The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) on Wednesday appointed a board of trustees to help strengthen the foundation’s governance by bringing independent and diverse perspectives.
The new board of trustees includes Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation, Mark Suzman; Zimbabwean billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa; Thomas Tierney, the co-founder of Bridgespan Group, one of the nonprofit industry’s most powerful consultants; and Minouche Shafik, a former World Bank official who’s now director of the London School of Economics.
Mr Suzman announced the board members in the foundation’s inaugural annual letter according to a statement obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
He said the governance change comes after the death of Bill Gate’s father, an honorary co-chair, as well as the decision by Warren Buffett last year to step down as a trustee after nearly 15 years.
He noted that the change also represents an explicit recognition by Gates and French Gates, especially in the wake of their recent divorce, that the foundation will be well served by the addition of independent voices to help shape its work in the future.
Mr Suzman noted that the board could include up to nine ‘total’ members, with conversations ongoing about adding to the initial slate to enhance representation across gender, geography, and expertise..
He said; “We are honored that these three deeply knowledgeable and respected individuals have agreed to join the Foundation’s board.
“Between them, they bring an incredible track record of impact across global business, philanthropy, and development, and we couldn’t be more excited to work with them.”
The Foundation said the announcement comes at a time of unprecedented global challenges.
It said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed, halted, and even reversed hard-won gains in global health and development around the world.
“After nearly two decades of steady progress, tens of millions of people have been thrown back into poverty, childhood vaccination rates have dropped, and diseases from malaria to tuberculosis have resurged.
“Since January 2020, the Gates Foundation has committed more than $2 billion to the global COVID-19 response, with a focus on making sure support reaches marginalised communities as quickly and effectively as possible.
“The pandemic has had devastating impacts on these communities, and it will take many years for them to recover,” it said.
Priorities with new board
Mr Suzman said in its next phase, the foundation will continue to prioritise areas where its resources and expertise will be most catalytic.
He said it will invest in higher-risk areas where it’s more difficult to deploy public resources, from funding innovative treatments for malaria to supporting cutting-edge disease modelling.
In her remarks, Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the foundation said the new board members are strong, qualified leaders who will support the foundation and its partners in its work to promote a healthier, safer, more equal world for all.
“I am deeply proud of all that we have accomplished over the past two decades and energised to work with them to drive progress on some of the most important issues the world faces today,” she said.
Mr Gates, co-chair of the foundation, said the scale and scope of the foundation’s work over the past 20 years has evolved to include some of the most complex and urgent challenges the world faces.
The statement added: “As we look ahead, I’m excited to welcome our new board members. Their wide-ranging experience and expertise will have enormous impact on our ability to tackle the complexity of these challenges and bring us closer to realising a world where everyone has the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.”
Meet new Trustees
Mr Masiyiwa said in the statement that he’s worked with the foundation for 20 years, “beginning with efforts to improve agricultural production for more than 400 million smallholder farmers in Africa, to improving livelihoods for the poorest people across Africa and the world.”
Ms Shafik, the only other woman on the board aside from French Gates, has worked for the World Bank, the U.K.’s Department for International Development and is a former deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Ms Shafik, who was born in Egypt, schooled in the U.S. and appointed a U.K. baroness in 2020, is currently director of the LSE.
“I’ve spent my career working in some of the world’s great international and academic institutions because, like Melinda and Bill, I realise that the hardest problems facing humanity are not confined to a single country or sector, but are universal challenges that call for reason, empathy, and cooperation,” she said in the statement.
Tierney, co-chair and co-founder of the Bridgespan Group, said: “The Gates Foundation is an extraordinary organisation with over two decades of persistent, pragmatic, and disciplined experience fighting poverty, disease, and inequity around the world.
“The opportunity—and the imperative—to accelerate the foundation’s impact has never been greater,” he said.
Mr Suzman, a former journalist and United Nations employee who grew up in apartheid South Africa, joined the organisation in 2007 and was promoted to the top job in February 2020.
He said in a letter on Wednesday that he has made diversifying the foundation’s staff and giving a key goal.
“We’re in active conversations about adding to our initial slate to enhance representation across gender, geography and expertise,” Suzman wrote in his first annual letter for the foundation.
“Since its establishment 21 years ago, the foundation has provided more than $60 billion in grants, with the annual payout regularly increasing year over year.
With a more than $50 billion endowment; Gates and French Gates’ additional commitment of $15 billion last year; the expectation of future pledges, and the requirement to spend down the endowment after the co-founders’ deaths, the foundation is uniquely positioned to continue its work of fighting poverty, disease, and inequity in the United States and around the world, while maintaining a major role in the field of philanthropy for decades to come.”
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