By Elissa Miolene, DEVEX, 31 May 2024

NEW YORK - After breaking from the Gates Foundation, the philanthropist is investing $1 billion to advance women’s rights — but this time, Melinda isn’t the one calling the shots.


What would you do if $20 million suddenly appeared in your bank account?

A dozen lucky, and likely very pleasantly surprised, individuals got to experience that adrenaline rush when philanthropist Melinda French Gates — who recently split from the foundation she co-founded with her her ex-husband Bill Gates — dropped the news that they would be receiving $20 million apiece to share with others whose work they find most effective.

Sabrina Habib is one of those lucky individuals. Habib, co-founder of Kenya’s largest childcare network, Kidogo, was at an airport holding her toddler when she received the news.

“I was trying to read the email, process it, and juggle my daughter at the same time,” Habib tells my colleague Elissa Miolene for her in-depth report. “She was like: Mummy, mummy, mummy! And I was like: Just one second, just one second!”

The philanthropist’s only ask to those individuals — from former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Afghan education activist Shabana Basij-Rasikh — was that they “direct the money to organizations doing urgent, impactful, and innovative work to improve women’s health and well-being,” according to French Gates’ philanthropic investment company, Pivotal Ventures.

In addition to those dozen recipients, 16 organizations have been given unrestricted funding to support women and girls worldwide — a sign that French Gates is embracing a “trust-based” grantmaking approach which the Gates Foundation has historically shied away from.

“It’s an incredible experiment,” Habib says. “And I hope one that can be followed. This approach could really redefine how we do philanthropy and how we can put power into things that don’t always get the spotlight.”