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Gates Foundation adds ‘independent voices’ to board in wake of Bill, Melinda split

The Gates Foundation said Wednesday it would add four new board members to bring “independent voices” after last year’s much-publicized divorce of Bill and Melinda French Gates threatened to hamper the nonprofit’s work. The Seattle-based foundation said its expanded roster of trustees would include Zimbabwean telecom billionaire Strive Masiyiwa; London School of Economics Director Baroness Nemat Shafik; Thomas Tieney, the co-chair of Bridgespan Group; and Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the board of trustees was down to just two members — Bill and Melinda French Gates. The move to add more board members had taken on a greater sense of urgency after the departures of the other two trustees — Bill Gates, Sr., Bill’s father, who died in 2020; and Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, who stepped down from the board last year amid allegations that Bill Gates was facing over workplace misconduct and extramarital affairs. Meanwhile, former senior officials who had left the Gates Foundation have criticized the management structure at the charity, saying that the board needed to expand to include those outside of the former couple’s inner circle. “We are honored that these three deeply knowledgeable and respected individuals have agreed to join the foundation board,” Suzman said in a statement on Wednesday. Suzman said that expanded board “represents an explicit recognition by Bill and Melinda, especially in the wake of their divorce, that the foundation will be well served by the addition of strong, independent voices to help shape our governance.” The charity said that in the future it could expand the board even further to include as many as nine trustees. French Gates praised the new additions to the board on Wednesday, saying: “Our new board members are strong, qualified leaders who will support the foundation and its partners in our work to promote a healthier, safer, more equal world for all.” “I am deeply proud of all that we have accomplished over the past two decades and energized to work with them to drive progress on some of the most important issues the world faces today,” she said. Last summer, Suzman vowed that the foundation would be making significant changes in how it operates, particularly after the divorce was finalized. Since its creation in 2000, the Gates Foundation has doled out more than $60 billion in grants. It employs 1,800 people and funds work in the fields of health, gender, and education that is being done in 134 countries. In the last two years, the charity has donated more than $2 billion to combat COVID-19. After their divorce was finalized last year, Gates and French Gates announced that they would commit an additional $15 billion to the charity — upping its endowment to more than $50 billion. As part of their divorce agreement, French Gates, 57, said she would step down from the foundation if she and her ex-husband, 66, were unable to work together. After the split, which stemmed in part from Gates’ relationship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the Microsoft co-founder transferred billions of dollars in stock options to his ex-wife, who is in the process of starting up her own philanthropic investment firm, Pivotal Ventures. Before stepping down from the board, Buffett donated some $30 billion in his 15 years as a trustee.

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