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Melinda Gates: Giving away billions getting easier

The co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said that the charitable work got less hard once she and her husband decided to focus on the world's big problems.

CARLSBAD, Calif.--Melinda Gates said Tuesday that the job of giving away billions used to be a lot harder.

Melinda Gates talks about the work she and Bill Gates are doing to tackle global health challenges. Dan Farber/CNET

In her early days with Bill Gates, she said the couple would get heart wrenching letters seeking their help and the two would agonize over what to do. But, after recognizing that their real opportunity was addressing society's biggest challenges, she said it has gotten easier to figure out where to put their resources.

Gates said all of the foundation's work is centered around a single purpose--that all lives have equal value. Gates said that her goal is to help further a world in which the lives of a man or a woman are treated the same whether they live in Boston or Botswana or Bangladesh.

"The world does not treat all lives with equal value," she said.

Her work has made for some strange bedfellows. In the foundation's work with U.S. public education issues, it is funding a project in New York that is headed by Joel Klein, the attorney who spearheaded the antitrust case against Microsoft.

"Joel Klein has this incredible business vision," she said of the work he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are doing in New York. "They are willing to be bold. They are willing to say we are going to shut down schools that aren't working."

Mossberg asked Gates how she felt about Bill's plans once he steps down from Microsoft. She said she is looking forward to his new role.

"I knew he wasn't going to wear a tool belt around the house," Gates said. "That's always been very clear."

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