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

May 28, 2024, 6:29 PM

Photo: Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Melinda French Gates speaks at the forum Emp...

Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Melinda French Gates speaks at the forum Empowering Women as Entrepreneurs and Leaders during the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters in Washington, on April 13, 2023. (File photo: Jose Luis Magana, AP)

(File photo: Jose Luis Magana, AP)

Melinda French Gates said 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.

It’s the second billion-dollar commitment French Gates has personally made in the past five years. In 2019, she pledged over ten years to expand women’s power and influence.

Earlier this month, French Gates 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 said 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 what will total $200 million in 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 within the 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.

The nonprofit MomsRising Education Fund also received a grant that will extend to the end of 2026, with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, its executive director and CEO, saying, “We’re deeply honored and enormously grateful that Melinda French Gates is stepping up for women and families in a time when the rights of our daughters may be significantly less than of ourselves or our own mothers.”

French Gates 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 includes an “open call” for applications that the organization Lever for Change will administer this fall. French Gates said $250 million will be awarded 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 in 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.

Pivotal Ventures said it has committed $875 million of the $1 billion that French Gates pledged in 2019 to a mixture of venture and philanthropic funding. Additionally, the Gates Foundation has funded research and interventions to improve maternal mortality and women’s health more broadly for years. In 2020, it hired its first president for its gender quality division and in 2021, the foundation pledged $2.1 billion to gender equity efforts convened by UN Women.

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