Melinda French Gates. File photo

Melinda French Gates. File photo
| Photo Credit: AP

Melinda French Gates will step down as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the nonprofit she and her ex-husband Bill Gates founded and built into one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations over the past 20 years.

“This is not a decision I came to lightly,” French Gates posted on the X platform on Monday. “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.”

She praised the foundation’s CEO, Mark Suzman, and the foundation’s board of trustees, which was significantly expanded after the couple announced their divorce in May 2021.

“The time is right for me to move forward into the next chapter of my philanthropy,” French Gates wrote in her statement. She already organizes some of her investments and philanthropic gifts through her organisation, Pivotal Ventures, which is not a nonprofit.

Future work focus on women and families

Gates thanked French Gates for her “critical” contributions to the foundation in a statement, saying, “I am sorry to see her leave, but I am sure she will have a huge impact in her future philanthropic work.”

The foundation will change its name to the Gates Foundation, a spokesperson said.

French Gates will receive $12.5 billion as part of her agreement with Mr. Gates, which she said would commit to future work focused on women and families. The foundation said that Gates would supply those funds personally, not from the foundation’s endowment.

The Gates Foundation is a massive funder of global health, supporting major international institutions like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It also funds research into a wide range of topics like child malnutrition and maternal health as well as eradicating polio and treating and preventing malaria. The foundation has also donated billions to help small farmers adapt to climate change.

In the U.S., it funded education policy and research that had sweeping, if mixed, effects, and now, has pledged to increase its support around antipoverty initiatives.

“The announcement is a surprise for many of us, but I don’t think it’s spur of the moment,” said Latanya Mapp, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

French Gates has already helped cement a gender equity lens within the Gates Foundation’s programs to ensure it continues on past her departure, Mapp said. The first president of the foundation’s gender equity division was hired in 2020.

When French Gates officially resigns June 7, Bill Gates will be the sole chair of the foundation’s board, though Suzman, as CEO, has taken on a higher profile role in the past three years. For example, he began writing the foundation’s annual letter outlining its priorities in 2022.

Linsey McGoey, a professor of sociology at the University of Essex and author of “No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy,” said French Gates’ departure again raises the question of whether power over the foundation should be more widely distributed.

“Should there be more than a tight nucleus of people in charge?” asked McGoey, adding that the foundation controls a great deal of funding that affects people who lack “a democratic pathway” to contest how it’s used.

In an emailed statement, the foundation said that Suzman announced French Gates’ decision to employees on Monday.

“After a difficult few years watching women’s rights rolled back in the U.S. and around the world, she wants to use this next chapter to focus specifically on altering that trajectory,” Suzman said of French Gates.

Mr. Suzman said he knew many had joined the foundation in part because of their admiration for her advocacy, especially around gender equity.

“I know how beloved Melinda is here,” Mr. Suzman wrote.

The Gates Foundation holds $75.2 billion in its endowment as of December 2023, and announced in January, it planned to spend $8.6 billion through the course of its work in 2024.

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