'We should have a society where if for whatever reason wealth is in your hands, you put it back in society so that you change and you lift up others."
Melinda French Gates has an important message for her fellow billionaires: You can—and should—donate half your wealth. In an interview that aired on CBS Mornings on Thursday, the 57-year-old spoke to host Gayle King about her ongoing commitment to philanthropy. It was French Gates' first TV interview since her widely publicized divorce from Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, which became official last August. In addition to addressing rumors of her ex-husband's infidelity and interactions with Jeffrey Epstein during the interview, she also discussed a comment she made in her first individual Giving Pledge letter, which calls on billionaires to commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
"I recognize the absurdity of so much wealth being concentrated in the hands of one person, and I believe the only responsible thing to do with a fortune this size is give it away—as thoughtfully and impactfully as possible. The ultimate goal of any philanthropist should be to render the need for philanthropy obsolete" French Gates, who founded the Giving Pledge with Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010, wrote in the letter. "It's important to acknowledge that giving away money your family will never need is not an especially noble act. There's no question in my mind that the real standard for generosity is set by the people who give even when it means going without."
Speaking to King during Thursday's interview, French Gates shared that "if you are lucky enough to be a billionaire, believe me, you can give away half of it and not change your life. And we should. We should have a society where if for whatever reason wealth is in your hands, you put it back in society so that you change and you lift up others." As for her own work, the philanthropist and global advocate for women and girls shared that she personally likes to "see" and "feel" her philanthropy in action.
“If you are lucky enough to be a billionaire, believe me, you can give away half of it and not change your life”: Melinda French Gates tells @GayleKing that those with wealth should put their money back into society.— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) March 3, 2022
Watch the full exclusive interview tomorrow on #CBSMornings. pic.twitter.com/rJ3I45VRsj
"We have to listen to people. They have their own solutions in their community," she explained. "And if we listen sometimes it's just a matter of saying, 'Oh my gosh, they've got the way to keep the water clean, let's just fund what we know will work.'" One of French Gates' main areas of focus is Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company she founded in 2015 that is focused on issues affecting women and families in the U.S., including paid-leave policies and getting more women in technology and to run for public office.
She also confirmed that she remains committed to her work as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation even after the divorce last year. "We founded this institution back in 2000. Both of us. It has both of our names on the building. I believe in that institution. I believe in what we do. My values are baked into that institution," she told King. French Gates revealed that while the process hasn't been easy, she has a "productive working relationship" with her ex-husband. "I think the thing that people don't realize is that even during the difficult times, the last 18 months, while we were going through this process behind the scenes we were able to show up and work effectively together. I'm not saying it was easy, but we did," she shared. "I still rose to my higher self. I think we can continue to do that."