Melinda French Gates Exits Gates Foundation, Signaling Tension With Bill

Christian Liewig/Corbis/Getty
Christian Liewig/Corbis/Getty

Melinda French Gates is exiting the Gates Foundation, one of the largest private philanthropies in the world, signaling that she and her ex-husband were unable to collaborate effectively following their 2021 divorce.

“After careful thought and reflection, I have decided to resign from my role as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. My last day of work at the foundation will be June 7th,” French Gates wrote on X Monday. “This is not a decision I came to lightly.”

French Gates added that she will continue to work as a philanthropist.

“Under the terms of my agreement with Bill, in leaving the foundation, I will have an additional $12.5 billion to commit to my work on behalf of women and families.” She said she will share more information about her future projects soon.

French Gates’ name will be dropped from the organization, which will now be referred to as the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates will serve as its sole chair.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted French Gates to resign, though after the couple separated three years ago, they emphasized that they had established a plan for the foundation if their relationship fell apart.

In a press release that July, CEO Mark Suzman said the couple would continue leading the organization together on a two-year trial basis.

“If after two years either one of them decides that they cannot continue to work together, Melinda will resign as co-chair and trustee,” he wrote. “In such a case, Melinda would receive personal resources from Bill for her philanthropic work. These resources would be completely separate from the foundation’s endowment, which would not be affected.”

In a statement on X on Monday, Bill Gates applauded his ex-wife’s contributions.

“Melinda has been instrumental in shaping our strategies and initiatives, significantly impacting global health and gender equality. Looking ahead, I remain fully committed to the Foundation’s work across all our strategies, and to realizing the opportunities we have to continue improving the lives of millions around the world,” he wrote.

In recent years, French Gates has established herself as a highly visible philanthropist, in contrast to some other prominent givers such as a Jeff Bezos’ reclusive ex MacKenzie Scott, and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Elizabeth Dale, associate professor in the master of nonprofit leadership program at Seattle University, said the $12.5 billion in new funding represents a “huge commitment of resources that [French Gates] will be able to direct solely, without having to work with Bill or with even the other trustees of the Gates Foundation.”

Dale added that, since the couple divorced, the organization has added outside trustees and has begun a transition toward a more “fully professionalized grant making foundation, much like you would see [at] the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation.”

Alexander Reid, national team leader of the tax-exempt organizations and charitable giving team at BakerHostetler, cheered French Gates’ new role. “She's really going to walk her talk,” he said, given that one of her key philanthropic initiatives centers on “empowering women and girls and she herself will be in charge of her own organization.”

French Gates and Gates have remained largely private about the reasons for their divorce. In a 2022 interview, however, French Gates signaled that her husband’s connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was a factor, as The Daily Beast previously reported.

“It was many things. But I did not like that he’d had meetings with Jeffrey Epstein,” she said at the time. “I made that clear to him.” French Gates recalled meeting Epstein “exactly one time,” an encounter that left her repulsed.

“He was abhorrent. He was evil personified. I had nightmares about it afterwards,” she said. (Bill Gates has acknowledged that his meetings with Epstein were a “substantial error in judgment” and a “mistake that I regret deeply.” His spokesperson told The New York Times their discussions centered on philanthropy.)

There were other alleged moral lapses. According to The Wall Street Journal, some women who applied to work in Gates’ private office were asked inappropriate questions, including “whether they ever had extramarital affairs, what kind of pornography they preferred or if they had nude photographs of themselves on their phones.” A representative for Gates called the questioning “unacceptable” and said it had been conducted by an outside contractor.

In her 2022 interview, French Gates signaled that her former husband’s alleged extramarital affairs were also a factor in the split.

“I thought we had worked through some of that,” she said. “There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn't healthy. And I couldn't trust what we had.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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