Warren Buffett leaves the Gates Foundation board, casting more uncertainty on the world’s largest private philanthropic organization after its co-presidents, Bill and Melinda Gates, announced they were divorced.
Buffett, the legendary American investor and president of Berkshire Hathaway, became a trustee of the foundation, alongside his Gateses friends, after announcing in 2006 that he would donate most of his fortune to charity.
“For years I have been a trustee – an inactive trustee – just a recipient of my funds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMG). I am now resigning from this post, as I have done on all company boards other than Berkshire, ”Buffett said in a statement Wednesday.
He also praised the foundation’s executive director, Mark Suzman, as “exceptional” and said his goals were “100 percent synchronized with those of the foundation.”
With a $ 50 billion endowment, the Gates Foundation is not only the largest private philanthropy group, it is also considered the most influential. He channeled the vast wealth Bill Gates accumulated as a co-founder of Microsoft into campaigns to eradicate diseases such as polio and reduce infant mortality. His long-term work vaccines made him a key player in the fight against coronavirus.
But his future came into question after the Gates announced in early May that they would be you finish their marriage of 27 years. In a statement issued at the time, they insisted that they remain committed to the foundation’s mission and that they will “continue our work together with the foundation”.
Some former employees and counselors have questioned whether the institution the couple has dominated during their 21-year existence can continue in its current state in light of their split. Others are convinced that he has built enough institutional muscle over the years to thrive anyway. The Foundation’s staff now numbers more than 1,600.
In addition to the Gates Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates each pursue their own separate philanthropic activity. In 2015, for example, Melinda launched an investment vehicle, Pivotal Ventures, that aims to support gender equality.
Suzman, who was named chief executive last year, confirmed earlier this month that the Gates were considering the possibility to add external directors to the board as part of “prudent planning for the future”.
In a note to staff Wednesday, he acknowledged the uncertainty raised by Buffett’s resignation. “I know that Warren’s departure raises questions about the governance of the foundation. As I said earlier, I have been actively discussing with him, Bill and Melinda to approach our governance,” he wrote, promising further details. in July.
Suzman also thanked Buffett for his latest contribution – a $ 3.2 billion gift announced Wednesday that will bring his total donations to the Foundation to nearly $ 33 billion.
On the same note, Melinda said she was “grateful for Warren’s generosity, leadership and friendship,” while Bill paid tribute to his “lasting friendship” and said the foundation “will always a deep sense of responsibility to Warren, paying close attention to the data to track our progress and identify areas where we can do better. ”
Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, questioned the timing of Buffett’s announcement, so close to the planned unveiling of further governance changes, saying: at the same time you have announced a major departure but the world is not always ideal ”.
Buchanan also reflected on the broader significance of any change in an institution that has become so dominant in philanthropy and public health.
“As the largest foundation in the world, the governance of the Gates Foundation matters substantially in terms of sound and symbolic decisions about what signal to send on institutional philanthropy and its oversight and responsibility,” he said.