Melinda French Gates pledges $1.5 billion to women, $30m to Jacinda Ardern


Weeks after revealing she would step down from the Gates Foundation, Melinda French Gates is investing a further $1.5 billion into women’s causes via Pivotal Ventures. $30 million is pledged to former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The Rt. Hon. Dame Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister, New Zealand speaks on stage during 2023 Massachusetts Conference For Women on December 14, 2023 (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference For Women)

Melinda French Gates is stepping down from the foundation she ran for 24 years, and doubling down on women’s causes. The $1.5 billion pledged this week takes French Gates’ cumulative commitment to ‘change the face of power’ to $3 billion.

French Gates is giving $360 million to 12 leaders across the globe that she admires and respects. Each individual will receive $30 million to give to partners and causes as they see fit. The funds are allocated for the purpose of ‘advancing women’s power globally,’ according to Pivotal.

“Melinda French Gates is partnering with a diverse group of 12 global leaders and providing each with a $20 million fund to distribute to charitable organisations they consider to be doing urgent, impactful, and innovative work to advance women’s health and well-being,” a Pivotal Ventures spokesperson tells Forbes Australia.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is one of the individuals identified by French Gates as a recipient of $30 million. Ardern has not disclosed which partners she plans to distribute the funds to. Pivotal states that Ardern ‘has shown the world how leading with compassion can drive impact.’

While Prime Minister, Ardern built a global governmental community committed to eliminating terrorist and violent extremist content online, known as the Christchurch Call. After resigning from the top job, Ardern became Chairwoman of the organisation.

“She is a passionate advocate for climate action and a fierce champion for women, including through her continued leadership of the Christchurch Call,” Pivotal states.

The recipients are tasked with ‘distributing to charitable organisations they consider to be doing urgent, impactful, and innovative work to improve women’s health and well-being.’

“Neither Melinda nor Pivotal will be reviewing or approving their grant-making. She chose partners and leaders who have expertise in the issues and could bring new perspectives and ideas,” a Pivotal spokesperson tells Forbes Australia.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to rugby fans during the New Zealand 2021 Womens Rugby World Cup celebrations event at Parliament in Wellington on December 13, 2022. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

The individual partners span Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australasia.

French Gates notes that the 12 individuals she has chosen represent a wide range of expertise and experience.

“I’m eager to see the landscape of funding opportunities through their eyes, and the results their approaches unlock,” says French Gates.

The ‘Pivotal 12’ receiving $30 million-a-piece

The individuals work or reside in the following continents, though no geographic restriction has been placed on where the French Gates-pledged funds can be used.


Hauwa Ojeifo

Leymah Roberta Gbowee


Jacinda Ardern

North America

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

Allyson Felix

Ava DuVernay

M. V. Lee Badgett

Richard V. Reeves

Sabrina Habib

South America

Crystal Echo Hawk

Gary Barker

South Asia

Shabana Basij-Rasikh

2024 – 2026: Additional $300 million to US organisations

In addition to the individual pledges, Pivotal Ventures has also identified 16 US-based organisations that will collectively receive $300 million. The grants are designed to ‘supercharge the work of organizations that are fighting in the U.S. to advance women’s power and protect their rights, including reproductive freedom.’

The funding comes at a time when reproductive rights in multiple US states are under threat. The organisations are free to use the funding as they see fit.

“For too long, a lack of money has forced  organisations  fighting for women’s rights into a defensive posture while the enemies of progress play offense,” says French Gates.

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Third pledge: $375 million to ‘Lever for Change

Later this year, the Lever for Change organisation will be leveraged to distribute $375 million in funding to organisations tackling women’s mental and physical health. That process will take place through an open call.

Melinda French Gates with Pivotal Ventures partners. Image: Pivotal

French Gates indicated that the $1.5 billion commitments she made this week will take place between now and 2026. Over the decade prior to this latest announcement, the billionaire philanthropist invested $1.5 billion into expanding women’s power and influence.

The Pivotal effect

Pivotal Ventures was launched in 2015, while French Gates was also working with the Gates Foundation. That philanthropic organisation, co-chaired by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, was founded in 2000 and spent $80 billion fighting global health inequity.

French Gates has now pivoted away from the Gates Foundation, and toward the VC she runs solely, where she can be laser-focused on improving the lives of women around the world. In a recent NY Times op-ed titled ‘The Enemies of Progress Play Offence. I Want to Help Even the Match’ French Gates stated that just 2 per cent of charitable giving goes to organisations focused on women and girls. She plans to tip the scales in a more equitable direction.

“Our strategic investments in funds and early-stage companies aim to accelerate social progress by putting more capital in the hands of women and people of colour, unlocking new market-based solutions to social problems, and demonstrating that historically under-resourced founders and investors deliver market returns,” the Pivotal website states.

The key indicators Pivotal uses to measure women’s power and influence are:

• The wage and wealth gap for women

• The division of unpaid caregiving duties by women

• The number of women in senior roles across the public, private, and social

• The percentage of intellectual and cultural content created by women

• The public perception of women’s power and influence

The organisation states its objectives are:

• To support leaders and organisations working to remove the biggest barriers facing women and girls of colour today: violence and economic inequity

• Working to close gender gaps in technology by helping increase the number of women graduating with degrees in relevant fields, investing in start-ups in the sector, and leading cutting-edge tech companies

• Supporting more women to run for public office, win elections, and succeed as leaders in public office

• Working alongside our partners in both the public and private sectors to unlock solutions that make caregiving more affordable for families

• Securing a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave policy that benefits all working families

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