How will Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce impact their charity?
NEW YORK, May 4, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – The shock announcement that
billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are to divorce
after 27 years of marriage has raised questions about the future of
their hugely influential charity.
Here, AFP takes a look at the Gates Foundation, from how it works
and what projects it finances, to its impact on the pandemic and how
the non-profit may be impacted by the split.
– Its mission, and vast budget –
The couple say the idea for the foundation came to them as young
parents when they read a newspaper article about millions of children
in developing countries dying from easily treatable illnesses such as
diarrhea and pneumonia.
In 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was launched to fight
disease and poverty around the world. In the United States, an initial
focus on providing access to computers and the internet was expanded
to improving education in general.
With 1,600 staff members in offices around the world, the Gates
Foundation gives away roughly $5 billion each year in areas like
global public health and development.
The foundation says it has spent $54.8 billion since its inception.
More than $2 billion has gone towards fighting malaria alone with
the aim of eradicating the mosquito-borne disease “within a
The charity has also contributed several billion dollars towards a
global campaign to end polio through the widespread immunization of
children. It donated more than $50 million during the Ebola outbreak
Dozens of other programs it funds include nutrition, sanitation,
maternal and newborn child health and agricultural development.
– Battling the pandemic –
US-IT-PEOPLE-CHARITY FACTS-TWO LAST
Last year, the foundation pledged about $250 million to help fight
the pandemic, with some of the funds channeled to the distribution of
life-saving doses of Covid-19 vaccines to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa
and South Asia.
The money also went to testing, personal protective equipment and
support of overwhelmed health services, particularly in developing
It was also key in forming Covax, a global program to help supply
vaccines to the poorest countries.
In total, the foundation says it has spent some $1.75 billion
fighting Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
It found itself embroiled in controversy though after it was
accused of pushing Oxford University to sign an exclusive agreement
with AstraZeneca for its vaccine rather than donate the rights to any
– Who runs the foundation? –
Bill, 65, and Melinda, 56 are co-chairs of the charity while Warren
Buffett is a trustee. The CEO is Mark Suzman.
In its early years, when Bill still ran Microsoft on a daily basis,
Melinda was seen as leading the foundation.
In 2008, Bill moved to a part-time role at Microsoft to devote
himself to the foundation. Last year, he left his board positions at
Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway for the same reason.
It’s hard to say which, if either of them, is more influential.
In her 2019 memoir, “The Moment of Lift”, Melinda wrote that they
argued over who would write the foundation’s annual letter, which Bill
had typically done.
“I thought we were going to kill each other,” she said. They have
been writing it jointly since 2014.
– Where does the money come from? –
The Gates transferred some $20 billion in Microsoft stock to the
foundation in its early days.
In 2006, Buffett announced that he would donate the bulk of his
fortune to the foundation in the form of shares in his company
Four years later, Gates and Buffet launched the Giving Pledge
initiative, which encouraged the rich to donate at least 50 per cent
of their wealth to charitable causes, including the Gates Foundation.
More than 200 prominent people have made the pledge to date.
The foundation has an endowment of more than $46 billion.
At the end of last year it had a vast portfolio of stocks,
dominated by Berkshire Hathaway and also including Walmart,
Caterpillar, US company Waste Management and the Canadian National
Railway Company, according to Investopedia.
– Does divorce threaten the foundation? –
Bill, the fourth richest man in the world with a fortune valued by
Forbes at $130 billion, and Melinda have pledged to continue working
together for the foundation.
But their divorce could create new questions about their wealth,
most of which has yet to be donated to the foundation, despite
co-creating the Giving Pledge.
The future of the Gates Foundation could depend on the financial
terms of the divorce, which is still unknown.
Melinda might want to follow the example of MacKenzie Scott, who
quickly gave away an estimated $6 billion after her divorced from
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019 and is now a powerful independent
philanthropist in her own right.