Melinda French Gates says she is leaving Gates Foundation with $12bn for own causes

Billionaire philanthropist Melinda French Gates is exiting the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 24 years after co-founding it with her former husband.

Ms French Gates said her last day at the charity will be 7 June.

She will leave with $12.5bn (£9.9bn) from the foundation to do her own charitable work for women and families as part of an agreement with her ex-husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation holds $75bn (£59.7bn) in assets.

"This is not a decision I came to lightly," Ms French Gates said in a statement posted to X on Monday.

“I am taking this step with full confidence the foundation is in strong shape,” the 59-year-old said. “The time is right for me to move forward into the next chapter of my philanthropy.”

Ms French Gates is leaving the foundation three years after she announced her divorce from Mr Gates. She had pledged at the time to continue their charitable work and not let their separation affect the foundation.

Their separation after 27 years of marriage came after she could no longer “trust what we had”, Ms French Gates revealed in the wide-ranging interview with CBS Mornings.

It was reported that Mr Gates had contact with Jeffrey Epstein, the late disgraced financier who ran an international sex trafficking operation involving underage girls, and that he had an intimate relationship with a company employee in 2000. However, it was not just one thing that led to their separation, she said.

Bill and Melinda Gates pose for a photo in 2019 (AP)
Bill and Melinda Gates pose for a photo in 2019 (AP)

Following the departure of Ms French Gates as co-chair, the foundation will change its name to Gates Foundation and Mr Gates will be its sole chairperson, said CEO Mark Suzman.

"After a difficult few years watching women’s rights rolled back in the US and around the world, she wants to use this next chapter to focus specifically on altering that trajectory," Mr Suzman said.

Mr Gates said in a statement: “I am sorry to see Melinda leave, but I am sure she will have a huge impact in her future philanthropic work.”

One of the largest and most influential philanthropic organisations in the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions of dollars on a range of issues such as poverty reduction, disease eradication, education and climate change.

The now-divorced couple donated more than $36bn (£28bn) of their own wealth to the foundation from 1994 to 2018.

Last year, the foundation awarded over $7bn (£5bn) in annual grants, becoming the largest philanthropic foundation in the US by a significant margin. It was a key supporter of the Covid vaccines.

Ms French Gates, who has a net worth of $11.3bn (£9bn) according to Forbes, manages some of her investments and charitable work through her Pivotal Ventures, an investment company she founded in 2015.

Pivotal Ventures focuses on the uplift of women and minority groups.

"This is a critical moment for women and girls in the US and around the world - and those fighting to protect and advance equality are in urgent need of support," she said in Monday’s statement.