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How the Gates Foundation will survive Bill and Melinda’s divorce

The charitable foundation has a plan for how to handle the breakup

Philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, right, and his wife Melinda react, prior to being awarded the Legion of Honour at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
In this April 21, 2017, file photo, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, right, and his wife Melinda react, prior to being awarded the Legion of Honour at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates will continue to work together as co-chairs of their foundation even after their planned divorce.
Kamil Zihnioglu, Associated Press

When Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce, questions swirled about what would happen to the billionaire couple’s shared fortune — and their influential charitable foundation, the Deseret News reported.

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the world’s largest private charities, according to CNN, with the foundation giving away more than $55 billion, much of this coming from the Gates’ personal wealth.
  • The couple has stated that they intend to continue working as co-chairs and trustees at the Gates Foundation, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Now, the Gates Foundation has a contingency plan for how to handle the divorce if the ex-couple cannot continue to work together, reported BBC.

How will Bill and Melinda's divorce impact the Gates Foundation?

Despite the divorce, Bill and Melinda Gates both intend to continue their work at the foundation. According to Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman in an interview with The Wall Street Journal:

  • “Bill and Melinda have both individually and together assured me of their firm intent to keep working together as long-term co-chairs of the foundation,” Suzman said.
  • “Even in the last two months they’ve been working together very successfully with me and the executive leadership team,” he said.

However, Wednesday, the foundation announced a contingency plan in case the exes decide that working together is no longer possible, reported NBC News.

What is the contingency plan?

For the next two years, Bill and Melinda Gates will co-chair the foundation on a “trial period.” If, during this time, the pair realizes they cannot work together, then Melinda Gates may leave the foundation, reported CNN.

  • If this happens, Bill Gates will buy out Melinda Gates with his “personal resources” — not the foundation’s endowment, said BBC.
  • Melinda Gates will then pursue her own charitable work, said BBC.

This contingency plan will “ensure the continuity of the foundation’s work,” CNN reported.

What’s next for the Gates Foundation?

During this trial period, Suzman, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, said the foundation has begun looking to expand its board of trustees. The foundation will consider diversity of trustees and announce new trustees in January, per BBC.

  • Currently, Bill and Melinda are the only trustees since Warren Buffett — the other trustee — resigned in June, reported NBC News.

“These governance changes bring more diverse perspectives and experience to the foundation’s leadership,” Melinda Gates said in a statement. “I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”