In her first public appearance since her divorce announcement, Melinda French Gates traveled to the White House, head of her charity and investment firm. He pressed Biden officials on two central issues in his priorities: paid family leave and childcare.
The same day this month, Bill Gates was presented at a virtual address at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome. Guessing his well-known sweater, shirt with collar and glasses, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp spoke for almost 11 minutes about the impact of climate change on global food.
The themes revealed the divergent interests of the former billionaire couple behind one of the world’s greatest philanthropic foundations. Her split after 27 years of marriage, announced in May, now calls into question the fate of her vast fortune and the focus of her charitable efforts. It also highlights its individual private investment arms, which have been quietly built over the past five years.
They both said they would remain engaged in the $ 50 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where they promised to spend most of their wealth through their Giving Pledge. But in the years leading up to their separation, each spouse has been immersed in projects outside the scope of the foundation’s work, a trend that is expected to accelerate after divorce.
“One couple is now two individual families,” said Elizabeth Dale, associate professor of nonprofit leadership at the University of Seattle. The couple’s philanthropic efforts have greatly influenced him, he said, and are likely to “continue, both through the current foundation and perhaps in other ways as well.”
For 56-year-old French Gates, the divorce could mean more resources will be focused on Pivotal Ventures, its 90-person incubation and investment venture largely focused on gender equality. He has already received stock of more than $ 3 billion from Gates ’cascading investment, only a small fraction of his combined fortune of $ 145 billion at the time of the divorce, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.
Bill Gates, 65, has focused much of his work on Breakthrough Energy, an organization launched in 2015 that now employs about 100 people specializing in various aspects of climate change, while funding profits and startups employing hundreds. more.
A spokesman for Breakthrough and Gates’ private office, Gates Ventures, declined to comment. A Pivotal spokesman said that “Gates’ commitment to France to advance the power and influence of women around the world, both as co-chair of the foundation and founder of Pivotal Ventures, remains unchanged.”
Both Breakthrough and Pivotal operate through LLCs, which means they can operate as for-profit entities. It is an increasingly popular form of donation, used by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and by Steve Jobs ’widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, with his Emerson Collective.
An LLC doesn’t always provide the same tax deductions that traditional foundations do, but it comes with fewer rules. The money can go to political lobbying or campaign donations, which are not tax deductible. And, unlike the foundations, the activities, funding and staff of an LLC do not need to be disclosed in the annual tax filings that are made public.
Depending on who you ask for, they are either an innovative tool in the toolbox of the world’s best philanthropists, or a major step forward in terms of transparency.
“They don’t do the same checks and balances as foundations,” said Linsey McGoey, a professor of sociology at the University of Essex, who wrote a book called “No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy “.
Pivotal, launched in 2015, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in more than 150 organizations to date, according to a spokesman. It uses grants and venture capital to focus on women’s empowerment, including introducing more women into technology jobs and electing them to public office, supporting women and women of color and fostering paid leave. for the family.
In Washington this month, French Gates met with officials including President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, and national policy adviser Susan Rice, along with directors of Pivotal and the Gates Foundation. On the Pivotal side, they discussed paid leave and assistance as related to Biden’s American Families Plan, according to a person close to the company, who asked not to be called to speak about a private meeting.
In April, Pivotal hired Finsbury Glover Hering lobbying firm in Washington to focus on the issues of care and paid leave, the person said, a sign that could intensify its efforts in Washington.
The White House is a long way from the basement of the Gates Foundation, where one of Pivotal’s managing directors remembers working years ago. In the early 2010s, the foundation launched projects related to women’s equality – funding initiatives that influence contraception and family planning, for example – but French Gates wanted to accelerate its focus. on gender equality and made it a central issue in everything they had done.
“Progress has been slow, but it was too slow for me,” French Gates wrote in his 2019 book, “The Moment of the Elevator.” “People were always talking softly about gender at the foundation, sometimes in whispers, not wanting much to move forward.”
In 2015, he founded Pivotal as a separate organization of about 10 people, a handful of whom were ripped off by the Gates Foundation, including Haven Ley, the gender expert who joked about working underground, and John Sage, current CEO of Pivotal.
French Gates “really started entering her as a philanthropist and as a leader in the early 2010s, and it’s been a kind of gradual evolution for her,” Dale said. “Pivotal represented that it has taken on a larger ownership and leadership role.”
It is only relatively recently that the goal of Pivotal has come into focus. His early years were spent talking and looking for what he could become, according to three people familiar with his early days. Until December 2018, Pivotal’s website was nothing more than a landing page that read “Melinda Gates Executive Office” with links to French Gates social media pages. Business began to pick up only when his book was published in 2019.
Bill Gates is growing increasingly focused on Advances and Climate Change, the subject of his book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” which is out this year. He said in February that he had spent $ 2 billion on the climate, and plans to spend another $ 2 billion.
Gates said his interest in the area began with a meeting with a pair of climate scientists, organized by two former Microsoft employees, in 2006. For the next 15 years, he continued to dig deeper into the subject – companies of launch, investment funds, project scientists and lobbying efforts aimed at fighting climate change.
In 2015, the same year French Gates started Pivotal, Gates recruited some of its billionaire partners to launch some money into a new $ 1 billion fund, called Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which, launched the following year, will invest in companies and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a longer-term focus than traditional enterprise firms. Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg, founders of Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg LP, all signed on to the first round of the fundraiser.
“What Breakthrough has done is bring in a lot more capital, and the megaphone and messengers that weren’t part of the conversation before,” said Alicia Seiger, who is general manager of the Steyer-Taylor Center at the University of Stanford for Energy Policy and Finance.
Breakthrough’s venture arm closed another $ 1bn round in January this year, recruiting a handful of new billionaire financiers – including Fidelity Investments CEO Abigail Johnson and Ben Walton, the grandson of Walmart Inc. founder . Sam Walton – with the goal of investing in as many as 50 startups. It is also building a € 100 million pilot fund created last year in partnership with the European Commission.
Gates has kept the focus of the work without Breakthrough’s investment in innovation as well, funding largely his own philanthropic, political, advocacy and research work. Its Catalyst program, which seeks to accelerate the deployment of clean technologies such as green hydrogen, is launching a $ 1 billion initiative with the European Commission. Advanced energy sciences are doing original research, such as a detailed model of the U.S. energy grid released this year.
Gates started his private office, Gates Ventures, in 2008. He focuses on a variety of his interests, including investing in technology and financing education and health projects – including a Alzheimer’s research – outside the domain of the Gates Foundation.
Pivotal is about to become much more active. French Gates said in a column in Time 2019 magazine that she is committing $ 1 billion over the next 10 years toward women’s empowerment.
Since 2016, her firm has invested more than $ 65m in organizations such as the National Partnership for Women and Families and Paid Grants for All. Last year, she pledged $ 50 million for an initiative that aims to increase the representation and leadership of women in technology in three cities over the next five years.
French Gates also funds an effort alongside MacKenzie Scott – who has accelerated his own charitable donation following his divorce from Bezos. The equality challenge can’t wait to call on organizations to ask how they will spend $ 10m to accelerate women’s empowerment. Winners will be announced this summer.