Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

What's next for the Gates Foundation?

caption: Melinda Gates in 2017 at an event in Washington, D.C., about investing in adolescents.
Enlarge Icon
Melinda Gates in 2017 at an event in Washington, D.C., about investing in adolescents.

Melinda French Gates is leaving the foundation that bears her name.

She announced Monday she will depart the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to focus on other charitable ventures. The foundation headquartered in Seattle is the largest philanthropic organization in the world. Her final day will be June 7.

RELATED: Melinda French Gates to leave Gates Foundation; will pivot to gender equality

The move marks a new direction for the world of philanthropy and the Pacific Northwest’s best-known ex-power couple. The Gates split in 2021.

French Gates will leave the organization with $12.5 billion to continue her charitable work, which means she has "the philanthropic resources greater than big names like the Rockefeller Foundation," according to Nicholas Kulish, a New York Times correspondent who covers philanthropy.

"She is now her own force to be reckoned with," Kulish said.

French Gates was often behind the scenes in the early years of the foundation, but she stepped into the public eye and made her interests more known over the years. For example, she championed women's health and leadership initiatives with the foundation.

Just a couple of years ago, French Gates, Bill Gates Sr., Bill Gates Jr., and Melinda Warren Buffet all sat on the board of the foundation. After June 7, with French Gates' departure, Bill Gates Jr. will be the only member of that quartet still at the organization.

RELATED: Bill Gates Sr., Father Of Microsoft Co-Founder, Dies At 94

"It will be interesting because this is a guy who, whether it's Paul Allen or Steve Ballmer or Melinda herself, has always had a partner in his biggest endeavors," Kulish said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — which will be renamed, simply, the Gates Foundation — is known globally for their work on health initiatives, like eradicating polio and developing vaccines. This year, it plans to spend around $8.5 billion on causes ranging from education to water sanitation.

But the foundation has also had a big influence in shaping initiatives here in the U.S.

One of its largest areas of impact, and maybe most controversial, has been in education policy. The foundation has moved away from this area over the last few years, but their influence is still felt today.

"Gates has been hugely impactful on school reform in K-12 education," said Megan Tompkins-Stange, an associate professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

RELATED: Bill And Melinda Gates Announce Divorce

The foundation supported efforts to reduce class sizes, implement teacher evaluations, and spread common-core standards across states.

Bill and Melinda French Gates took different approaches while working at the foundation. Bill Gates is viewed as technical person, while Melinda French Gates is viewed as a relational leader who worked to understand people affected by policy.

"A stereotype of women leaders is that they are more relational engaged," Tompkins-Stange said. "But from what I've been able to ascertain from my interviews, that element of her communication style and her leadership was very important in the Gates [Foundation]."

Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with Nicholas Kulish and Megan Tompkins-Stange by clicking the play icon at the top of this story.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 14, 2024 to include the following mention that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a financial supporter of KUOW.

Why you can trust KUOW