Melinda French Gates and McKenzie Scott team up to give $40 million to support women

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Courtesy: Ludovic Marin/Dia Dipasupil/AFP/Getty Images

(CNN) — In a powerful philanthropic pairing, Melinda French Gates and McKenzie Scott have teamed up to direct $40 million to advancing the power and influence of American women over the next decade.

The donation is being awarded to winners of the Equality Can't Wait Challenge, a competition hosted by French Gates' investment firm Pivotal Ventures, with financial support from Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, as well as from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. The challenge billed itself as "the first competition centered on gender and equality in the U.S. with an award of this magnitude and ... an opportunity to invest in and empower women leaders."

The four contest winners — which were chosen from among 550 applicants — proposed various creative ways to empower and improve the lives of women and gender non-conforming people in the United States. They include establishing publicly supported infrastructure for childcare and other forms of caregiving; creating training for women interested in software development careers; accelerating young women's trajectories through college and their early careers; and growing "impactful businesses owned by Native womxn."

Many of these issues have become particularly important given the Covid-19 pandemic's outsized impact on women, which experts have said set gender equality back by years. Each winning organization will receive $10 million for their projects.

"The awardees are strong teams working on the front lines and from within communities to help women build power in their lives and careers," Scott said in a statement.

French Gates added: "We can break the patterns of history and advance gender equality, but we must commit to lifting up organizations, like the ones receiving awards today, that are ready to lift up women and girls."

French Gates and Scott, who were formerly married to Seattle-based tech founders Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, respectively, have become powerful philanthropists in their own rights. Both women, who are among the richest people in the world, have signed The Giving Pledge, promising to give away the majority of their wealth in their lifetimes.

French Gates remains co-chair of The Gates Foundation, which has funneled significant funding to Covid-19 research and vaccination efforts over the past year and a half, among other initiatives. With Pivotal Ventures, French Gates supports women working in key sectors, such as technology, women running for office and other efforts. In May, she filled for divorce from Bill Gates, whose current net worth stands at about $151 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Scott said last month that she has already donated nearly $1.7 billion of her fortune to 116 organizations focused on one of nine "areas of need," including racial equity, LGBTQ+ equity, functional democracy and climate change. Among the organizations she backed are the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Obama Foundation, the George W. Bush Presidential Center, RAINN and the European Climate Foundation.

Scott's net worth is estimated to be around $64 billion, according to Bloomberg. She received a quarter of Bezos' Amazon shares in the couple's divorce settlement last year, giving her a 4% stake that was worth more than $35 billion at the time.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Melinda French Gates and McKenzie Scott team up to give $40 million to support women."