The news that billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates are due to separate after 27 years of marriage has sparked speculation about what will happen to their charitable foundation.
The Microsoft co-founder is a big name in the tech world, but he and his wife also play a central role in global health campaigns.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – the largest private organization of its kind – spends billions of dollars each year on initiatives to eradicate infectious diseases and reduce poverty.
How did their foundation start?
The Gates Foundation was born in 2000 from the merger of two previous charitable projects.
At the time, Bill Gates was considered the richest person in the world.
The couple said they were inspired to do more by a newspaper article about the deaths of millions of children each year from preventable diseases in the poorest countries.
They said that, as new parents, the relationship was hitting hard. They remembered sending the article to Bill’s dad with a note saying, “Dad, maybe we can do something about it.”
“Those eight words changed the rest of our lives,” the couple said on their foundation’s website.
Bill gradually distanced himself from Microsoft to focus on the work of the charity. Melinda, in her position as Co-Chair, has helped shape the direction of the organization with a particular focus on the empowerment of women and girls.
What does the foundation do?
Some of his early actions included commitments to the Global Fund organization, which works to eradicate deadly diseases such as malaria and AIDS.
The Gates Foundation was also a founding partner of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, created in 2000 to improve access to immunization in poor countries. He has donated more than $ 4 billion to Gavi, which is currently the key player in the distribution of Covid vaccines in developing countries.
Improving sanitation has become another goal of the foundation. Bill Gates has done everything from branding a pot of poo onstage to drinking water from distilled feces, in an effort to reduce stigma and showcase advancements in technology.
The foundation also works in the United States and claims to have funded 20,000 college scholarships for high-performing, low-income students of color.
The Seattle-based foundation has provided $ 54.8 billion in grants to initiatives in 135 international countries.
The company now has more than 1,600 employees in offices around the world, including in Delhi, Beijing and Johannesburg.
Where does he get his money from?
The Gates Foundation is the largest organization of its kind in the world with an endowment of around $ 50 billion (£ 36 billion) – more than the GDP of some countries.
According to the foundation’s website, the couple donated over $ 36 billion (£ 26 billion) of their own wealth to her from 1994 to 2018.
Another major contributor is American tycoon Warren Buffett, who in 2006 made a lifetime commitment worth over $ 30 billion to the foundation.
Together with the investor, the couple launched the Giving Pledge campaign in 2010 – encouraging other wealthy people to donate the majority of their wealth to good causes.
What are his critics saying?
While the foundation has done a good job with its spending around the world, some have expressed concerns about the ethics of a private company wielding such influence.
The foundation is the largest private donor to the World Health Organization (WHO), just behind the United States with its annual donation in 2018. Concerns about it grew more acute after former President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw US funds.
Bill Gates became a powerful public advocate for scientific medicine during the pandemic. This shed new light on his involvement in global health and initiatives such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Will the Gates Foundation continue its work?
In the statement announcing their divorce, the couple said they would “continue our work together at the foundation” despite the separation.
A foundation spokesperson said they would remain co-chairs and trustees.
David Callahan, founder and editor of news site Inside Philanthropy, told the BBC’s World Service that he expected the foundation’s work to continue.
“It’s not a small family foundation that is going to collapse because a marriage collapses, it is a large professional institution,” he said.
“They built it from scratch, over the past 20 years they share a deep commitment to it, either of them is unlikely to be happy to see it not. keep doing the job it does. “