Bill Gates can force ex-wife Melinda to resign from foundation after two years under divorce agreement

Future of philanthropic work agreed with $15bn in new resources and expanded board of trustees

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 07 July 2021 17:22

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates have agreed on a path forward if they cannot find a way to continue their philanthropic work together following their divorce.

If after two years either party decides they cannot continue to work together as co-chairs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ms French Gates will resign her position as co-chair and trustee.

She would then receive personal resources from Mr Gates for her philanthropic work. These resources would be separate from the foundation’s endowment, which would not be affected.

The announcement of the two-year trial period came in a statement from foundation CEO Mark Suzman on Wednesday in which he also said that the couple has committed $15bn in new resources to continue fighting poverty, disease, and inequity in the US and around the world.

New trustees will also be added to oversee the foundation’s governance and decision-making as a family charitable trust.

“Our vision for the foundation has grown over time, but it has always been focused on addressing inequity and expanding opportunity for the world’s poorest people,” said Mr Gates. “These new resources and the evolution of the foundation’s governance will sustain this ambitious mission and vital work for years to come.”

“I am deeply proud of all that the foundation and its partners have accomplished over the past two decades to bring us closer to a world where everyone, everywhere has the chance to live a healthy and productive life,” said Ms French Gates.

“Every success we’ve seen is a testament to our partners and a broad coalition of government leaders, global experts, community organisers, activists, advocates, healthcare workers, farmers, teachers, and researchers—all united in their efforts to promote a healthier, safer, more equal world. Their faith that progress is possible fuels mine.

The couple has asked Mr Suzman and Connie Collingsworth, the chief operating officer, to manage the process of appointing new individuals to the leadership of the foundation to increase its diversity, expertise, and experience.

New trustees will be selected over the next few months and Mr Gates and Ms French Gates will approve changes to the foundation’s governance documents by the end of 2021, with the announcement of the new trustees scheduled for January 2022.

“These governance changes bring more diverse perspectives and experience to the foundation’s leadership,” said Ms French Gates.

“I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”

Ms French Gates attended the Generation Equality Forum in Paris last week, at which she announced the foundation’s $2.1bn commitment to advance gender equality globally.

The five-year commitment will advance women’s economic empowerment, strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning, and accelerate women’s leadership.

Calls for an expanded board of trustees beyond the founders and family members pre-date the divorce announcement and tend to be an issue for all family foundations.

The philanthropic group has made grants totalling $55bn since 2000 and has more than 1,700 employees.

Mr Gates and Ms French Gates announced their decision to separate in early May.

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