Bill Gates reveals how he and his ex-wife Melinda came together for a blockbuster $20 billion giveaway that makes them the biggest donors in the world
In a lengthy interview, the philanthropist expanded on the state of the couple’s partnership and how it will now increase their foundation’s annual spending by 50% to $9 billion a year.
Jhe Covid-19 pandemic, according to Bill Gates, remains “worse than people think”. Ditto the war in Ukraine, not to mention the economic downturn and “the political context where the willingness to think globally and do complex things, at least, seems to be at a pretty low point.” Gates says all this a day before he is set to announce, in juxtaposition, one of the largest donations in the history of philanthropy – $20 billion, which he is transferring this month to the eponymous foundation that he currently co-manages with his ex-wife, Melinda French Gates.
The donation brings the Gates’ irrevocable lifetime gifts to $55 billion, making them now the greatest philanthropists of all time. They are ahead of their friend Warren Buffett, who gave $48 billion, most of it to the Gates Foundation.
The real impact of this donation is enormous: it means that the Gates Foundation, the largest in the world, will now increase its spending by 50%, to $9 billion per year by 2026; that’s more than the aid spending of all but about five countries, according to Gates’ calculations. “It’s going to supercharge or accelerate, charge, turbocharge basically all the work that we do,” the Microsoft co-founder said in an exclusive interview yesterday.
There is significance here beyond the additional $3 billion each year dedicated to gender equity, the eradication of disease, and child mortality, among other causes expressly pursued by the Gates Foundation. It’s an eleven-figure statement about the need for the super-rich to deploy their philanthropy more aggressively, rather than letting it pile up for generations of administrators to dribble around for centuries under their name. “It’s like they’re trying to maximize how long their foundation will exist,” Gates explains, “as opposed to, are there high-impact things they can do now?”
GATES FOUNDATION EXPENSES
Soaring spending reinforces the “give while you live” principle embodied by Chuck Feeney, the 91-year-old Duty Free founder who, during the distribution of more than $8 billion, pulled out of the Forbes 400 list for something close to bankruptcy. . Rather than wait for him to die, Gates now says he fully intends to remove himself from Forbes’ billionaires list while he is still alive. (With this most recent donation, he slips down to No. 5 in the world, with a net worth of around $102 billion outside of the foundation.) just, say, two more giveaways of this magnitude. I would step off the top end of the list,” Gates says. “To completely exit the list is going to take me a while, but my direction is clear.”
This $20 billion transfer might also be the most telling snapshot of the current situation between Gates and his ex-wife. The stakes go far beyond, say, the split between Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott – a clean financial break that has seen Scott become arguably the most influential philanthropist of this decade. Because the Gates co-manage the world’s largest foundation, a driving force behind the Global Fund, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the continued fight against polio, malaria and other diseases, the state of their Disunity is a matter of international importance, especially as the pair sit in the middle of a two-year window to decide their collaborative future. If either refuses to maintain the status quo, then Bill Gates will fund his separate philanthropic activities.
According to Bill Gates, however, so far so good. “I think all the evidence I see indicates that we will be able to run the foundation together forever.” He says he first consulted with foundation CEO Mark Suzman about the $20 billion transfer three months ago, ultimately bringing in Buffett and the foundation board. The economic jolts of this period did nothing to dissuade him from following this path, partly with the encouragement of Melinda French Gates.
“The good news is that even during the difficult times of the divorce, which fortunately are now over a year behind us, we were able to work constructively at the foundation. It has always surprised me how well Melinda and I agree on the basics. And we have a few things where she knows better than me, and we just support each other.
“She can speak for herself, but all I see is, ‘Hey, we’re the big partnership running the foundation, we always have been. “” Gates cited a recent trip his ex-wife took to Africa. “So she went to Rwanda where the heads of state of the Commonwealth met. She went to Senegal and she answered every day. I saw that, I think about it.”
So, given all of this and the abundance of problems to solve, why should the Gates Foundation even stop at $9 billion a year? Gates acknowledges that $10 billion offered a round number, but he will instead wait until 2026 when he will have visibility into how the foundation has handled the increased spending. “I’m not setting $9 billion as a cap. I will know a lot more about the assets and how they are performing by then.
Gates also has Warren Buffett, who has ordered that the money he gives to the foundation — he has donated or earmarked $56 billion so far — be fully deployed within ten years of his death. (“‘Let the rich of the future tackle the problems of the future,’ Buffett has told me many times.”) It’s a torrent of philanthropic spending lurking on the foundation, an altruistic challenge that insiders who plan it would have dubbed it “Lincoln Project”.
A twist: a recent the wall street journal report that suggests Buffett could direct a final tranche that could possibly be tens of billions to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, founded by his late wife, with a big focus on abortion rights. Gates, who says “I never want to behave in a way that takes Warren’s generosity to me for granted,” believes his foundation will still receive the bulk of that money. “I have no reason to think that will change. I know I sent him this announcement a few days ago and he is very excited about it.
Either way, Buffett made an impact. “I’m so influenced by Warren that I can hardly claim original thought on a fair way to understand investing or a general approach to philanthropy.” While Gates won’t commit to shutting down his foundation with the same urgency that Buffett’s money will be deployed, he says he could see a quarter of a century come to an end, to give time and projection for projects to come. longer term.
The biggest clouds, Gates explains, are toxic politics both abroad, in places threatened by democracy like Lebanon and Sri Lanka, and domestically. For the latter, he cited a lunch he recently had with Bill and Hillary Clinton and one of his children, who asked: How did Arkansas go from a blue state to a red state?
“The good news is that even during the difficult times of the divorce, we were able to work constructively on the foundation. It has always surprised me how much agreement Melinda and I have on the foundations.
“And they were brilliant at explaining what happened, but then when we said, ‘Okay, and how did they get back to being a blue state? They were, like, ‘I’m glad someone young is here who might have the patience or the new way of looking at American politics.’
Otherwise, through this interview and his post on the Gates Notes blog this morning, Gates is trying to project positivity at a time when the world craves it. He’s particularly optimistic about individualized digital breakthroughs in education, a stubborn area for the foundation over the years. “I have more hope than ever about this. With some of these new math classes, we’re really starting to see the impact we can have there. Ditto in toilets, digital financial inclusion and other areas. “There are a lot of things I’m optimistic about,” Gates says. Fair enough. We’re about to see if accelerated spending can move the needle significantly.
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