Catherine St-Laurent — a former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffer — has a lot in common with the Duchess of Sussex

By Simon Perry
March 30, 2020 01:15 PM
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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry‘s new life in the U.S. has taken another step forward — they have chosen their new Chief of Staff and head of their nonprofit organization.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have turned to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in selecting the woman who will help them a forge their new charitable endeavor outside of the royal realm.

“At the beginning of April, Catherine St Laurent will start in post as Chief of Staff to The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. She will also serve as Executive Director of their new non-profit organisation,” a spokesperson for the couple stated on March 30.

A native of Montreal, St-Laurent moved to Seattle in 2011 after nearly a decade working in Brussels and London.

St-Laurent began working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011. She went on to become the director of communications and then the director of brand and special initiatives for Pivotal Ventures — an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates in 2015. She led programs that helped advance the progress for women and families, areas that match much of what Harry and Meghan will want to focus on as they finalize their new initiatives.

“We are proud to be joined by Catherine St-Laurent in this next chapter with us. Her leadership and proven track record working within two organizations that have tremendous impact in the world—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Pivotal Ventures—make her an incredible asset and we are excited to have her on our team,” the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said in a statement provided to PEOPLE.

Catherine St-Laurent also said in a statement: “From our very first conversation, Harry and Meghan have expressed a deep commitment to improving lives and having a positive impact on society. Their perspective on the role that empathy, connection, and compassion can play in that mission is both deeply personal and incredibly timely. I am delighted and honored to be able to play a role in realizing their vision as they embark on this journey of learning, listening, and inspiring all of us to act.”

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Samir Hussein/WireImage

In an email seen by PEOPLE that she circulated upon her departure from Pivotal Ventures, St-Laurent said goodbye and talked about her new beginning alongside the couple, who have just moved to L.A. with baby Archie, 10 months.

In her farewell note, she said she hopes her friends are staying safe amid “overwhelming” and more critical events, and added, “After nearly 9 years alongside Melinda and the Gates Foundation and Pivotal Ventures teams, I am moving on to begin a new chapter and wanted to make sure to share my contact info so we can stay in touch.”

St-Laurent added, “Beginning next week I will be acting as Chief of Staff and Executive Director of the new non-profit enterprise for Meghan M and Harry. They are embarking on a new chapter themselves and I am thrilled to be able to play a supporting role in realizing their vision and enabling them to achieve impact on the issues that matter most to them.”

St-Laurent will have much in common with Meghan, 38. She describes herself on her Twitter profile as a promoter of “conversations about women and girls’ rights” and being into yoga, traveling and spinning.

Meghan and Harry have been undertaking meetings as part of their ongoing work to establish their new nonprofit — the details of which are expected to be shared later in the year.

“In general, the themes of their cause related work will remain unchanged, which includes the Commonwealth, community, youth empowerment and mental health, collectively,” they previously said.

Meghan Markle
Ben Stansall-WPA Pool/Getty

The news broke on Friday, just a day after PEOPLE revealed that the couple has relocated from Canada to the L.A. area as they kick off the next stage of their life as they get ready for their official royal exit on March 31. Meghan’s first post-royal job was also unveiled on Thursday — she will voice a new documentary from Disneynature, Elephants, which will begin streaming on April 3 on Disney+.

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The project will benefit Elephants Without Borders and pre-dates Meghan and Harry’s groundbreaking decision to exit their roles as working members of the royal family.