Gates foundation adds board members after billionaires’ divorce

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has more than 1,700 employees across the world, has provided more than $60 billion in grants since it was established 21 years ago (Photo: Reuters)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has more than 1,700 employees across the world, has provided more than $60 billion in grants since it was established 21 years ago (Photo: Reuters)


Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates will be joined by four trustees, including the charity’s CEO, as part of efforts to boost governance

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation named four new members to its board of trustees, adding outsiders to the board for the first time in the charity’s history after the divorce of its co-founders Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates.

The changes are part of efforts to add more governance and independence to one of the world’s largest philanthropies, which has an endowment of more than $50 billion. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates remained co-chairs after their marital split, but the foundation had no other trustees after Bill Gates Sr. died in 2020 and Warren Buffett, another major donor, resigned in June 2021.

The new board members are:

Strive Masiyiwa, founder of African technology company Econet Group, who has worked with the foundation and is a director at Netflix Inc. and Unilever PLC;

Baroness Nemat “Minouche" Shafik, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a former official at the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund;

Thomas J. Tierney, co-founder of the philanthropic consulting firm Bridgespan Group, who has been an adviser to the Gateses and is a former chief executive of Bain & Co.;

Mark Suzman, a Gates Foundation veteran who has been the charity’s CEO since 2020.

The new board members, who are joining this week, will “provide additional input, strategic guidance, and fiduciary oversight to the foundation," Mr. Suzman wrote in his annual letter. “It also represents an explicit recognition by Bill and Melinda, especially in the wake of their divorce, that the foundation will be well served by the addition of strong, independent voices to help shape our governance."

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that the foundation was discussing governance changes after the divorce of two of the world’s richest people. In July, the foundation said it would add trustees. It also said that if after two years either of the co-chairs decides they can no longer work together to lead the foundation, Ms. French Gates would resign as co-chair and trustee, according to terms of a private agreement in their divorce. Should that happen, Ms. French Gates would receive funds from the Microsoft Corp. co-founder that are separate from the foundation’s endowment for her own philanthropic work.

In a news release Wednesday, Ms. French Gates said she is energized to work with the new board members to promote a healthier, safer and more equal world. In the release, Mr. Gates said the board members’ wide-ranging experience will help the philanthropy tackle challenges.

The foundation said the board could include as many as nine total members, meaning it could add as many as three more, and there are conversations about adding people to represent gender, geography and expertise. The board members will serve three-year terms with a two-consecutive-term limit. They are also expected to meet three times a year to approve the annual budget and four-year plan and guide the foundation’s work.

The philanthropy said Mr. Suzman as well as Gates Foundation executive Connie Collingsworth conducted a strategic review on best governance practices with external experts at the co-founders’ request. Most large philanthropies have boards of roughly a dozen people who advise or help run them.

In a September interview, Mr. Gates said the foundation wouldn’t have as large a board as other endowments, nor would a bigger board change its focus. “It will be nice to have additional trustees, but I wouldn’t think that in terms of what we actually do that you’ll see much in the way of change," he said.

Since January 2020, the Gates Foundation has committed more than $2 billion to the global Covid-19 response, with a focus on reaching marginalized communities, the philanthropy said. It invests money in more than two dozen different areas, including polio eradication, infectious diseases, gender equality, U.S. education and agriculture development. Last year it paid out $6.7 billion, Mr. Suzman wrote in his letter.

The foundation, which has more than 1,700 employees across the world, has provided more than $60 billion in grants since it was established 21 years ago. In July, Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates said they would commit a further $15 billion to the foundation and, along with Mr. Buffett, have pledged to give it much of their wealth. The foundation is required to spend down its endowment after its co-founders’ deaths.


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