How will Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce impact their charity?

Bill and Melinda Gates (pictured during a 2011 visit to a village in India’s Bihar state) have chaneled billions to global health and education programs through their foundation

The shock announcement that billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are to divorce after 27 years of marriage has raised questions about the future of their hugely influential charity.

Here, AFP takes a look at the Gates Foundation, from how it works and what projects it finances, to its impact on the pandemic and how the non-profit may be impacted by the split.

The couple say the idea for the foundation came to them as young parents when they read a newspaper article about millions of children in developing countries dying from easily treatable illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

With 1,600 staff members in offices around the world, the Gates Foundation gives away roughly $5 billion each year in areas like global public health and development.

More than $2 billion has gone towards fighting malaria alone with the aim of eradicating the mosquito-borne disease “within a generation.”

Dozens of other programs it funds include nutrition, sanitation, maternal and newborn child health and agricultural development.

Last year, the foundation pledged about $250 million to help fight the pandemic, with some of the funds channeled to the distribution of life-saving doses of Covid-19 vaccines to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It was also key in forming Covax, a global program to help supply vaccines to the poorest countries.

It found itself embroiled in controversy though after it was accused of pushing Oxford University to sign an exclusive agreement with AstraZeneca for its vaccine rather than donate the rights to any drugmaker.

Bill, 65, and Melinda, 56 are co-chairs of the charity while Warren Buffett is a trustee. The CEO is Mark Suzman.

In 2008, Bill moved to a part-time role at Microsoft to devote himself to the foundation. Last year, he left his board positions at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway for the same reason.

In her 2019 memoir, “The Moment of Lift”, Melinda wrote that they argued over who would write the foundation’s annual letter, which Bill had typically done.

– Where does the money come from? –

In 2006, Buffett announced that he would donate the bulk of his fortune to the foundation in the form of shares in his company Berkshire Hathaway.

More than 200 prominent people have made the pledge to date.

At the end of last year it had a vast portfolio of stocks, dominated by Berkshire Hathaway and also including Walmart, Caterpillar, US company Waste Management and the Canadian National Railway Company, according to Investopedia.

Bill, the fourth richest man in the world with a fortune valued by Forbes at $130 billion, and Melinda have pledged to continue working together for the foundation.

The future of the Gates Foundation could depend on the financial terms of the divorce, which is still unknown.



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