Bill and Melinda Gates, two of the richest people in the world who were reshaping philanthropy and public health with the fortune made by Mr. Gates as co-founder of Microsoft, said Monday they were divorcing.
For decades, Mr. and Mrs. Gates have been unique forces on the world stage. Their enormous charitable donations give them access to the highest levels of government, business, and the non-profit sector. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with approximately $ 50 billion in endowment, has made a tremendous impact in areas from global health to early childhood education and has made great strides in reducing deaths from malaria and other infectious diseases. And last year, the couple were particularly visible, regularly commenting on the global battle against Covid-19, when their foundation spent more than $ 1 billion fighting the pandemic.
“After much thought and work on our relationship, we made the decision to end our marriage,” said Mr. and Mrs. Gates in a statement posted on Twitter.
They went on to say that they “have built a foundation that works around the world to help all people live healthy and productive lives” and that they “continue to believe in this mission” but “can no longer believe us” in grow together as a couple in this next phase of our life. “
The foundation said in a statement that Mr. and Mrs. Gates would remain co-chairs and trustees and that no changes were expected in the organization.
“They will continue to work together to develop and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s problems, and set the general direction of the organization,” the statement said.
Even so, the divorce will raise new questions about the fate of Gates’ fortune, much of which have not yet been donated to the Gates Foundation. The 65-year-old Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is one of the richest people in the world with an estimated value of $ 124 billion, according to Forbes. The Gateses have been married for 27 years and have three children.
With 1,600 employees in offices around the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards approximately $ 5 billion each year in areas such as global public health and development. The foundation used their expertise and relationships to play a key role in formulating the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, investing early in vaccine candidates, and Covax, the global initiative to organize the purchase of vaccines for 92 poor countries and dozens of other nations to help shape.
“Bill and Melinda Gates pioneered the great philanthropy of today,” said David Callahan, founder of Inside Philanthropy. “Everything was oversized.”
While the Gateses did not provide details on how they would structure their finances, it is believed that they have a marriage agreement. The Gateses are the largest farmland owners in America and have huge investments, despite Cascade Investment, which manages Mr. Gates’ personal wealth, and has large stakes in the Four Seasons hotel chain, the Canadian National Railway, and AutoNation, the country’s largest car dealership chain , owns, among other companies. The family owns several homes and lots, including a 66,000 square foot mansion in Washington.
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Mr. Callahan said Ms. Gates, 56, could become even more influential in the years to come.
She already has her own company, Pivotal Ventures, which she has invested in to invest in women’s economic empowerment issues. Should she receive any of the Microsoft inventory from Mr. Gates, she could start a new foundation or give direct gifts for other causes she supports.
“You could imagine Melinda Gates being a much more progressive giver herself,” said Mr. Callahan. “She will be an important force in philanthropy for decades to come.”
In 2019, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and longtime wife MacKenzie Scott divorced. Ms. Scott received $ 36 billion worth of Amazon stock at the time and immediately set out to make billions of dollars in direct grants to a number of progressive organizations.
Mr. Gates recently resigned from some of his business activities. Last year he left the board of directors of Microsoft and the board of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate of his close friend Warren Buffett.
Mr. Buffett has donated billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation over the years and has pledged to leave most of his fortune to the foundation when he dies. In 2010, Mr. Buffett and the Gateses founded the Giving Pledge to encourage wealthy individuals to donate much of their money to charity.
Mr. and Mrs. Gates have had relationship problems in recent years, said two people close to them. There have been multiple times when the relationship was nearing breakdown, but they worked to keep it together, people said. Mr Gates decided to partially step down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway to spend more time with his family, these people said.
“When he struggled to make the decision to get married, it was incredibly clear to him that it wasn’t about me, but about ‘Can I strike the right balance between work and family?'” Ms. Gates said in an interview in 2019 in the Sunday Times of London. “And believe me, I can remember a few days that were so incredibly difficult in our marriage when you thought, ‘Can I do this?'”
Nicholas Kulish contributed to the coverage.