Joan & Irwin Jacobs: On a Very Different Level

Joan & Irwin Jacobs: On a Very Different Level

Philanthropy is a relatively young field in terms of innovation (#GivingTuesday, microgiving), but it can trace it roots to ancient traditions. Social entrepreneurship has helped remake the philanthropic landscape in recent years, but many still cite the great religious texts as their reason for giving. Joan and Irwin Jacobs touch upon both the old and the new, embracing the best of philanthropy past and present, and applying themselves with intelligence and passion to the task. They are an extraordinary couple.

Joan and Irwin were both raised in Jewish homes in the Northeast — homes steeped in the tradition of giving, not only as a family matter, but also as a religious duty. The similarity of their backgrounds has helped inform their decision-making as philanthropists. Speaking to the San Diego Union Tribune, Joan said, “Our families were philanthropic, but on a very different level. They gave to the local synagogue, but not in any major way. We both came from very humble homes. We’re very fortunate to be able to do what we’re doing now.”

Early on, each was aware of the Jewish obligation of tzedakah, with memories of placing small coins in a box (called a pushke). Monies collected would go to the synagogue or to another worthy cause. As the Jacobses found greater and greater professional and financial success, the coins and the pushke definitely — so to speak — expanded, and they would eventually sign The Giving Pledge, joining the commitment made by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their wills. While their motivations may have been time-honored, the efforts and causes to which Joan and Irwin Jacobs are inspired to contribute are resolutely modern and forward-looking.


Irwin Jacobs, founder of Qualcomm, and his wife, Joan, next to a painting they purchased by artist Kenny Scharf. (Photo: Don Tormey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)


Irwin made his fortune through the technology company Qualcomm, while Joan found success as a dietician. The fields are quite different, but the couple are united in crediting their achievements to the educational opportunities they were afforded — and naturally enough, education became a major part of their giving. Numerous universities have been recipients of their philanthropy, most notably Cornell University: the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a cornerstone of Cornell Tech’s new campus on New York City’s Roosevelt Island, will create “pioneering leaders and technologies for the digital age.” Clearly, for the Jacobses education and science are top priorities, and they have also given hundreds of millions of dollars to the likes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California San Diego, and the Salk Institute (where Irwin served as chairman of the board for a decade).

Moving beyond education and science, the couple has made a name for themselves in San Diego by providing unwavering support for such worthwhile endeavors as the La Jolla Playhouse, the central library, and the San Diego Symphony — this last the beneficiary of a lifesaving infusion of funds. The couple stays involved with the arts locally, science nationally, and education globally — and the aim is to inspire others to follow suit. In their giving, Joan and Irwin Jacobs have continued to live by the Jewish concept of tzedakah, the responsibility to give aid, assistance, and money to worthwhile causes, which they first absorbed as children. The little coin box may have grown immensely, and helped build a building or two or three — or more. But the message remains the same: if you can give a portion of your personal substance to the common good, it is your responsibility to do so. In fact, Judaism teaches that the donors benefit even more than the beneficiaries from tzedakah. An ancient idea, perhaps, but today it seems more relevant than ever.

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Fred Kavli: A Laser-Like Focus

Fred Kavli: A Laser-Like Focus

To quote Fred Kavli, philanthropy “sort of gives you a purpose in life.” But those words of wisdom didn’t come from a man who was aimlessly searching for something to do. Kavli made a fortune through his technology company, Kavlico Corporation, as well as through savvy real estate investments. Significantly, the physicist always kept pure science as a key part of his life, and when he sold his company in 2000 he was able to unite his scientific and philanthropic passions. In his business ventures, Kavli used his laser-sharp focus to get the very best results, and he went on to craft a unique niche for himself within the broader world of philanthropy.

After earning a degree in applied physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, Kavli moved to the United States hoping to make use of his engineering skills. He found success creating sophisticated sensors that were put to wide use — in engines, washing machines, and even on space shuttles. The incredibly precise nature of his technological and business achievements both contrast with and mirror his later work in philanthropy. While Kavli retained the intense focus that had served him well in business, as a philanthropist he adjusted his expectations. Well aware of how scientific discoveries happen, he proved to be the perfect donor to support cutting-edge work.


The winners of the nano physics Kavli Prize, Louis E. Brus, Columbia University, USA, (left) and Sumio Iljima, Meijo University, Japan (right) with the founder of the Kavli Prizes, Fred Kavli during the prize ceremony in Oslo Consert House in OsloTuesday September 9, 2008. AFP Photo by Haakon Mosvold Larsen / SCANPIX (Photo credit should read Larsen, Haakon Mosvold/AFP/Getty Images)


While many philanthropists direct their wealth to a variety of causes, Kavli focused almost exclusively on science. There were exceptions: he was integral to a theater built in Thousand Oaks, California, and he gave to local institutions, including Moorpark College, the Boy Scouts, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. But those are small fry compared to the leviathan-sized science projects he created and supported. Starting in 2008, Kavli began funding research institutes that specialized in astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics. Currently there are 17 such institutes at some of the most esteemed universities in the world, including Caltech, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Tokyo, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This is particularly noteworthy because there are no strings attached to these funds — they were put into place without dictating what needed to be discovered or what problems were to be solved. Instead, Kavli provided funds for research that of its very nature doesn’t necessarily have an eventual end in sight.

Some of the researchers at Kavli Institutes have gone on to win major prizes, including the Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, Kavli believed that truly groundbreaking science wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, so he created the Kavli Prizes, which focus on the categories of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. He envisioned that the prize would someday be on par with the Nobel, and in order to spur on both the competition and scientific advances, each laureate of the Kavli Prize receives one million dollars. So, thanks to Kavli’s passion for science, many researchers are now well funded, empowered to dive deep into questions both very big and very small. What is the nature of “dark matter”? How do brain structures affect cognition? How can one control matter on the nanoscale? Fred Kavli’s philanthropy will have a long afterlife: the research that he funded could well have an immense impact on all our lives, supporting and recognizing, as the Kavli Prize does, “pioneering advances in our understanding of existence at its biggest, smallest, and most complex scales.”

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The Cadbury Family: A Sweet Tradition of Giving

The Cadbury Family: A Sweet Tradition of Giving

While the Cadbury name is all but synonymous with chocolate, the family has long placed as much emphasis on philanthropy and good works as it has on its business ventures. In fact, from the beginning the enterprise was rooted in first doing good, with profits a secondary consideration. When chocolatier John Cadbury (1801–1889) established a manufacturing business in the early 1830s, he was already a veteran campaigner for social injustice, fighting the exploitation of child chimney sweeps, the horrors of animal cruelty, and other social ills. Drinking chocolate was not just a treat, but was also intended as a way to tempt people away from the dangers of alcohol.

Helping the disadvantaged, either by campaigning for the rights of the poor or working to alleviate the alcohol-related causes of poverty, was ingrained in the Cadbury family’s belief system. As Quakers, they battled the evils of slavery, alcoholism, poverty, and many other social problems. John Cadbury may have left the chocolate industry due to declining health in 1861, handing over the business to his two sons Richard and George, but he spent the remainder of his life dedicated to civic and social work.


Two women at the Cadbury’s chocolate factory in Bournville, in the West Midlands join together chocolate Easter egg halves. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)


At first it was slow going for the next generation of Cadbury chocolatiers, but in time the business enjoyed massive success with British consumers. The company soon needed to expand, and the family was determined to establish something better than the oppressive and dangerous factories that were then commonplace as the Industrial Revolution boomed. So instead of erecting a routine manufacturing works, the Cadbury brothers built the model village of Bournville, about four miles south of Birmingham, starting with a factory that gave the employees such unheard of amenities as “a kitchen where workers could heat up their meals, and properly heated dressing rooms where they could get changed.” The worker’s village included a garden, playgrounds, and athletic fields, and employees were ensured of getting both good wages and medical treatment. As George Cadbury said, “If the country is a good place to live in, why not to work in?”

Future generations of the Cadbury family continued the tradition of taking care of their workers by providing days off, pension plans, and unemployment benefits — and this in addition to the profits that went into causes such as promoting pension reform, fighting worker exploitation, and anti-war efforts. It was John Cadbury’s grandson, Barrow Cadbury, who truly cemented the family’s reputation as not just purveyors of chocolate to the British Empire, but as philanthropists whose passion for social activism was profoundly informed by their Quaker beliefs. Named chairman of Cadbury in 1918, two years later Barrow Cadbury, with his wife, Geraldine, set up the Barrow Cadbury Trust. Following the Quaker ideal of speaking truth to power, today the Trust tackles a number of challenging issues, including “gender-based disadvantage” and racism in all its forms, while working to bring about structural changes to create a “more just and equal society.” The Trust respects its historical roots in Quaker values, although it now embraces “all faiths and none.”


Direct descendent James Cadbury has continued with the family interest in chocolate and giving back. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)


The current generation of the Cadbury family hasn’t strayed far from their chocolate or their philanthropic roots. While Kraft took over the Cadbury brand in 2010, the family continues its tradition of service: today the majority of trustees of the Barrow Cadbury Trust are direct descendants of Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury. What’s more, James Cadbury — the great-great-great grandson of John Cadbury — is getting into the chocolate business himself with Love Cocoa. The chocolate is fair trade and is made in Britain — plus 10% of the profits are donated to charity. A very sweet tradition.

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The Haas Family: A Philadelphia Institution

The Haas Family: A Philadelphia Institution

Truly exceptional philanthropists are about as common as four-leaf clovers. So when you find a whole family full of givers, it is like stumbling across an entire field of the green good luck charms. One case is Philadelphia’s Haas family, who have quietly established themselves as a role model of how family philanthropy can work for all levels of society.

The Haas story begins, unsurprisingly, with an exceptional couple. Otto Haas came to Philadelphia from Germany in 1909 to begin expansion of his company, Rohm and Haas. The company, which started as a maker of leather tanning materials, grew to become a massive specialty chemical manufacturer, and Otto found success beyond his wildest dreams. In 1945 he used some of his wealth to start a foundation to address post-war social issues, particularly focused on helping fatherless children. This foundation eventually became the William Penn Foundation, a Philadelphia-centric institution that works on all manner of important causes, including education, conservation, and culture.


The south facade of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is shown June 9, 2003 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)


Otto’s wife, Phoebe Waterman, was every bit as successful and ambitious as her husband. Awarded a doctorate in astronomy in 1913, she became one of the first American women to play a major role in the rapidly growing field of space research. Even after she left the professional world, she remained an asset to science, volunteering as a citizen with the American Association of Variable Star Observers. Her passion for the stars and her family’s endowment to the National Air & Space Museum resulted in the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory, a fitting tribute to a pioneer of space research.

Otto and Phoebe had two boys, John and F. Otto, and they took after their parents in both brains and heart. They both took major roles in Rohm and Haas, carrying on the family legacy as well as ensuring that it was a company that promoted the advancement of women and minorities. And much like their parents, in time they were ready to step away from the business and put their efforts into philanthropy. Both served on the board of the William Penn Foundation as well as continued the giving tradition in personal ways.


Path Out of the Woods to a Meadow, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: Universal Images Group via Getty Images)


The list of organizations the brothers played a part in is almost as long as the list of organizations in all of Philadelphia. John and his wife Chara founded the Stoneleigh Foundation to target the needs of vulnerable and underserved children. F. Otto focused a great deal of his energies on conservation, becoming one of the founding board members of Preservation Pennsylvania, who have since named their annual award after him. And this only scratches the surface of what the pair have achieved.

Philanthropy is a tradition that the rest of the family has carried on. The next generation founded the Wyncote Foundation to tackle social, environmental and cultural issues. What is more, nearly 40 family members share a fortune estimated to be around $3 billion, and already more than half of it is slated for charitable causes. This is not a family that brags or even seeks publicity, but the name Haas should continue to be praised from the streets of Philadelphia all the way to the stars.

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Dmitry Zimin: Russian for Philanthropy

Dmitry Zimin: Russian for Philanthropy

Physics classroom in Moscow public school. (Photo by Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)


Dmitry Zimin is many things. A Russian, a scientist, a businessman, and a philanthropist. As a donor, he is exceptional, not simply because of the millions of dollars he has given away to science and education-based projects, but because he is a trailblazer. He created the first family philanthropy in post-Soviet Russia. He had the insight to recognize the positive impact that this could have in Russia, particularly in the realm of science, and the ambition and wealthy to make it a reality.

Zimin’s own scientific work had made him a wealthy man, and he was not interested in leaving all his money to heirs – convinced that it would lead to their ruin. Instead, he retired from his successful telecommunications company, Vimpelcom, Ltd, and used his money to found the Dynasty Foundation. All at once, science in Russia had a major benefactor keen to fund young people engaged in research that could change the world for the better.

During its 13 years of existence, the Dynasty Foundation had an incredible impact on both the academic and philanthropic worlds of Russia, by fostering talented people. Starting in 2002, the Foundation helped provide stipends to university students and young physicists. Zimin was inspired by his early scientific background, lecturing in electrodynamics. Soon it was supporting students and experts doing groundbreaking work, while also increasing interest in science with the general population. They launched their own science program, hosted contests, created a prize for non-fiction literature, and began publishing books, including a Russian language version of the popular Bill Bryson book, A Short History of Almost Everything.


Author Bill Bryson, the best-selling author of travel books, talks to a fan at a book signing. — Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)


Zimin, 84, says: ‘Memorable donations include some of the lifelong grants we made to people who are now seen as icons. For example, we supported one of the greatest modern-day mathematicians, Vladimir Arnold. He was an extraordinary scientist, a teacher and promoter of mathematics. Memorable donations include some of the lifelong grants we made to people who are now seen as icons. For example, we supported one of the greatest modern-day mathematicians, Vladimir Arnold.

‘He was an extraordinary scientist, a teacher and promoter of mathematics. For example, he published a problem book called 5 to 15, which I would strongly recommend to all children. It contains 100 problems for children to guess the solutions to. We initiated an all-Russia contest to solve problems based on this book, which was extremely exciting.’

Such has been Zimin’s impact on his nation that if you were Russian and involved in science, you were most assuredly positively affected by Dynasty.

Sadly, it could not last. Philanthropy remained a topic that many in Russia were wary of, and in 2015, the Dynasty Foundation was designated as a ‘foreign agent’ NGO by the Ministry of Justice. And while Dmitry did not hesitate in proclaiming this inaccurate, he also did not want to cast a bad light on all the success of the Foundation, so Dynasty decided to close down. But that does not lessen the impact of Zimin’s work – over 3,000 despairing scientists and members of the public signed an open letter protesting the Ministry’s decision, but it seems it was time to move on. Nonetheless, Zimin achieved a huge amount in opening Russians’ eyes up to both science and philanthropy. The impact of the Dynasty Foundation will last through this next generation of scientists, and it is only a matter of time before someone takes up the mantle of Russian philanthropy again, inspired by Zimin’s generosity, vision and practical zeal.

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Fiona & Stanley Druckenmiller: Let the Gifts do the Talking

Fiona & Stanley Druckenmiller: Let the Gifts do the Talking

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with students of Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy in New York City as he is joined by representatives and community members from San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma during an East Room event January 9, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC. President Obama announced the five areas as his administration’s first five ‘Promise Zones’ to help the local communities to combat poverty. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


It is a characteristically direct comment. “I think it’s a bit ironic how much praise philanthropists get because I think it’s a privilege to have this kind of wealth; and my guess is if most of society had this kind of wealth, they’d get involved in philanthropy. Because what else are you going to do with it – roll around in your coffin with it?”

So say Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller. They are a couple unlike any other in philanthropy. While they mostly shun publicity, they are not shy about taking risks or giving lavishly, and they have no problem doing one thing that most billionaires never need to do – asking others for money. Their giving, their motivation, and their leadership has made the Druckenmillers one of the most lauded philanthropic couples in the world, and while they mostly stay out of the spotlight, their good works speak volumes.

Both Stanley and Fiona have had extraordinary success in the world of finance. For years Stanley worked for George Soros, one of the first recipients of the Medal of Philanthropy. In fact, Soros sought out Stanley’s help so that he could focus more on the philanthropy side of his life and less on the business. Clearly this made an impact on the Druckenmillers, and soon they too were putting a significant amount of their time and resources into giving.


The Harlem Children’s Zone & Promise Academy school and Geoffrey Canada Community Center on 125th Street. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images)


Recognizing that their success came thanks to their access to quality schooling, much of their philanthropy has focused on providing opportunities for education. And like any good investor, they keep a certain amount of variety in the organizations they fund within the education sector. Along with giving out college scholarships, they have provided significant funds to programs like Teach for America and College Summit, an organization whose mission is to increase college enrolment rates in low-income communities. What they are most known for, however, is their involvement with Harlem Children’s Zone, the community organization providing education, social and health programs for at-risk children and their families. Stanley has had a significant hand in building up the organization, and has sat as the Chairman on the board of trustees for many years. The success of the organization has an impact that money cannot buy – hundreds of other organizations are springing up around the world, inspired by the work the Harlem Children’s Zone does in New York.

Recently, the Druckenmillers have sought to have an even bigger impact on childhood poverty, and that has put them in the unique position of asking other billionaires to chip in too. By pooling money with other wealthy philanthropists, the Druckenmillers are looking to Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic fund, to help decide the best and most effective way to use the money. Putting both money and brains together, they hope to identify the best nonprofit organizations working in childhood poverty, and provide them with the resources they need to thrive.

Stanley and Fiona might avoid the spotlight, nevertheless, their commitment to education is one of the most notable stories in philanthropy. And if the Druckenmillers are behind it, bet on success – that’s where the good money is.

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Kazuo Inamori: Zen and the art of Philanthropy

Kazuo Inamori: Zen and the art of Philanthropy

Dr Kazuo Inamori on the Kyoto Prize at Oxford


Kazuo Inamori is not your average businessman, and that is not simply because of his remarkable success. Something of a maverick, he is also a Buddhist monk. He has consistently challenged common practices and refuses to be beholden to investors, a position that has brought him enormous success. What is more, his views on business, philanthropy, and spirituality have developed harmoniously over his lifetime and are intertwined in a unique and quietly revolutionary way. His is not a life that easily is broken down into distinct sections, but instead is best looked at through a wide lens, giving a true sense of the man and his impact.

Inamori’s business background is an impressive list of success stories. He established the Kyocera Corporation in 1959, and it has since become a multi-national tech company with over 30,000 employees. A quarter century later he founded what is now KDDI, Japan’s second largest telecommunications network. His business skills were of such renown that years later he was asked to come out of retirement to take over Japan Airlines. He started there in 2010 and within three years he had pulled the airline out of bankruptcy and put them back on the stock exchange – while taking no salary.

This remarkable success is all the more praiseworthy thanks to his compassionate approach. Despite operating in a world of shareholders and investors, Inamori has always made it clear that his first priority is the satisfaction of his employees. This view is simply part of Inamori’s outlook on life, seeing material wealth as a byproduct of doing business with a deeper purpose. As he told the Financial Times, “I didn’t want to be a rich person… my motivation has been making people around me happy.”

Unsurprisingly, this is apparent outside his business efforts, too. Upon retiring from KDDI, he focused his time on becoming a Buddhist monk. And while this sounds like an odd choice for one of Japan’s wealthiest individuals, it was very much in line with everything Inamori previously espoused. There was no conflict between Inamori the businessperson and Inamori the monk, it is two manifestations of the same man seeking to bring happiness to others.


German choreographer Pina Bausch (L) receives the Kyoto Prize from Inamori Foundation chairman Hiroo Imura during the awarding ceremony at the Kyoto International Conference Center in Japan’s ancient capital Kyoto city, western Japan 10 November 2007. Bausch and Japanese scientests Hiroo Kanamori and Hiroo Inokuchi received the award. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO


A wildly successful businessman who focuses on his employees’ happiness as well as his own spiritual fulfilment? That would be enough to make anyone stand out. But Inamori has done remarkable work in philanthropy as well. In 1984, the same year he launched KDDI, he also founded the Inamori Foundation. In an interview with The New Sun, his advice to business people was simple: “Charitable acts, by helping society and other people, are in fact what will drive you wonderfully to your own happiness.” The foundation gives out research grants for natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, with the funds going to young researchers who will have a positive impact on society. Most impressively, the Inamori Foundation gives out two elite prizes. The Inamori Ethics Prize is a yearly recognition of an exemplary international leader whose actions have improved the human condition. And the foundation is also behind the Kyoto Prize, Japan’s highest award for global achievement. And based on his impact on the world, if Inamori was not giving those prizes, he would most certainly be receiving them.

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Betty & Gordon Moore: The Moores’ Law of Giving

Betty & Gordon Moore: The Moores’ Law of Giving

Gordon Moore’s impact in Silicon Valley is impossible to overstate, and his success has brought him greater wealth than he could ever have imagined. The co-founder of Intel, the “Moore” behind Moore’s Law, and a trailblazer for the entire microprocessor industry, he is a titan in the tech world. He is also reserved and introverted, allowing bigger personalities to make noise while he has continued to revolutionize the industry.


1st microprocessor, 1971 : Intel 4004 (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)


His work achievements alone would leave Gordon Moore in the history books, but he wanted to do more with the fortune that he had amassed. Luckily, he had his wife, Betty, to work with. Her knowledge and passion have contributed a key ingredient to their philanthropic ambitions. Clearly they were extremely capable individuals, with Betty working at the Ford Foundation while Gordon got his PhD at Caltech and began his journey into the world of transistors. Once they saw the opportunity to give back, they jumped at the chance, choosing to fund assorted appeals for help every holiday season. In time, they were able to put more time, money, and rigor into the process, but it has always been a very personal effort. Even with the big foundations working away, Gordon does not shy away from personal philanthropy, telling Fortune: “The things I do personally are hard for the Foundation to do. Education gets a lot of it, some science stuff. I pick up a bunch of screwy things.”

The Foundation that he is talking about is the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which the couple founded in 2000. This has allowed them to tackle causes they were passionate about in a deliberate and focused manner, which is of course entirely fitting for someone with a scientific mindset. The chief targets of the Foundation are environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay area, and thanks to their personal involvement, the Foundation has been able to initiate some unique and visionary programs.


A spectator looks skyward during a partial eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. Millions of people have flocked to areas of the U.S. that are in the ‘path of totality’ in order to experience a total solar eclipse. During the event, the moon will pass in between the sun and the Earth, appearing to block the sun. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


The science aspect of the Foundation has proven to be where it truly stands out. It has brought about potentially world changing initiatives like the Moore Inventor Fellows, a ten year project to support 50 aspiring inventors. The Moores know all about what it means to be at the forefront of development, and now they are hoping to ensure others are given this opportunity. They are also not bashful about getting everyone to appreciate science. This past August the Foundation partnered with libraries across the country to provide glasses for the solar eclipse, distributing a total of two million.

And although they had already given over half of their money away before signing the Giving Pledge, they do not seem to be slowing down. They donated $200 million to Caltech for construction of one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. The Foundation is also doing amazing things in environmental conservation, particularly with their Conservation and Financial Markets Initiative, helping bring mainstream financial markets in line with conservation-minded approaches to saving the planet. It is quite a journey from making microchips to awarding million dollar grants, but the passion and intelligence brought to all their projects is as strong a link as any.

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Big Bird: Feathered Philanthropy

Big Bird: Feathered Philanthropy


Big Bird might be the most famous bird in the world. He certainly doesn’t act like it though. Curious and caring, Big Bird exemplifies some of the most admirable qualities in any species. While he’s always been somewhat cagey about exactly what sort of bird he is (he’s been linked to canaries, larks, condors, and emus), there is little doubt that the world could use more of his type.

Living in a large nest behind 123 Sesame Street, Big Bird manages to stand out even amongst the incredible diversity of the neighborhood. He counts Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch as some of his best friends, all of whom dearly love the big, yellow guy and are quick to help him on his endless quest for answers. He readily admits that there is much that he doesn’t know, pointing out, “Asking questions is a good way of finding things out!” While the audience of the message is typically children, these are words that everyone should take to heart.

While Sesame Street remains the best place to find Big Bird, his curiosity has brought him to wide audiences, appearing in movies and showing up on television shows ranging from the Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Squares to Saturday Night Live and the Colbert Report. Recently he’s even appeared with Michele Obama to promote her efforts to get kids up and moving. With this level of visibility, Big Bird also realizes he has a lot of power, and unsurprisingly, he uses it in thoughtful and caring ways. His biggest initiative is the Yellow Feather Fund, which bring educational materials to children in need all over the world. Not just that, but there have been targeted efforts to reach out and help groups like military families, refugees, and children with autism. The Yellow Feather Fund is a way for Big Bird to bring smiles beyond the reach of the television screen.


Sesame Street characters Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Murray Monster, Cookie Monster, Elmo, Abby and Grover post with host Jimmy Fallon on September 11, 2014 — (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)


At 8’2”, everyone has to look up to Big Bird. But he also provides plenty of other reasons to be looked up to. He cares deeply for his friends, whether they’re the neighbors on his street or the millions who have watched him on television. It’s hard to even comprehend the number of adults who spent many hours with him in their younger years, only to later share the friendship again with their own children. Sesame Street helped prove what a powerful educational resource the television could be, and Big Bird has always been front and center. He’s helped people become caring, concerned adults. And he’s proven time and time again that it’s OK to have questions. Most importantly, he has given generations of kids the confidence to be themselves, saying, “I guess it’s better to be who you are. Turns out people like you best that way, anyway.”

We’re lucky that Big Bird is who he is. That’s the way we like him best.

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Chuck Feeney: Everybody’s (Anonymous) Hero

Chuck Feeney: Everybody’s (Anonymous) Hero


The names of the great, and the good, grace countless trusts as monuments to wealthy benefactors now long dead. In contrast, Charles (Chuck) Feeney believes in giving generously and anonymously during his lifetime, in exchange for no recognition at all. His foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, preaches “Giving while living” – a forerunner of the Giving Pledge that many Carnegie Philanthropy Medalists support.

Born in Jersey in 1931 to Irish American parents during the Great Depression, he made his fortune as a co-founder of the Duty Free Shoppers Group, which pioneered the concept of duty-free shopping. He served as a US Air Force radio operator during the Korean War, and began his career selling duty-free liquor to US sailors at Mediterranean ports in the 1950s.

While Feeney enjoyed the thrill of successful business ventures and smart investments, he felt little desire for the wealth that accompanied his extraordinary success. Always quick to pitch in money to worthy causes, he started thinking about making a big impact in philanthropy in the late 1970’s. His personal advisor recommended Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth and Feeney set up his Foundation with those ideals in mind. He put nearly his entire fortune into the Foundation, while keeping his involvement a total secret from the outside world.

After rigorous vetting by Feeney himself, beneficiaries were sworn to secrecy about the identity of the donor. Feeney sought no buildings in his name and no recognition for his gifts. This spoke to his belief system, seeing himself, as Carnegie would say, simply as a steward of his wealth. In fact it was only due to a business dispute that his philanthropic activities became public in 1997. He is known for his frugality, living in a rented apartment, not owning a car or a house, and flying economy-class despite his enormous wealth.

Feeney’s approach is neatly summed up in his single quote on the subject, “I had one idea that never changed in my mind – that you should use your wealth to help people.” The anonymity also provided him a strategic advantage. Unbothered by requests for aid, he could take his time feeling out organizations and opportunities to make sure his donation would have impact.


Library and McGraw bell tower on the Cornell University campus. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)


Looking back over his catalogue of generosity, it is easy to see where his passion lies. He focused on areas he knew or had experience in, and most efforts had some personal connection. Cornell, which Feeney credits with setting him up for success, received both the first grant and the final one (along with many in between). Higher education is a reoccurring theme, with Atlantic Philanthropies helping with schools and training in Ireland as well as Vietnam, Cuba, and South Africa, all of which he saw struggling without sufficient help.

Unlike business titans of old, then, Feeney has not hoarded his wealth. He wanted to spend the money invested in his Foundation quickly, especially if there was an opportunity to make a big, sustainable impact. Over the course of his life, Chuck Feeney has given away over $8 billion, with his last $7 million going to Cornell in 2016. Warren Buffet perhaps summed up where Feeney falls in the ranks of philanthropists. Speaking to Forbes magazine in 2014, Buffet said, “It’s a real honor to talk about a fellow who is my hero and Bill Gates’ hero. He should be everybody’s hero.

Feeney has been called the “James Bond of philanthropy,” for his secrecy and success. In 1997, Time Magazine said that “Feeney’s beneficence already ranks among the grandest of any living American.”
So while there may currently be no marble busts of Feeney gathering dust or lawyers poring over complicated bequests, his work is living testament to generosity and largesse of the most impressive kind.

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