What does the Gates divorce mean for philanthropy?
May 11, 2021
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by Snigdh Baunthiyal

The Bill and Melinda Gates divorce
Bill and Melinda Gates decision to divorce is no ordinary celeb divorce announcement. Since they made it public on Twitter, the questions haven’t been the usual whispers which sustain celebrity gossip, but genuine panic about the future of their foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The foundation, which was set up in 2000 by the couple, annually donates about $5 billion to causes around the world. It employs 1600 people across the world. The foundation’s website states that it has received around $36 billion from the couple between 1994-2018. The foundation is also the largest private donor to the World Health Organisation, accounting for 12% of its budget between 2018 and 2019. In fact, there were once fears that if the USA stops its funding to the WHO, then the Gates will effectively become the largest donors, influencing the organisations and its decisions. 

Is there cause for worry?
First, why are people worried? Perhaps they are reading too much into the fact that Melinda Gates called the marriage ‘irretrievably broken’ in her divorce petition. Or perhaps previous examples of high-profile divorces where charities were affected, like in the case of British billionaire Sir Chris Hohn are still fresh in some people’s minds.  

However, going by the way the couple and the foundation functions (and have reacted), it looks like there might not be any need to panic. In their statement, which the couple individually posted on Twitter, the couple has explicitly stated that they will continue working together for the foundation. The foundation also released a statement saying the two would remain co-chairs and trustees and that no changes in the organisation were planned.

According to The New York Times, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive Mark Suzman sent out a reassuring email to staffers which said, ‘Bill and Melinda asked me explicitly to express their deep gratitude for everything you do every day, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis, as well as for your support and understanding in this difficult time.’ 

And one of the most important factors is that Warren Buffet, a trustee at the foundation, has made a commitment to make an annual donation to the foundation.
The Gates have also pursued individual interests in their foundation. In 2015, Melinda Gates invested in Pivotal Ventures, which supports women’s economic empowerment, and since 2008, Bill Gates established Gates Ventures. 


What happens now
The couple’s division of assets has already begun. According to The Wall Street Journal, the day the couple announced their divorce, Bill Gates’ company Cascade Investment transferred stakes to Melinda Gates worth $2.4 billion. She holds 14.1 million shares of Canadian National Railway and is the largest shareholder of Mexican based Grupo Televisa SA and Coca-Cola Femsa SAB.

A divorce attorney told the Associated Press that the money committed to the foundation will not be considered as marital property.

The one significant change that Melinda Gates has made is the addition of her maiden name on Twitter. So maybe, just maybe, if it does come down to it, the foundation will probably just see a cosmetic change on the name plate. 

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