Melinda French Gates: Four things to note as she starts a new chapter


Charles Keidan


Much has been written about Melinda French Gates and what she calls her ‘new chapter’ – her philanthropic plans following her separation from Bill Gates and subsequent departure from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – now to be known as the Gates Foundation.

Most commentary has been positive. No longer second among equals to Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates is deepening her focus on opportunity and equality for women – all with $12 billion in hand. Her dramatic announcement and plans to spend the first $1 billion is one of the major philanthropy stories of the year. Here are four things which philanthropy insiders should be taking note of:

  1. Melinda French Gates joins MacKenzie Scott at the vanguard of feminist philanthropy

French Gates and Scott have changed the dial on what female leadership in philanthropy actually means in practice. Before, we speculated about what it would mean for more women to assume leadership roles. Now we have the answer. In the case of French Gates, it means $200 million in ‘flexible’ grants ‘aimed at supercharging organizations fighting in the U.S. to advance women’s power and protect their rights, including reproductive freedom.’ Not the kind of language you typically hear from elite male philanthropists.

  1. Growing a new group of ‘minor major donors’

Minor major donors. That’s a term I use to describe people who have enough resources to be serious philanthropists but without the firepower to build major professionalised philanthropic foundations. French Gates first has just created 12 minor major donors. She has given each of these ‘global leaders’ $20 million to distribute to organizations ‘they consider to be doing urgent, impactful, and innovative work to improve women’s health and well-being in the U.S. and around the world’.

Most eye catching is the $20 million given to former New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. That’s quite a metamorphosis from liberal politician to elite philanthropist. Another notable recipient of $20 million is Richard Reeves, a former British political adviser turned social reformer who is helping boys and men through the American Institute for Boys and Men.

  1. Lever for Change

What is Lever for Change? I’d wager that few inside let alone outside philanthropy will know much about it unless they’d read this informative 2023 Alliance interview with its CEO, Cecelia Conrad. In short, Lever for Change is a 501c3 public charity managing funds on behalf of donors. They act as a ‘fiscal host’ for those funds and dispense them on behalf of the funder.

Interest will no doubt grow following the announcement that French Gates will distribute $250 million via an ‘open call’ in the autumn – all managed by Lever for Change. Given that MacKenzie Scott ran her first ‘open call’ for funding through the organisation and is also set to do another makes Lever for Change a leading vehicle for liberal philanthropy to manage grant programmes, open calls and pooled funds.

  1. Roads leading to the MacArthur Foundation

But what makes Lever for Change really interesting is that it is a ‘nonprofit affiliate’ of the MacArthur foundation – the Chicago based 501c3 private foundation with a $7.6 billion endowment. A ‘nonprofit affiliate’ is philanthro-speak for being a body connected to a foundation but legally differentiated. Notably, Lever for Change operates in the same building, but on different floors, to the MacArthur Foundation.

The demand for Lever for Change’s services positions MacArthur at the heart of progressive philanthropy. Could it be Chicago – rather than New York on San Francisco – which can lay claim to being the progressive epicentre of American philanthropy? When you consider the presence of the Kellogg, Kresge and Mott Foundation in the neighbouring state, that seems plausible.

Consider also the instrumental role played by John Palfrey, the president of the MacArthur Foundation, in building a $500 million coalition dedicated to reviving public interest media. Interestingly, that coalition is not managed by Lever for Change but under the fiscal sponsorship of the Miami Foundation. Now if Palfrey can turn Florida into the next epicentre of progressive philanthropy, people might start believing in miracles.

As for Melinda French Gates, her recent moves offer a lot to be excited about. In time, we might see whether it turns out to be her, as much as her ex-husband, who shapes how philanthropy works and for whom.

Charles Keidan is the Executive Editor at Alliance

Comments (0)

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Many thanks for the valuable information you provide. In the future, I hope you will continue to provide everyone with as many excellent postings as possible.

Sarah Ngela Ngasi

QUI SOMMMES – NOUS ? L’Actions Communautaires pour le Développement de la Femme, en sigle ACODEFEM est une Organisation Non Gouvernementale de la société civile engagée à la promotion, à la protection et à la défense des droits des femmes et des filles, en vue de promouvoir la santé et droits reproductifs ainsi les meilleures stratégies d’autonomisation susceptibles de réduire la pauvreté sous toutes ses formes

Sarah Ngela Ngasi

Nous remercions Melinda France Gates de sa détermination d’aider le monde et surtout les pays a faible revenu surtout en Afrique. Qu’elle mérite l’encouragement d’un peuple. Nous sommes une organisation non gouvernementale dénommée Actions Communautaires pour le Développement de la Femme (ACODEFEM) qui a pour mission de promouvoir la promotion, la protection et la défense des droits de la Femme et de la fille en République Démocratique du Congo 🇨🇩. Nos regards sont fixés vers la Fondation Melinda France Gates.

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