Kept awake by worries, Melinda Gates pledges $1 billion to women's rights

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 October 2019 20:45 GMT

Philanthropist Melinda Gates attends an international conference on health in developing countries, in Oslo, Norway November 6, 2018. Lise Aserud/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

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Money will fund partners who pursue innovative approaches to expanding women's power and influence

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, Oct 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Philanthropist Melinda Gates plans to put $1 billion toward expanding women's power and influence in the United States over the next decade, saying on Wednesday she loses sleep over fears the nation will stop caring about inequality and diversity.

Women's marches, the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and record numbers of female political candidates can mean real, immediate change, said Gates, co-chairwoman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"There is no reason to believe this moment will last forever," Gates, founder of investment and incubation company Pivotal Ventures, wrote in a Time.com opinion piece.

"Too many people - women and men - have worked too hard to get us this far," she wrote. "There are too many possible solutions we haven't tried yet."

Pivotal Ventures will fund partners who pursue innovative approaches to expanding women's power and influence, Gates said, adding: "One billion dollars is a lot of money, but I also recognize that it's only a small fraction of what's necessary."

Goals include dismantling barriers to women's job advancement such as care-giving obligations and sexual harassment and fast-tracking women in influential job sectors such as technology, media and public office.

The effort also aims to encourage shareholders, consumers and employees to pressure companies to reform.

"Here's what keeps me up at night: I imagine waking up one morning to find that the country has moved on," Gates wrote. "That the media has stopped reporting on systemic inequalities.

"That diversity remains something companies talk about instead of prioritizing. That all of this energy and attention has amounted to a temporary swell, instead of a sea change."

National Organization for Women head Toni Van Pelt wrote in an email that she welcomed Gates' investment, saying: "The more we see women in positions of power and influence, the more it will become the norm rather than the exception."

Such an investment can be a big incentive driving other contributions, said Barbara Gault, acting co-president of Institute for Women's Policy Research, a Washington-based think tank.

"The non-profits and advocacy groups that are trying to make change often are underfunded and are operating on shoestring budgets, so it's going to be very valuable ... to have that funding available," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I don't see a downside," she added.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, run by Melinda Gates and her husband Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp., focuses on world health, infectious diseases, child mortality, sustainable growth and other global philanthropic issues. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud

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