Los Angeles Times

Bill Gates, wife to split. How will it affect their foundation?

- By Laurence Darmiento Times wire services contribute­d to this report.

Bill and Melinda Gates announced Monday that they are divorcing — immediatel­y raising questions about how their split after 27 years of marriage could affect their status as two of the world’s greatest philanthro­pists.

The Microsoft Corp. cofounder and his wife, who operate the world’s largest private family charitable foundation, said they would continue their work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which said in a statement that the couple would remain as co-chairs and trustees.

“No changes to their roles or the organizati­on are planned. They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and set the organizati­on’s overall direction,” the statement said.

Still, David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthro­py, a digital publicatio­n, said there are “a lot of unanswered questions here.”

The couple, along with Warren Buffett, are the creators of the Giving Pledge, which requires signatorie­s to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthro­py or charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills.

The couple’s sprawling Seattle foundation is easily the most influentia­l private foundation in the world, with an endowment worth nearly $50 billion. It has focused on global health and developmen­t and U.S. education issues since incorporat­ing in 2000.

However, there is a possibilit­y that after a divorce settlement, Melinda Gates may want to create her own foundation too and give to different causes.

“There’s no particular reason to think that anything will change with the foundation and its work. It has a large endowment. It has a profession­al staff of 1,600 people. It has a set of really well-developed programs,” Callahan said. “To me, the big question is, does Melinda get a sizable divorce settlement? And if so, what does she do in terms of forging her own path as an independen­t philanthro­pist?”

The possibilit­y that Melinda Gates may want to strike out on her own will be closely watched after MacKenzie Scott, following her divorce from Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, startled the philanthro­pic world by donating more than $4 billion in the span of four months last year.

Bezos kept three-quarters of the couple’s Amazon shares in the divorce, while Scott received some $36 billion in shares, making her one of the world’s richest people. She wrote in a post on Medium that she felt compelled to speed up her giving because “this pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling.”

Once the world’s wealthiest person, Bill Gates is now worth an estimated $131 billion. That’s less than Bezos, who has a net worth of about $197 billion, but still enough to rank him No. 4.

Callahan said that Bill and Melinda Gates still have vast amounts to give and there are indication­s that Melinda may want to focus more on women’s empowermen­t, which has been one focus of the couple’s foundation over the last five years.

“The Gates Foundation released an annual letter every year that was written by Bill Gates. And then a few years ago, they started writing that letter together. And so that was sort of widely seen as a sign of her kind of stepping up and wanting to play a more joint role in shaping the foundation’s priorities,” he said. “What we don’t know is how much she would like to do.”

The couple met after she joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987 and were married in 1994.

In her 2019 memoir, “The Moment of Lift,” Melinda Gates wrote about her childhood, life and private struggles as the wife of a public icon and as a stay-at-home mom with three kids.

Last year, Gates said he was stepping down from Microsoft’s board to focus on philanthro­py.

Gates was Microsoft’s CEO until 2000 and since then has gradually scaled back his involvemen­t in the company he started with Paul Allen in 1975. He transition­ed out of a day-to-day role in Microsoft in 2008 and served as chairman of the board until 2014.

 ?? Ted S. Warren Associated Press ?? BILL AND MELINDA GATES, shown in 2018, operate the world’s largest private family charitable foundation, with an endowment worth nearly $50 billion. They said they would continue their work there.
Ted S. Warren Associated Press BILL AND MELINDA GATES, shown in 2018, operate the world’s largest private family charitable foundation, with an endowment worth nearly $50 billion. They said they would continue their work there.

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