For the past two decades, the billionaire couple has donated much of their wealth through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has become one of the world's wealthiest charitable foundations, tackling an array of global issues including poverty, health, education, economic issues and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Twitter announcement, Bill Gates said that despite the end of their marriage, he and Melinda Gates -- who are currently the co-chairs of the foundation -- would continue their philanthropic efforts.
"This is not some small family foundation that's going to fall apart because a marriage is falling apart, this is a large, professional institution," Founder and editor of Philanthropy, David Callahan, said in an interview with BBC's World Service.
"They have built this from the ground up over the last 20 years, they share a deep commitment to it, it's unlikely that either one of them would be happy to see it not continue to do the work that it does."
The foundation currently has more than 1,600 employees, with South African Native Mark Suzman leading its efforts. Suzman is a graduate of Harvard University and previous Rhodes Scholar who stepped into the CEO role in early-2020, replacing oncologist and biotechnology leader Sue Desmond-Hellmann. Suzman has been with the foundation for more than 14 years, holding multiple positions, most recently as the Chief Strategy Officer and President of Global Policy and Advocacy. Before joining the Gates Foundation, he served at the United Nations.
It is estimated the foundation has an endowment of $50B, more than the GDP of several countries. The couple established the foundation in 2000 after Bill Gates stepped down from his role as chief executive of Microsoft. The majority of the foundation’s funds are donations from the couple's personal wealth.
Investor Warren Buffet is also a significant contributor to the foundation, having made a lifetime pledge of Berkshire Hathaway stocks valued at more than $30B in 2006. He currently pays the foundation in yearly instalments to the foundation, with the most recent contribution valued at an estimated $2.9B.
Overseeing financial decisions and resources is CFO Carolyn Ainslie. Ainslie stepped into the position in July 2018, after serving as the VP for Finance at Princeton University for ten years. Ainslie is responsible for all financial analysis, investments, risk and assurance functions at the foundation.
Working closely with Ainslie, and an important advisor to co-chairs Bill and Melinda Gates, is Chief Strategy Officer Ankur Vora. Born and raised in India, Vora received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, before moving to Chicago to obtain his PhD in Economics. He worked as a Principal at Boston Consulting Group for six years before becoming the Director of Programmes at The Children's Investment Fund Foundation. Vora joined the Gates Foundation in 2013.
In recent years, Melinda Gates has focused on initiatives to bridge the gender equality gap.
"I want to see more women in the position to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives." Melinda Gates wrote in an article published on TIME. "I believe that women's potential is worth investing in — and the people and organizations working to improve women's lives are, too."
Soon after Melinda Gates made the commitment to focus on gender equality initiatives, the Gates Foundation appointed Anita Zaidi as its first-ever Gender Equality President. Zaidi was awarded the Caplow's Children's Prize for her health services work, which includes establishing the Maternal Newborn Child Health Discovery and Tools program for vulnerable women and children. Zaidi is a pediatric infectious diseases physician, and also serves as the foundation's Director of Vaccine Development and Surveillance.
Despite rightful concerns around the foundation's future, the organization has stated that Bill and Melinda will remain co-chairs and trustees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and its work will continue.
“No changes to their roles or the organization are planned," the organization said in a statement. "They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation's issues, and set the organization's overall direction."