Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott give $40M to boost groups working on gender equality

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MacKenzie Scott, left, and Melinda French Gates. (Photos via Bystander Revolution and Gates Foundation)

Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott are sharing some of their immense wealth with organizations that want to empower other women, announcing Thursday that they are awarding $40 million as part of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge.

Launched last June, the philanthropic initiative received more than 550 proposals and is aimed at improving gender equality by providing grants to organizations with ideas to expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. by 2030.

PREVIOUSLY: How Melinda French Gates has ‘transformational potential’ to boost equality in VC, tech and beyond

French Gates’ investment company Pivotal Ventures is hosting the Challenge, with support from Scott and husband Dan Jewett as well as Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

“The overwhelming response to the Challenge proves there’s no shortage of transformational ideas about how to accelerate progress for women and girls,” French Gates said in a news release. “The next step is to make sure those game-changing ideas get the support they need to become fully realized and improve people’s lives.”

The four awardees are: Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure ($10 million); Ada Developers Academy’s Changing the Face of Tech ($10 million); Girl Inc.’s Project Accelerate: Increasing Young Women’s Power and Influence ($10 million); and The Future is Indigenous Womxn ($10 million).

Seattle-based Ada Developers Academy said the funding will allow the organization to expand across the country, adding locations in five new regions. The tuition-free software development boot camp for women and underrepresented sexual, gender and racial minorities was founded in 2013 and has a mission to diversify the tech industry.

An additional $8 million in supplemental funding was split between two other finalists working on building women’s economic and political power: FreeFrom’s A Call to Action: Holding Society Accountable for Intimate Partner Violence; and IGNITE’s Training Next Gen Women to Flex Their Political Power.

Scott, ranked No. 17 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has a net worth of $64.1 billion. The former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos most recently gave away $2.74 billion to 286 organizations focused on promoting equity, alleviating poverty and promoting education and the arts. Her total philanthropic outlay totals more than $8 billion.

“The awardees are strong teams working on the front lines and from within communities to help women build power in their lives and careers,” Scott said in a stement. “And best of all, they’re not alone. This challenge received so many bold ideas to activate new levers, remove old barriers, and push forward for gender equality. It’s exciting to see all the ways people are making a difference.”

French Gates has a net worth of $3.3 billion according to Forbes. Gender equity and women’s issues have been a focus of her work and giving at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and at Pivotal Ventures.

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Gates Foundation commits $2.1B to advance gender equality and ‘deliver real change’

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Wednesday that it was committing $2.1 billion toward advancing global gender equality over the next five years, marking one of the largest single donations in the Seattle-based organization’s more than 20 years.

The pledge was made as part of the Generation Equality Forum convened by UN Women, taking place in Paris this week.

According to a news release, the goal is to advance women’s economic empowerment ($650 million over five years); strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning ($1.4 billion over five years); and accelerate women’s leadership ($100 million over five years). All of those efforts have long been championed by Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates.

“The world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow. Now is the chance to reignite a movement and deliver real change,” French Gates said in a statement. “The beauty of our fight for gender equality is that every human being will gain from it. We must seize this moment to build a better, more equal future.”

 

Foundation CEO Mark Suzman told The Wall Street Journal that while French Gates is the “primary face and voice” of the foundation’s gender-equality work, “Bill is very deeply engaged as well” and that both approved the new spending.

“We simply cannot meet so many of our other goals, from poverty reduction to financial inclusion to agricultural development to maternal child health, without taking a much more explicit focus on gender,” Suzman told the Journal.

“Prioritizing gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to fighting poverty and preventable disease,” Bill Gates said in a statement Wednesday.

The equity commitment comes in the wake of the Gateses’ divorce announcement in May and questions surrounding the future leadership of the Gates Foundation. Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett announced last week that he was resigning as a trustee and questions have been swirling about the the foundation, which has an endowment worth nearly $50 billion and has issued close to $55 billion in grants since launching in 2000.

Suzman said in an email to employees after Buffett’s announcement that the departure does raise questions about the foundation’s governance.

“As I have mentioned previously, I have been actively discussing with him, Bill, and Melinda approaches to strengthen our governance to provide long-term stability and sustainability for the foundation’s governance and decision-making in light of the recent announcement of Bill and Melinda’s divorce. I plan to share additional information in July,” Suzman said.

Among other causes, including polio eradication, the Gates Foundation previously committed $1.75 billion in response to the coronavirus pandemic, to accelerate development and equitable distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

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