An obstetrician-gynecologist by training, Mairo Mandara works with the foundation’s Nigerian partners to help improve the lives of the country’s poorest people. Before joining the foundation, she served as a senior country advisor to Nigeria for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and as the Nigeria-based health systems advisor for the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
When people ask about my job, I tell them, “I work at the Gates Foundation to improve the lives of poor people, to show them dignity, and provide support to help themselves out of poverty because every life has equal value.” It’s not about Bill. It’s not about charity. It’s not about handouts. It’s about, as they say, teaching people how to fish.
The person who does extremely well here doesn’t see walls and barriers as stumbling blocks but rather as opportunities to learn and do things differently. Challenges that come from inside or outside of the foundation are just that: challenges. They’re opportunities to learn. When you come to a roadblock, jump, go around, or push through.
This is not a place to get rich; it is a place to get fulfilled. It’s about the people we serve. No life is better than any other, and the mission is everything. The mission keeps you going. Something in your life and history got you to believe in it. It’s not something that anyone can teach you. Either you believe or you don’t believe. This is not just a job—it’s an opportunity to live your dreams.
Everyone here is very talented in their individual field, which is a huge asset. But it can also be a challenge. If I’m an expert in maternal and child health and have done it forever, I see it through my own lens. But someone else will see it through their own, different lens. It takes humility to let a competing ray of light come through to create something new. Everyone here has had some success in their field, then suddenly they’re among 1,200-plus people just as smart as or smarter than they are. Having humility and keeping focused on the mission is the best way to navigate the challenges.