What does the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce mean for the philanthropic world?
Donations of around US$50 billion have allowed the foundation to make massive contributions to philanthropic causes around the world.
What’s going on with the divorce?
- Bill and Melinda Gates filed for a divorce in their home city of Seattle on Monday, May 3, calling their marriage “irretrievably broken.”
- The couple seems to be dealing with each other amicably, with reports stating that the two signed a “separation contract” prior to the divorce agreeing on how their estate should be divided up.
- In a joint statement, they celebrated the achievements they’ve made in their marriage and even committed to working together going forward.
- While divorces generally focus on the couple’s emotional state, for Bill and Melinda Gates, coverage of the divorce has focused more on the massive estate that the couple will be dividing up.
- Bill Gates made his fortune as the founder of Microsoft and his current net worth is estimated at around US$137 billion.
- The net worth of Melinda Gates is somewhat unclear, but the two have historically taken on partnership roles in managing their charity foundation.
What exactly does their foundation do?
- According to their website, the goals of the foundation are to fight “poverty, disease, and inequity around the world.”
- Donations of around US$50 billion have allowed the foundation to make massive contributions to philanthropic causes around the world.
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives away around US$5 billion annually and just last year it gave US$1 billion of that to help combat COVID-19 through the administration of vaccines.
- Bill and Melinda Gates run the second largest philanthropic foundation in the world and whatever happens to its trustees has implications on billionaire philanthropy as a whole.
- The Gates Foundation serves as a sort of blueprint for philanthropic organizations worldwide and how the divorce is settled sets a precedent not only for the organizations to consider, but a legal one to consider going forward as well.
So, what’s going to happen with the foundation?
- The couple has made it pretty clear that their work in the foundation won’t change, at least for now.
- The couple had pledged over a decade ago to donate the vast majority of their wealth – an estimated US$133 billion – to their foundation.
- Divorce attorneys seem to agree that the money that’s already been committed to the foundation is not considered marital property and won’t be able to be split between them in the process of the divorce.
- The two had also already set up systems to allow each other to pursue their own interests within the bounds of the foundation.
- In 2008, Bill Gates founded Gates Ventures and, in 2015, Melinda Gates founded Pivotal Ventures. Both of them are wings of the larger foundation.
- Some experts have expressed concern that the divorce could cause friction within the foundation.
- “People do fear that when a divorce like this happens, it can really emphasize the volatility surrounding private giving and the fact that private giving is so contingent on the whims of a couple,” said Linsey McGoey, a sociology professor at the University of Essex.
- But because of the large staff the foundation employs, experts pretty much agree that any changes that come won’t happen overnight. Rather, if shifts do take place, they will take place in small bits over time.
- Ultimately, experts seem to agree that whatever friction might appear, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation isn’t about to fall apart because of this divorce.
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