Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates are giving themselves a two-year trial period to see if they can co-parent the massive charitable foundation that they have treated as another one of their children.
When the couple announced their divorce two months ago, they said they would both stay on as co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But on Wednesday, the foundation’s CEO announced a contingency plan “to ensure the continuity of the foundation’s work.”
“If after two years either decides they cannot continue to work together as co-chairs, French Gates will resign her position as co-chair and trustee,” CEO Mark Suzman said.
If that happens, Bill Gates would remain in control and, essentially, buy her out of the foundation, Suzman said. Melinda French Gates would receive “personal resources” from Gates for her own philanthropic work — resources that would be “completely separate from the foundation’s endowment.”
The Gates Foundation is one of the world’s largest charitable foundations, and its founders think of it as their “fourth child,” Suzman told the Wall Street Journal recently. But its reputation has been under scrutiny since the couple announced their divorce in May. Soon after, media reports emerged about Bill Gates’ alleged improper behavior with Microsoft employees decades ago.
In another potential blow to the foundation, one of its major investors, Warren Buffett, resigned from his role as a trustee last month. Buffett, a longtime friend of Bill Gates, didn’t specify why he was leaving. “My goals are 100% in sync with those of the foundation, and my physical participation is in no way needed to achieve these goals,” he wrote.
In addition to the break-up contingency, Wednesday’s statement from the foundation announced the couple had committed $15 billion to the foundation’s endowment.
The Gateses are also expanding the number of trustees overseeing the foundation’s governance to “bring new perspectives, help guide resource allocation and strategic direction, and ensure the stability and sustainability of the foundation.”
In the two decades since the foundation was established, it has contributed more than $55 billion — much of it from the Gateses’ personal wealth — to a wide range of initiatives related to global health, poverty alleviation and, more recently, the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, according to its website. As co-chairs, the Gateses have steered the organization’s vision, with Suzman overseeing the day-to-day operations.
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