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What will Melinda Gates accomplish on her own?

May 4, 2021, 12:39 PM UTC
G-7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, arrives for a Bloomberg Television interview at the Group of Seven (G-7) finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Chantilly, France, on Thursday, July 18, 2019.
Jasper Juinen—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! President Biden has appointed a greater share of female Cabinet members than any previous U.S. president, Sara Nelson’s profile is growing, and Bill and Melinda Gates go their separate ways. Have a thoughtful Tuesday!

– Going solo. With $146 billion at stake, there’s no turning away from the news that Bill and Melinda Gates are getting divorced.

The couple, married for 27 years with three children, co-created one of the world’s biggest and arguably most important nonprofits, the Gates Foundation. In announcing their plans to split on Monday, the couple touted the organization’s work “all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives” and pledged their continued commitment to its mission. The foundation said in a statement that the two would remain co-chairs and trustees.

Beyond those statements, the Gateses have dropped few clues about how they’ll divide their vast fortune and philanthropic work going forward. It will be fascinating to watch what Melinda does once the break-up is final and her interests are legally untethered from her husband’s.

It’s easy to draw comparisons between Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott, whose 2019 divorce from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos offers obvious parallels. Scott was little-known at the time—in fact, she remains an enigma. But since receiving a sum now worth $60 billion in the split, she’s reshaped the philanthropic universe with the size and precision of her giving.

Melinda Gates will likely have the means to put her own stamp on the charitable realm.

“You could imagine Melinda Gates being a much more progressive giver on her own,” David Callahan, founder of the website Inside Philanthropy, told the New York Times. “She’s going to be a major force in philanthropy for decades to come.”

But unlike Scott, Melinda Gates has identified her favorite philanthropic causes quite clearly over the course of decades. Her teams at the Gates Foundations already focus on gender equality—Bill’s center on new health technologies—and she’s been an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, women’s health, and family planning.

“The world is finally waking up to the fact that none of us can move forward when half of us are held back,” she wrote in a note about her 2019 book Moment of Lift.

The projects and groups backed by her own investment company, Pivotal Ventures, also align with her stated interests. The company says it supports “partners advancing progress for women and families in the United States.” It’s invested in Ellevest, the Sallie Krawcheck-founded investment platform focused on women, and All Raise, the nonprofit advocating for diversity in tech, to name a few.

It may be that the niche that a solo Melinda Gates carves for herself won’t be that different from the one she’s already created; one that prioritizes the well-being of women and girls.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Kristen Bellstrom.

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PARTING WORDS

“My thing is that I can do whatever I want... It’s all about what makes you feel good.

-Billie Eilish

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