Melinda Gates to Receive Radcliffe Medal

Foundation cochair recognized for ‘urgent and ambitious commitment to the unfinished business of empowering women’
Melinda Gates. Photo by Jason BellMelinda Gates. Photo by Jason Bell
February 26, 2020

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Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 26, 2020—Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study announced today that Melinda Gates, a philanthropist, businesswoman, and best-selling author, will receive the Radcliffe Medal on May 29. The medal is awarded during the annual Radcliffe Day celebration to a leader who embodies the Institute’s commitment to excellence, inclusion, and social impact.

As cofounder and cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates sets the direction and priorities of the world’s largest philanthropic organization and has led the foundation to focus increasingly on improving the lives of women and girls to achieve positive change. In an effort to accelerate social progress for women and families in the United States, Gates also founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company that last year committed $1 billion to expand women’s power and influence over the next decade.

Gates is optimistic about growing opportunities for women and determined to make the most of them.

“Despite the frustrating pace of progress—or maybe because of it—something fundamental has begun to shift,” she wrote in the Harvard Business Review last year. “The unprecedented energy and attention around gender equality makes this a moment when extraordinary progress is possible.”

It is this combination of urgency and optimism that strikes such a powerful chord for Radcliffe. “We are honoring Melinda for her remarkable impact around the world, for putting women and girls at the center of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work, and for her urgent and ambitious commitment to the unfinished business of empowering women here in the United States,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Radcliffe Institute dean, Daniel P. S. Paul Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “And this celebration is especially fitting as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and consider the work that remains to be done to achieve the promise of full enfranchisement and political empowerment of all women in the United States.”

The Radcliffe Medal was first awarded to Lena Horne in 1987. Recipients include Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dolores Huerta, Toni Morrison, Sandra Day O'Connor, Gloria Steinem, and Janet Yellen.

About the Radcliffe Day 2020 Program

This year contains important milestones: It marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment—which gave American women the vote, although many remained disenfranchised until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—and a major election year likely to include a record number of women candidates. It is also the 20th anniversary of the Radcliffe Institute’s founding.

In this historic moment, and inspired by Gates’s work, the Institute will explore how to expand women’s power and influence in the United States. Which strategic levers of change are most effective? Does the optimal way forward lie in economic empowerment, education reform, corporate policy and structural changes, political engagement and representation, activism and social pressure, legal and legislative reform, or elsewhere? Our expert panelists will grapple with these questions in a discussion moderated by the distinguished American historian and Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University Drew Gilpin Faust, who was founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute and the first woman to serve as president of Harvard. She will be joined by Iris Bohnet, author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design and the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, director of the Women and Public Policy Program, and academic dean at Harvard Kennedy School; Thasunda Brown Duckett, CEO of Chase Consumer Banking and one of the most influential black executives in the United States; Amanda Nguyen ’13, founder and CEO of Rise Justice Labs; and Gina Raimondo ’93, governor of Rhode Island. Following the panel discussion, Patty Stonesifer, founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will deliver a personal tribute to the medalist. Gates will then engage in a wide-ranging keynote conversation with the investor and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein. The program will conclude with the formal presentation of the Radcliffe Medal by Brown-Nagin.

In a newly established tradition, Radcliffe Day will also provide attendees with opportunities to take action by engaging with innovative organizations working to empower American women, which will be featured in our second-annual Marketplace of Ideas.

About the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University

Radcliffe is Harvard University’s institute for advanced study: a laboratory of ideas that brings together students, scholars, and practitioners from the humanities, sciences, social sciences, arts, and professions and engages with questions that demand cross-disciplinary exploration. Each year, the Institute hosts 50 leading scholars, scientists, and artists from around the world in its renowned residential fellowship program. Radcliffe fosters innovative research collaborations and offers hundreds of public lectures, exhibitions, performances, conferences, and other events annually. The Institute is home to the Schlesinger Library, the nation’s foremost archive on the history of women, gender, and sexuality. For more information about the Radcliffe Institute, visit

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