Melinda French Gates resigns as co-chair of the Gates Foundation

The decision to cut ties with the foundation she co-founded comes three years after her divorce from Bill Gates.

Melinda French Gates is stepping down as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to focus on her own philanthropy supporting women and girls. The announcement marks a pivotal moment for one of the world’s largest charitable organisations, which French Gates ran with Microsoft billionaire, Bill Gates, to whom she was married until 2021.

“This is not a decision I came to lightly,” French Gates said in a statement posted on social media. “I am immensely proud of the foundation that Bill and I built together and of the extraordinary work it is doing to address inequities around the world. I care deeply about the foundation team, our partners around the world, and everyone who is touched by its work.”

Under the terms of her 2021 divorce agreement with Bill, French Gates will be taking US$12.5bn to put towards women and girls, causes she had long championed both at the foundation and through her own gender-lens investment vehicle, Pivotal Ventures.

“If you want to improve the lives of people in any community, empowering its women is a good place to start,” she told Philanthropy Age, in an interview in 2016. “Focusing on women and girls is the most direct way to ensure healthier and more prosperous families, and greater economic progress around the world.” LINK 

In her resignation statement, French Gates noted: “This is a critical moment for women and girls in the US and around the world —and those fighting to protect and advance equality are in urgent need of support.”

“This is a critical moment for women and girls in the US and around the world —and those fighting to protect and advance equality are in urgent need of support.”

Melinda French Gates

Melinda French Gates at the launch of the Gates Foundation's 2023 Goalkeepers report, explaining why women's health is a critical first step to ensuring women around the world have economic power.

Gates French, a computer science graduate who joined Microsoft in 1986 where she met her future husband, the co-founder of what was then a fast-growing start-up, said June 7 would be her last day at the foundation.

Launched in in 2000, when Bill Gates retired from Microsoft, the Seattle-headquartered BMGF immediately shook up the philanthropy sector, gaining a reputation for its data-led and out-of-the-box approach to disease eradication and long-standing complex developmental challenges like poor sanitation, childhood mortality, hunger, and poverty.

The foundation has been a key player in the fight against polio, which is now present in just two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan), invested heavily in research and treatments to combat TB, malarian HIV and Aids, and was a major funder of vaccines that help to tame the Covid-19 pandemic.

Latterly, BMGF has been turning its attention to the climate crisis, investing in climate-proof agriculture and promoting clean energy, as well as responding to humanitarian crises and funding efforts to curb malnutrition.

In the Gulf, meanwhile, it has funded several nonprofit organisations, including Philanthropy Age and Circle, worked closely with Abu Dhabi’s Reaching the Last Mile Fund to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) to create GLIDE, the Global Institute for Disease Elimination, and partnered with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and regional governments on the Lives and Livelihoods Fund, an anti-poverty initiative.  

In April, while Bill Gates was visiting Saudi Arabia, his team announced they would be opening up its first MENA regional office in Riyadh to support new government and third sector partnerships in health and civil society.

image title

In an emotional statement to the foundation’s 2,000 employees, CEO Mark Suzman said: “I recognise this is very sad news, and we all need time to process it. Many of you have worked closely with Melinda or were drawn to the foundation because of her global leadership, particularly in gender equality, and her ability to connect our work to the people who need support the most.”

And added: “I know how beloved Melinda is here. This is difficult news for me, too. Like you, I truly admire Melinda, and I will deeply miss working with her and learning from her.”

Suzman said the foundation, which is this year expected to pay out a record $9bn in grants, would be called the Gates Foundation going forward.

Bill, who will now be the organisation’s sole chair, said: “As a co-founder and co-chair, Melinda has been instrumental in shaping our strategies and initiatives, significantly impacting global health and gender equality. I am sorry to see her leave, but I am sure she will have a huge impact in her future philanthropic work.” - PA