re wrong.”

What does this mean? She explained that a lot of girls grow up only to repeat what they tried to fight against in their youth simply because they don't know what a different future looks like. The more women — and diverse women across cultures — achieve leadership roles, the more girls can see and choose a future they feel empowered to pursue.

That is the reason we need more diversity overall in our leadership. It's so people can see what real success looks like — and then make their own paths.

"This is a great time to be alive and we ought to be hopeful." — Bill Gates

4. “We need you, and we are counting on you.”

When one student in the audience asked about what message they'd like to give to the world, it followed suit: hope.

"The world is improving, not for everyone at the same rate, but it is improving," said Melinda. "We need to focus on the fact that the world is getting better. The amazing science that we’re talking about is a part of that."

"This is a great time to be alive and we ought to be hopeful," added Bill.

And why do they feel this way? Because of the teens.

At the end of the event, John Green talked about a very common opinion among adults that see young people as overly self-centered and selfish. But he said that couldn't be further from the truth that he sees. Bill and Melinda agreed.

"I see young people using social media in unique and clever ways," says Melinda. "And they're using it to connect. I see a generation that is saying to us, 'I want to give back' and they value doing something for this world."

"We're turning to you for the solutions to the big problems — for big solutions," says Bill. "We're not just here to encourage you, but because we need you and are counting on you."

So, who were these teens in the audience that they're counting on?

The teens in the room were selected from the Global STEM Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences. It's a program that pairs youths from all over the world with mentors in their desired fields to not only help them learn skills but also apply their creative thinking to big problems.

But as the letter said, this is a message we need to instill in all of our children — as well as all of us.

The overall message is this: We have to work together to create change. And ain't that the truth.

Working together can bring about real change — and teens are on the front line. Now is the time to remember to work together and, as John Green says, "Don't forget to be awesome."

To see a full replay of this live event, check out this recording of the YouTube live stream. And just for kicks, why not watch John Green break down some of the biggest themes of Bill and Melinda's annual letter in this super fun video:

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Gates Foundation

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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