Acrimonious divorce may open window to changes in Gates Foundation

Philanthropic organisation may see new members, change in focus; could have impact on India operations, too

Bill and Melinda
Years of acrimony is said to have led to the split between Bill and Melinda Gates.

As the world woke up to the shocking news that Bill and Melinda Gates were ending their 27-year-old marriage, it came with an assurance — that their $50 billion philanthropic foundation would remain intact. Now, there are indications that this may not be entirely true.

The foundation is a major stakeholder in the global public health space, and has made about $50 billion in spending over two decades.

Acrimonious split

At the time of announcing the divorce, the Gates said it was a mutual decision, and sought privacy. However, subsequently, there were media report about the years of acrimony that had eventually led to the split.


Related news: Bill Gates, Melinda to divorce, will work together at foundation

It is now believed that Melinda had been unhappy about Bill’s alleged ties to Jeffrey Epstein, a financier and convicted sex offender. She was also supposedly upset over his alleged behaviour with Microsoft staff, including an extra-marital affair.

There have also been complaints about the behaviour of Michael Larson, the money manager who runs Cascade Investment, which has been handling the Gates’ fortune for nearly three decades.

Room for change

With so much acrimony in their relationship, doubts have begun to arise on how well Bill and Melinda will be able to work together for their philanthropic activities. There have been reports of the Foundation having to rope in outside directors —apart from the Gates and Buffett.

It is feared that such a move may change the focus of the foundation. Yet, it may also be a good move, media reports have noted. A larger number of board members could bring in greater diversity and democratise the institution better.

A Bloomberg report has quoted Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman as telling employees he was looking to strengthen the “long-term sustainability and stability of the foundation”.

“I’m actively discussing with Bill and Melinda steps they and Warren (Buffet) might take,” he said, per the report. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is also a board member of the Gates Foundation, and has brought in $27 billion of his own money into to the foundation.

The Gates couple have “reaffirmed their commitment to the foundation and continue to work together on behalf of our mission”, he further said.

The India connection

In India, the Gates Foundation works with the Centre on various projects including those under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also partners with community groups, non-profit organisations, academic institutions, development organisations and private players in the philanthropy space.

Its areas of focus in healthcare include maternal and neonatal health, nutrition, family planning, and the control of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, lymphatic filariasis, and visceral leishmaniasis, according to the Foundation.

How far a potential change in the Gates Foundation would impact its operations in India is yet to be estimated.