Yet there was never much chance that grass-roots activists would be lined up for board slots. For those looking for smaller signs of change at the organization, Mr. Masiyiwa was born in Zimbabwe and Dr. Shafik in Egypt. Mr. Suzman, who is from South Africa, said the foundation was interested in adding a board member from Asia.
No former Microsoft executives were named to the board, even though two of the foundationâ€™s past chief executives came from the software company (as did Ms. French Gates and, of course, Mr. Gates).
There are other signs of a slight loosening of the grip of the founders. Mr. Suzman wrote the organizationâ€™s 2022 annual letter, a document that Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates had both signed in previous years. The letter â€” seen as the most prominent articulation of why and how the foundation was spending money â€” was once a bone of contention in their marriage. Ms. French Gates shared a story of fighting the prospect of her husbandâ€™s writing the letter alone in her 2019 book, â€œMoment of Lift.â€ Now both have bowed out.
Relatives of members are prohibited from serving on the board, with a carve-out for â€œa child of the marriage of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates,â€ according to the new board governing principles. That suggests that one of the three Gates children, who range in age from 19 to 25, may someday join. The eldest, Jennifer Gates, recently married and is a medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Board members will serve three-year terms, with a limit of two terms. Their work is unpaid. The board will meet three times a year, approve the annual budget and assess the chief executiveâ€™s performance and pay.
In the interview, Mr. Suzman acknowledged the personal context for these big public changes: the divorce. â€œClearly theyâ€™re not having the same kind of private discussions at home that they used to have, but our formal structures of the foundation and our decision making is working very effectively,â€ he said.
But they are still the co-chairs, Mr. Suzman said, emphasizing what remains constant: â€œI want to be unequivocal. We remain a family foundation.â€