Gates Foundation Adds $20 Billion to Its Coffers

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When the news emerged last year that Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates were divorcing, the question of whether their foundation would lose ready access to its founders’ substantial resources quickly arose.

On Wednesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation appeared to answer those doubts with an announcement that it will significantly speed up its giving in areas including global health, economic development, gender equality and education as its co-founders continue to pump money into what was already by most measures the world’s largest charitable foundation.

The foundation said it would increase the rate of its grant making from nearly $6 billion annually before the pandemic to $9 billion each year by 2026. To put that $3 billion increase in context, the Open Society Foundations, funded by George Soros and itself one of the nation’s biggest philanthropies, reported total spending in 2020 of $1.4 billion.

Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates promised last summer to inject an additional $15 billion in funds into the foundation. Mr. Gates said on Wednesday that as part of that commitment, he was giving $20 billion to the foundation this month.

And there is likely more money where that came from. “As I look to the future, my plan is to give all my wealth to the foundation other than what I spend on myself and my family,” Mr. Gates, who Forbes estimates has a fortune of $122 billion, wrote on Wednesday on his personal blog, Gates Notes.

“I will move down and eventually off of the list of the world’s richest people,” added Mr. Gates, believed to be the world’s fourth-richest man even though he and Ms. French Gates had already given $39 billion to the foundation since 1994. “My giving this money is not a sacrifice at all. I feel privileged to be involved in tackling these great challenges.”

Each year the foundation also receives a gift from the investor Warren E. Buffett in the form of shares of his company, Berkshire Hathaway. This year’s gift came in last month valued at $3.1 billion. All told, Mr. Buffett has given the foundation nearly $36 billion. The foundation estimated that, with the new funds, its endowment would grow to $70 billion.

Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation chief executive, said the foundation would not expand its focus. Rather, it believes that the urgency of its existing projects — like the fights against polio and malaria worldwide and against learning loss in the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic — justifies higher expenditures.

Mr. Suzman cautioned that increasing spending in an effective manner would not be simple. “At that scale, giving is actually incredibly complex, and we’ve learned that the hard way,” he said in an interview.

“We’re actively looking right now at whether we can and should be doing more around the food security crisis,” he added.

While the foundation has earned praise over the years for its leading role in global philanthropy, it also has been scrutinized over its influence. It is one of the largest donors at the World Health Organization, for example, and in poorer countries the scale of the foundation’s giving means that, intentionally or otherwise, it can end up setting many of the priorities for crucial ministries such as health and education.

Mr. Gates wrote on his blog that the increased pace of giving was a reaction to the many challenges facing the world right now, including the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, rising inflation and climate change.

In a statement, Ms. French Gates said: “The foundation has spent more than two decades forging relationships with a broad range of partners with the vision and expertise to accelerate the pace of progress for everyone. This additional spending will support our partners’ important work to promote a fair and inclusive recovery and a healthier, more equal future.”

Under federal tax laws, private foundations are annually required to give out roughly 5 percent of their endowment, which for the Gates Foundation would come to around $3.5 billion.

The foundation has undergone significant changes over the past year. Mr. Buffett resigned as one of the three trustees last summer. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates announced that they had agreed she would leave the foundation if they found they could not work together. In January, the foundation said it was creating a new governing board that included Mr. Gates, Ms. French Gates, Mr. Suzman and three outsiders.

“At a time when the impulse may be to turn inward, it’s critical we do the opposite,” said one of those new board members, Minouche Shafik, the director of the London School of Economics, in a statement on Wednesday. “Strengthening our resolve and stepping up contributions is the only way to reverse these trends.”

Mr. Gates added: “The great crises of our time require all of us to do more.”