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Melinda French Gates to donate $1 billion over next 2 years in support of women’s power

Melinda French Gates plans to donate $1 billion over the next two years to organizations supporting women and girls around the world

By Associated Press
Published: May 28, 2024, 10:00am

Melinda French Gates says she will be donating $1 billion over the next two years to individuals and organizations working on behalf of women and families globally, including on reproductive rights in the United States.

French Gates earlier this month announced she would step down from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and vowed to focus on women and families. As a part of leaving the Gates Foundation, French Gates received $12 billion from Bill Gates for her philanthropy going forward.

French Gates, one of the biggest philanthropic supporters of gender equity in the U.S., said Tuesday in a guest essay for The New York Times that she’s been frustrated over the years by people who say it’s not the right time to talk about gender equality.

“Decades of research on economics, well-being and governance make it clear that investing in women and girls benefits everyone,” she wrote.

French Gates said over the last few weeks she’s started directing new grants through her organization, Pivotal Ventures, to groups working in the U.S. to protect women’s rights and advance their power and influence. The grants are for general operating support, meaning they are not earmarked for specific projects. The groups include the National Women’s Law Center, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Teresa Younger, the president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, who also received a grant, has long called on donors to give unrestricted, multi-year funding to organizations. She praised French Gates’ new commitment as a part of a larger trend of major women donors giving generously to nonprofits.

“If philanthropy took lessons from the way that women are moving money, we would see more money in the field having greater impact,” Younger said.

Her organization learned of the grant, which is the first they’ve received from Pivotal Ventures last week, and Younger said there was no application process. She declined to disclose the amount of the grant but said it would help expand their work with organizations in the South and Midwest.

In addition, she also pledged to give 12 individuals $20 million each to distribute to nonprofit organizations of their choice before the end of 2026. Those funds will be managed by the National Philanthropic Trust, one of the largest public charities that offers donor-advised funds, a spokesperson for Pivotal Ventures said.

In total, French Gates announced $690 million in commitments out of the promised $1 billion, which also include an “open call” for applications that the organization Lever for Change will administer this fall. French Gates said $250 million will be awarded through that process to fund organizations working to improve women’s mental and physical health globally.

French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures is a limited liability company that also manages investments for profit ventures, so there is little public information about its grantmaking or the assets it manages. Pivotal Ventures has focused on a number of avenues to increase women’s economic and political participation and power, like closing the wage gap, compensating care work often done by women, and encouraging women to run for political office.

In her essay Tuesday, French Gates touched upon the high maternal mortality rates in the U.S., noting that Black and Native American mothers are at the highest risk.

“Women in 14 states have lost the right to terminate a pregnancy under almost any circumstances. We remain the only advanced economy without any form of national paid family leave. And the number of teenage girls experiencing suicidal thoughts and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness is at a decade high,” she said.

French Gates will be leaving the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation next week. She helped co-found the organization nearly 25 years ago.

The Associated Press receives financial support for news coverage in Africa from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and for news coverage of women in the workforce and state governments from Pivotal Ventures.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will change its name to the Gates Foundation. It is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world. As of December 2023, its endowment was $75.2 billion, thanks to donations from Gates and the billionaire investor Warren Buffett. While it works across many issues, global health remains its largest area of work, and most of its funding is meant to address issues internationally rather than in the U.S.

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The donations will be made through her Pivotal Ventures group. Here is how Pivotal says it will be divided:

  • $200 million to existing U.S. nonprofits supporting women and girls: Center for Reproductive Rights, Collaborative for Gender + Reproductive Equity, Collective Future Fund, Community Change, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, MomsRising Education Fund, Ms. Foundation for Women, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, New America, The 19th, Roosevelt Institute, States United Democracy Center, Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, and Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
  • $240 million, in $20 million grants to each of these global leaders: Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, founder of The AAKOMA Project; Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix; filmmaker Ava DuVernay; Crystal Echo Hawk, founder of IllumiNative; Gary Barker, founder of Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice; Hauwa Ojeifo, founder of She Writes Woman; former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Roberta Gbowee; M. V. Lee Badgett, founding partner of Koppa: The LGBTI+ Economic Power Lab; Richard V. Reeves, founding president of the American Institute for Boys and Men; Sabrina Habib, co-founder and CEO of Kidogo; and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of the School of Leadership Afghanistan.
  • $250 million to be awarded to organizations working to improve women’s mental and physical health worldwide, selected through an open call with Lever for Change this fall.
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