I visit India about once a year. The reason I come so regularly is that the foundation I started with my husband, Bill, works with Indian partners to help advance the country’s development. The Gates Foundation is based on the belief that every human being deserves the chance to lead a healthy, productive life.

When Bill and I worked in information technology, we saw brilliant innovations that benefitted people whose lives were already good. So we decided to devote our resources and the rest of our lives to investing in innovations that help the poor, including India’s poor.

Whenever I travel in a country, I like to read books that help me get to know the place and its people. One facet of India’s history that resonates with me is the way women struggled to break into the male-dominated Independence movement so they could stand against British colonialism.

Ways to reach The Independence Day just past, provided me an opportunity to learn about Rani Lakshmibai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, and many others. Sarojini Naidu insisted on joining the all-male Salt March to Dandi in 1930. Following her bold example, thousands of women, educated and un-educated alike, spurred on the Independence movement by marching and making their own salt to protest the British monopoly.

India’s stunning victory against polio was made possible by millions of frontline workers — almost all of them women — who found ways to reach every single Indian child with the vaccine. The number of Indian children who die has gone down by 60 per cent since 1990. Why? It’s because ASHAs, ANMs, and Anganwadi workers are working together with mothers to give more children better basic care.

Empowering women I often wonder how we can tap into the power of all these Indian women to make life better for themselves and their families. Empowering women and girls is important to me because I am a woman and the mother of two daughters, and I strongly believe it’s the right thing to do. Women are one of society’s best assets, because they prioritise healthcare, nutritious food, and education — which make for prospering communities.

The fact is, women tend to invest more of their earnings than men in their family’s well-being — as much as 10 times more. One study says that when the mother controls the household budget, her children are 20 per cent more likely to survive.

Each year, 50,000 Indian mothers die due to pregnancy related complications. Those deaths are tragic for the simple fact that India is losing its mothers and the ripple effect of a missing mother on her children and community is incalculable. And though child deaths have been coming down, 1.4 million Indian children still die every year, most from preventable causes.

Malnutrition takes a staggering toll on India, too. Nearly half the deaths of children under 5 in India can be attributed to malnutrition. Millions of children who suffer from malnutrition don’t develop cognitively the way they should. Investing in saving lives is an investment in Indian women and girls, which is in turn an investment in India’s future.

Bill and I are encouraged by the steps the Indian Government is taking to help its poorest. The National Rural Health Mission has made a great impact. We’re also proud to be partners with the Government, which is investing heavily in the health of its women and children.

I’m optimistic that the books I’ll read on future visits to India will tell a story equally as compelling as Sarojini Naidu’s. A story written for all India’s men, women and children.

(The writer is co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This article is exclusive to Business Line)