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Former Gates Official to Lead Wal-Mart Foundation

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a top official with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation until August of this year, will become the new president of the Wal-Mart Foundation, the Bentonville, Ark., philanthropy announced today.

Ms. Burwell succeeds Margaret A. McKenna, who is retiring today after four years at the foundation.

Under her leadership, the grant maker stepped up its efforts to use business expertise to advance social goals and made a high-profile, $2-billion commitment to fighting hunger.

Ms. Burwell begins at the foundation in January.

“Sylvia has proven expertise and real passion for giving people the tools they need to rise out of poverty, addressing hunger issues and promoting sustainable development,” Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s president, said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have her in this leadership role, and her impact will be felt by the communities and people we serve.”

Ms. Burwell joined Gates in 2001, serving for five years as its chief operating officer. From 2006 until August, she led the Seattle foundation’s global development program.

When the Gates foundation announced Ms. Burwell’s departure in August, the philanthropy said she was stepping down to move closer to her parents as they grow older.

Ms. Burwell goes from one huge philanthropic entity to another. Gates, of course, is the country’s largest private foundation. Wal-Mart typically gives away more money each year than any other company; in 2010, it made cash donations totaling $319.5-million.

In addition to leading the foundation, she will oversee Wal-Mart’s new program to aid women around the world. The effort seeks to help businesses owned by women with $100-million in cash grants.

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