Humanosphere is on hiatus. Many thanks to our web design, development and hosting partner Culture Foundry for keeping the site active while we plan our next move. Culture Foundry builds, evolves and supports next-level websites and applications for clients you know, and you couldn’t ask for a better partner to help you thrive in digital. If you’re considering an ambitious website design or development project, we encourage you to make them your very first call.

Still little known about Melinda Gates’ outside project Pivotal Ventures

Credit: Akshara Foundation/Flickr

More than a year ago, Melinda Gates quietly created an independent organization called Pivotal Ventures.

Gates never really explained its purpose other than to say she was creating it to pursue ‘outside projects’ focused on women’s issues. A spokesperson for the still somewhat mysterious organization says an announcement will be made soon, perhaps finally making its mission and reason for being a bit more lucid.  

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation already supports many projects aimed at improving the lives of women and girls throughout the world. The planet’s top philanthropists, especially Melinda, have long voiced their belief that empowering women and girls is critical to achieving success against inequity and poverty. They contend this should be central to all aid and development efforts, and they have funded many projects and initiatives to pursue these aims.

So many have wondered why Melinda Gates, one of the world’s richest people in charge of the world’s largest and wealthiest philanthropy, would need to create another organization to do the same sort of things. Technically registered in Washington state as an LLC (limited liability company), its website operates in the dot-org domain which was originally created for charities and non-profits. 

When the creation of Pivotal Ventures was first reported by Geekwire, a spokeswoman explained its purpose as such:

“We set up the office to offer a vehicle, when the time comes, to help explore potential other initiatives that don’t fit naturally or neatly within the foundation’s program areas,” said Catherine St-Laurent, spokeswoman for the executive office of Melinda Gates. “It gives her some flexibility to pursue those opportunities as they arise, but in a way that doesn’t divert the foundation or resources that are committed to other priorities.”

Sounds sensible enough, if vague, except for the fact that Bill and Melinda Gates are the ones who decide on what the Gates Foundation’s program areas are and what resources to commit to whatever it is they wish to pursue. Over a year later, with no further news from the organization, many are wondering what a small outfit in Kirkland with a name that sounds like a tech investment firm can do that the Gates Foundation cannot.

Humanosphere has wondered this as well and tried to get an answer from Pivotal’s communications manager, Courtney Wade, who essentially said what we already knew.

“While Melinda will continue to operate with a ‘foundation-first’ mindset in considering new initiatives, Pivotal affords her the flexibility to pursue initiatives that don’t fit naturally or neatly within the foundation’s program areas, without diverting the foundation or drawing on its resources,” said Wade in an email to Humanosphere.

The statement is the most that could be extracted from an organization that has been somewhat unforthcoming regarding their activities, but we may all soon have an answer. According to Wade, Pivotal Ventures is about to make a major announcement – or at least provide a bit more information about its mission and raison d’etre than is now available to the public on its website.

“Right now, we’re focused on determining where we can make the most impact and are working closely with colleagues at the foundation and elsewhere to identify the best areas of focus,” said Wade. “We’ll be sharing more information in the coming months, but first and foremost among these areas will be the empowerment of women and girls.”

Bill Gates also has a separate venture for pursuing projects that he believes don’t fit within the Gates Foundation structure, such as his funding small nuclear power plants or other tech experiments. When Bill Gates in 2008 launched bcg3, also an LLC but on the web as a dot-com, many outsiders also thought it mysterious and odd. Launched as a for-profit ‘think tank’ or perhaps tech venture fund, bcg3 was for doing something a philanthropy cannot – investing in private ventures, whether for humanitarian reasons or not.

Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures was created as an independent organization and, though equally mysterious so far, sounds to most ears like it plans to do much of the same kinds of things the world’s two richest people already do at the Gates Foundation. Maybe the pivot, in this case, just means aiming to achieve the same things but using non-philanthropic means or methods. 

Edited 8/22: “Pivotal Ventures” is not a non-profit, as originally stated, but an independent organization.


About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at