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Why Bill and Melinda Gates think time and energy are global superpowers.

Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter. Get excited.

Why Bill and Melinda Gates think time and energy are global superpowers.

Bill and Melinda Gates were chatting with high schoolers when they were asked, "If you could have one superpower, what would it be?"

Their answers to that question may seem pretty simple (and even a little bit boring). But don't be fooled ... they were more clever than they seem.



Melinda said she would want to have more time, and Bill said he would want more energy.

Of course, those super powers could apply to having, say, an additional hour to unwind at the end of a stressful day in Melinda's case or getting an extra energy boost at 3 p.m. (without relying on a third cup of coffee) in Bill's. But, as the duo explained in their foundation's annual letter, which was released this week, it would be great if their superpowers were also applicable to the whole world.

Being time poor (as one might call it) can change the trajectory of a person's whole life.

Yes, food, water, and shelter are all very important (obviously). But it's easy to forget that having access to energy — to charge your phone, wash your clothes, cook your food, get online — has an enormous impact on the time you spend every day simply trying to survive.

When people have more access to energy, that means people have more time, which Bill and Melinda explain will dramatically increase the quality of life for those in developing countries. It is these two interwoven factors — time and energy — that the Gateses focused on in their foundation's annual letter, and these three eye-opening infographics they chose to highlight show we definitely have room for improvement throughout the world:

1. Girls and women spend far more time doing unpaid work — especially in developing nations.

And "it's not just about fairness," according to the Gateses; as the letter reads, "assigning most unpaid work to women harms everyone: men, women, boys, and girls."

On average, women globally spend four and a half hours doing unpaid work — stuff that needs to get done by somebody in order for a society to function (caring for their children, preparing meals, etc.). For men, it's less than half that amount of time.

Graph via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used with permission.

Time poverty is a problem in two ways: It's sexist, and it especially hurts people in poor countries.

Take water, for instance. In most places in America, getting clean water is as easy as turning on a faucet. In poor countries, people — often young girls — spend hours every day walking miles to fetch it from a well. For a young person in a poor country — again, more times than not we're talking about girls — fetching water is more important than going to school, getting a job, and (eventually) living financially independent.

"Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility," the Gateses wrote in their letter.

This not only hinders women on an individual level, it hinders a country's overall economic potential. When a woman is stuck fetching water instead of, say, opening a business, it's a bad thing for everyone.

And that brings us to energy.

2. In order to power the world, we need more clean, cheap energy.

Remember that woman who's fetching water? She'd have more time to go to school or start a business if she had access to tap water in her own home. Or an electric stove to prepare meals. Or a car to drive into town.

Having access to an energy source "means you can run hospitals, light up schools, and use tractors to grow more food," the Gateses wrote. And that makes a huge difference when it comes to quality of life.

It's not just enough to have access to energy; energy needs to be clean and cheap. The cheaper the energy, the more people who can afford it, and the cleaner the energy, the better off we'll all be tomorrow.

The good news? The world is slowly losing its dependence on carbon-emitting energy sources.

The bad news? We've got a long way to go.

Graph via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used with permission.

Some sources like the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Administration put the percent of world renewable-resource energy as high as 13% as of 2012, but still — not that great, right?

It may not seem that important that our new energy sources are clean, seeing as poorer countries are in dire need of it. But it is vital we stay away from oil and coal looking forward because poor countries are actually hit worst when the world spews carbon into our atmosphere.

Which brings us to the point raised in the next chart:

3. The world became increasingly addicted to fossil fuels throughout the 20th century, and poor countries paid the most.

The more fossil fuels we burn, the more carbon is in our air, thus making the planet warmer. And in case you haven't heard, it's been pretty hot out there recently (and it has been for awhile).

See how much the line below spikes upward between about 1950 and 2010? Yeah, not good.

Graph via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used with permission.

Probably the most unjust thing about climate change, however, is that the people who contribute to it the least — those in underserved countries, who've used relatively little energy — have been affected the most.

Many people in poor countries rely on agriculture to survive. And when temperatures fluctuate or farmers get too much or too little rain, crops don't grow. When people live directly off the land in their own backyards, they're far more vulnerable to a changing climate.

What's more, a warming planet means more devastating (and frequent) storms. Poor countries don't have the infrastructures in place to be able to recover quickly from, say, a destructive hurricane, so their economies and livelihoods can be drastically affected by just one natural disaster.

But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. We're finally reducing our collective carbon footprint in substantial ways because world leaders have prioritized clean energy in recent years. In fact, 2015 may just be the first year that the global economy has grown while carbon output plateaued (or even declined). Things (not temperatures) are looking up.

Now Bill and Melinda want to know — what would be your superpower?

Something that helps eradicate disease? Provides more access to clean water?

Join the conversation and answer the question "What can you do to improve the world?" by tweeting and posting with the hashtag #SuperpowerForGood.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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