Bill & Linda GatesAt a ceremony at the Library of Congress last Friday, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock congratulated this year’s recipients of the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding, Bill and Melinda Gates. The Gates’ received the prestigious prize in recognition of their philanthropic work to improve the health, education, and well being of people around the globe, as well as their leadership in inspiring others to practice philanthropy.

Stock noted that the Gates’ humanitarian commitment to the developing world and their unwavering belief that “every person deserves a chance for a productive life” strongly complemented the vision of “people-to-people diplomacy” that the late Senator Fulbright pursued.

Melinda Gates further expanded on this correlation by talking about the “importance of seeing human beings for who they are, not seeing human beings as abstractions from country to country.” She cited Senator Fulbright’s belief that “educational exchange can turn nations into people.” In her own words, she said:

Human contact can challenge our myths, change our minds, and improve our behavior. This is the moral core of the philanthropy that we do, it’s set in these exact same truths. Bill and I believe that all lives have equal value. That means whether if you a child born in Africa, or born in America, your life has the same exact value.

Gates directed another quote from Senator Fulbright to current Fulbright scholars when she said, “It is impermissible not to work for a better future,” and ended her remarks by saying,

Luckily we don’t have to be better human beings to build a better world. We just have to be who we already are – people capable of empathy, who see suffering, want to end it, and then we go out and just do it.

It is this notion of shared responsibility to work for a better future that ties together Senator Fulbright’s vision and the mission of both the Fulbright Program and the Gates Foundation to shape leaders across the globe in the vein of education, innovation, and collaboration in order to solve global problems.