With decades of philanthropic involvement under her belt, Melinda Gates has become something of a philanthropic role model. And her divorce from Bill Gates opens a new chapter for giving opportunities.
“I have no doubt in her ability to have impact,” Alexsis de Raadt St. James, founder and managing partner of Merian Ventures, told CNN Business. “It may be singularly the most important thing to follow in philanthropy because her impact is so disproportionately powerful.”
Melinda Gates has focused on several areas of giving in the past that could point to what we might expect from her in the decades ahead.
Empowering and supporting women is paramount to Melinda Gates. In 2015, she followed that passion and created her own investment and incubation company, Pivotal Ventures.
“After Bill and I opened our foundation, I started spending time with women around the world and gaining a much deeper understanding of the impact of structural inequality on women’s and girls’ lives,” Melinda Gates wrote in an opinion piece for CNN on International Women’s Day in March 2020. “The data is unequivocal: No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are a girl.”
Through philanthropic contributions and venture capital investments, the firm supports several women-focused efforts. And the team at Pivotal Ventures specifically focuses on getting more women working in key sectors — such as technology — and encouraging more women to run for public office, from the local level and up.
In June 2020, through Pivotal Ventures, Melinda Gates teamed with Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott to launch the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge. The program will grant $30 million to the organizations with the best ideas for helping expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030. Ten finalists have been chosen and the winners will be announced this summer.
“I think there’s a lot that an everyday person can learn from Melinda’s history with philanthropy,” Tammy Tibbetts, co-founder and CEO of She’s the First and author of “Impact” told CNN Business. “She’s been very consistent in supporting gender issues and women and girls.”
Through her work at Pivotal Ventures, Gates has spearheaded several mental health initiatives, mostly focusing on young people.
In April, she helped launch Sound It Out, a national campaign that promotes mental health for middle schoolers. The initiative includes an “album and resources to help parents and caregivers have meaningful conversations about emotional wellbeing with their middle schoolers,” according to an Ad Council press release.
In October 2020, she launched The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, which provides resources to organizations that address the mental health needs of young people — particularly focusing on young people of color and the young LGBTQ+ community in the United States.
Vaccines and vaccine access
Melinda Gates has been very vocal about vaccines and vaccine access, most recently during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Everybody needs this vaccine,” she told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in December. “If we only get it to the high-income countries, this disease is going to bounce around. We’re going to see twice as many deaths. And our recovery of our economies is going to be much slower than if we get the vaccine out to everybody.” She also encouraged policymakers to consider a long-term solution that will ensure women aren’t at risk again should another crisis occur.
In total, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed more than $1.75 billion to support the global response to Covid-19.
Lifting people out of poverty has long been a priority for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melinda Gates wrote about the intersection of technology and poverty in an opinion piece for CNN Business in October 2018, saying, “The first step is making sure that all people have access to digital technology, and right now billions still don’t.” She added, “Digital technology won’t help fight poverty if simply acquiring it pushes people into poverty.”
She also focuses on how poverty specifically applies to women. In 2019, she called “broad access to contraceptives” the “greatest anti-poverty tool
we have in the world.”
Through Pivotal Ventures, Melinda Gates has supported bipartisan efforts to advance a comprehensive federal paid leave policy since 2016, investing more than $65 million in advocates for the issue, including The Bipartisan Policy Center and the National Partnership for Women and Families. The company also works with Paid Leave for All and PL+US (Paid Leave for the US) — national campaigns that work at the state and federal levels to push for a national policy by mobilizing voters, businesses, and other key stakeholders.
In May 2019, Gates told CNN’s Harlow that the United States needs government-funded paid family leave, and Congress needs to put forth policy proposals and learn from state policies.
“We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have it,” Gates said. “It makes an enormous difference.”