Is Melinda Influencing MacKenzie Toward Feminist Giving?

In the world of feminist giving, we have to celebrate the wins, both the small ones and the big ones. One of those big wins is happening right now, as Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos team up to distribute $30 million through the Equality Can’t Wait Fund.

With Equality Can’t Wait, Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, two of the richest women in the world, are teaming up to accelerate gender equality. It’s a big win for feminist philanthropy. (Image Credit: Equality Can’t Wait)

The more Melinda and MacKenzie can collaborate, the more the world of feminist philanthropy has to celebrate, since these two women hold more assets than many small countries combined.

Really, it’s hard to imagine a more positive development for the feminist giving sphere than Melinda Gates’s incorporation of MacKenzie Bezos right into the frontlines of feminist philanthropy. Yet this is also a searing indictment of how far inequality has advanced in our nation, that the coming together of two megabillionaires could have so much influence.

Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still crippling the economy, MacKenzie’s coming out with gender equality as her first big post-divorce philanthropy move is a very good sign indeed — one that could portend billions more in funding to help hold the line on women’s rights at this particularly crushing moment in history.

Since her divorce from Jeff Bezos last July, MacKenzie Bezos has kept a relatively low profile. This past year, her biggest public move in philanthropy was taking a board seat on Blue Meridian, a nonprofit helping impoverished families and children. She also signed the Giving Pledge, another big move for the world, all precipitated by one woman’s decision. As we discussed here, had she gotten a 50/50 divorce, she might have had closer to 80 or 90 billion to give away half of, as part of her Giving Pledge commitment. Currently, MacKenzie Bezos’s fortune is estimated at $50 billion.

This isn’t MacKenzie’s first foray into philanthropy. Earlier, she was founding Bystander Revolution in 2014, an anti-bullying organization. She did this while also raising 4 children (3 she had with Bezos and one adopted from China) and writing an award-winning novel, The Testing of Luther Albright, which in 2006 won an American Book Award.

Clearly, MacKenzie has been busy evolving creatively and as a leader, but we still don’t know much about her life, other than that she met Jeff Bezos in 1992 when she was 22 years old and Bezos was 28, when she was working as his assistant at an investment company. After only three month of dating, they married.

Upon divorcing Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie became the fourth-wealthiest woman in the world. Now she is turning her attention to gender equality. People like me, longtime believers in the added power of women’s leadership, have much to cheer about from this one new development. It will at least help to make up for recent losses of funding in the gender equality arena, such as those announced by the NoVo Foundation. Since NoVo was calculated at providing as much as 17% of funding for women’s rights in the U.S., and an astonishing 37% of funding for black women in the U.S., MacKenzie’s commitment with Melinda could not have come at a better time.

Here’s how MacKenzie described her reasons for teaming up with Melinda Gates to distribute $30 million in funding for gender equality:

“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all. I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.”

The rest of this text is from the press release from Pivotal Ventures, the investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates. Notice how clearly it speaks to the racial injustice issues, and discusses the need for system-wide change to address inequality.

Pivotal Ventures, Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company, with additional support from MacKenzie Bezos, has announced the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge which will award $30 million to the organizations or the coalitions of organizations with the most compelling ideas to help expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030. The Challenge will be managed by Lever for Change.

Recent events have exposed deep inequalities in the United States. The injustices Black Americans face every day have forced a spotlight on systemic racism in our country. At the same time, COVID-19 has magnified the structural inequities—such as a lack of representation in leadership roles and an overrepresentation in low-wage jobs—that hold millions of U.S. women back, adding urgency to the phrase “Equality can’t wait.”

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is part of Pivotal Ventures’ efforts to advance bold solutions that put more women of all backgrounds, especially women of color, in positions to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives. While there has been a groundswell of energy around gender equality in recent years, progress is not moving fast enough. To help speed up the pace of change, in October 2019, Melinda Gates announced a $1 billion commitment to expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. over the next decade.

The Challenge—the first competition centered on gender equality in the U.S. with an award of this magnitude—is a chance to put significant resources behind big, bold ideas in this often-overlooked space. In addition to connecting leaders working on gender equality to funding, it also aims to connect these leaders to each other, creating a community of innovators and a cache of ideas that other donors may want to support.

What We’re Looking For: Ideas to Create a More Equal America for Women of All Backgrounds

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is open to U.S.-based nonprofit organizations or coalitions of organizations. It seeks ideas that will help expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. by 2030 in one or more of these strategic areas:

  • Dismantling the barriers that hold women back: We need to remove the barriers that most negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of women, including sexual harassment and discrimination, racial inequity, biased narratives that reinforce gender stereotypes, and our country’s outdated approach to caregiving.
  • Fast tracking women in critical sectors: Women are underrepresented in the most influential sectors of society. Building new pathways for women into sectors like technology, government, and entrepreneurship—and supporting women’s advancement within them—will have ripple effects across the country.
  • Calling society to action: We must change outdated systems, institutions, and beliefs by enlisting society to take action. By arming key stakeholders—including CEOs, community leaders, consumers, and employees—with resources and data about gender equality, we can influence and exert greater pressure from multiple angles.

Throughout the multi-stage challenge, proposals will be evaluated on four criteria: Is the idea transformative? Does it approach the issue from an equity lens that considers the experiences of women of all backgrounds, including women of color, women living in poverty, and LGBTQ women? Is it innovative? Is it feasible?

Proposals should also demonstrate that they can produce measurable and rapid improvement against one or more of the following metrics: Reducing the gender gap in wages or wealth; more equally distributing unpaid care responsibilities; launching more women into senior roles across public, private, and social sectors; positioning more women to help shape intellectual and cultural content; and changing perceptions to shift the percentage of the public who feel women should have more power and influence.

Winners to be Selected in Summer 2021

To be considered for the Challenge, organizations must first register online by Tuesday, September 1, 2020. Applications are due by Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Finalists will be announced in early 2021 after a detailed review process by expert judges and peers, and winners will be determined in the summer of 2021.

At least two grants of a minimum of $10 million will be awarded to the most compelling proposals. An additional $10 million will be allocated among finalists at that time.

Visit for more information.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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