Philanthropy

Town & Country's Top 50 Philanthropists of 2019

This year's crop of givers is revered and critiqued in equal measure. And none of them is afraid of a little controversy in the service of progress.
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Town & Country's top philanthropists of 2019 are tackling a wide array of issues and using innovative methods to get things done.

YARA SHAHIDI


Grand Plan: The 19-year old manages to be both a working actress (her new movie, The Sun Is Also a Star, is in theaters in May) and an Ivy League college student.

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Making Headlines: Shahidi is as devoted to social justice as she is to her career and studies; she’s worked to enroll young people to vote—her 18th birthday party doubled as a registration drive—and is active in causes like gender equality and children’s medical research.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE


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Grand Plan: The managing director of the International Monetary Fund holds the world’s economy in the palm of her hand.

Making Headlines: While the IMF isn’t a traditional philanthropy, under Lagarde—its first female leader—it’s helping advise on international policy and lending to countries in economic crisis, all in all making the world a more stable place.

AVA DUVERNAY


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Grand Plan: One of the most respected filmmakers of her generation, DuVernay has made a name for herself with films like Selma, A Wrinkle in Time, and 13th, which are not only entertainment but also work in service of social change.

Making Headlines: In May, her powerful new series When They See Us, based on the wrongful conviction in the 1990s of five teenage boys who came to be known as the Central Park Five, premiered on Netflix.

MELINDA GATES


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Grand Plan: The co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped steer more than $45 billion to causes including maternal health,agricultural development, and education.

Making Headlines: In April, Gates published her first book, The Moment of Lift, and she is focusing her energies on empowering women around the globe.

LEON & DEBRA BLACK


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Grand Plan Their family foundation makes major gifts to education and the arts—and sometimes both, like the $48 million donation that built the Black Family Visual Arts Center at Dartmouth.

Making Headlines The Blacks gave a $40 million gift to the Museum of Modern Art to aid in its expansion. As a post-­renovation thank-you, MoMA will name a new film center in their honor.

AGNES GUND


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Grand Plan She’s one of the art world’s best-known patrons, especially since she sold a Lichtenstein to start a criminal justice fund.

Making Headlines This year she donated a Carmen Herrera painting and raised nearly $3 million to benefit financial aid at Miss Porter’s School.

CONSTANCE HESS WILLIAMS


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Grand Plan The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s transformation, includes an overhaul of its main building by Frank Gehry (pictured with Hess in the new restaurant), as well as the reopening in September of the newly renovated north entrance, which has been closed for 50 years.

Making Headlines Williams, a former state senator and the museum’s chair emerita, is the campaign’s largest donor, having given more than $50 million.

IWAN & MANUELA WIRTH


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Grand Plan The married co-founders of mega gallery Hauser & Wirth are dedicated to bringing art out beyond its walls.

Making Headlines After launching the Hauser & Wirth Institute to give scholars free access to the archives of artists, the gallery gave $1 million to Cal State in L.A. to support diversity in the school’s filmmaking program.

NAN GOLDIN


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Grand Plan The photographer founded the group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN) to call attention—often via confrontational public protests—to the opioid crisis by targeting cultural institutions that deal with the Sackler family, whose fortune stems in part from the production of OxyContin. ­

Making Headlines Due to her efforts, museums, including the Tate galleries in London and the Guggenheim in New York have stopped accepting Sackler money.

SUSAN UNTERBERG


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Grand Plan For more than 20 years the artist anonymously gave grants to female artists over 40 who hadn’t yet achieved major recognition.

Making Headlines Last summer Unterberg revealed her identity and fessed up to being a patron of artists including Carrie Mae Weems and Amy Sherald.

GRETA THURNBERG


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The Kids Are All Right This 16-year-old Swedish activist and Davos speaker sparked the school strikes for climate action last August when she demonstrated outside her country’s parliament.

BTS


The Kids Are All Right The South Korean boy pop band is behind UNICEF’s Love Myself campaign, which helps child and teen victims of violence.

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ALICE PAUL TAPPER


The Kids Are All Right When the 11-year-old daughter of CNN anchor Jake Tapper noticed a lack of participation by girls in the classroom, she promptly consulted her Girl Scout troop and came up with a new badge, Raise Your Hand, that girls earn by speaking up in class.

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ZAYNE COWIE


The Kids Are All Right This nine-year climate activist is the author of Goodbye, Earth, a children's book that calls out adults for doing nothing to save the planet. Every Friday he skips school to sit in front of New York's City Hall.

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ISRI HIRSI, HAVEN COLEMAN, ALEXANDRIA VILLASENOR, MADDY FERNANDS


The Kids Are All Right Taking their lead from Thunberg, these teenagers (Hirsi, far left, with Haven Coleman, is the daughter of Minnesota congress­woman Ilhan Omar) organized the first U.S. Youth Climate Strike in March.

MICHAEL BUBLE


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Grand Plan Raise awareness of childhood cancers.

Making Headlines After his son Noah was diagnosed with liver cancer at age three (now five, he’s in remission), Bublé started a campaign to get his fans to donate to Stand Up to Cancer.

MARIA SHRIVER & KATHERINE SCHWARZENEGGER


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Grand Plan Cure Alzheimer’s, which Maria’s father, Sargent Shriver, suffered from. Daughter Katherine also works in the animal rights space.

Making Headlines Their Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement recently awarded seven research grants to find out why Alzheimer’s affects more women than men.

THE TOW FAMILY


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Grand Plan Improve quality of life for society’s most vulnerable.

Making Headlines Established in 1988 by Leonard and Claire Tow, the Tow Foundation (daughter Emily, pictured with her father, serves as president) has given more than $50 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering, with a focus on pediatric oncology.

AMY & PATRICK KENNEDY


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Grand Plan End the stigma around mental illness and addiction, which have plagued Patrick, a former congressman.

Making Headlines They spearheaded the Don’t Deny Me campaign to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 Federal Parity Law, which requires insurers to cover mental illnesses like depression and addiction.

ROBI DAMELIN & BASSAM ARAMIN


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Grand Plan The Parents Circle—for which Damelin, an Israeli whose son was killed by a sniper, and Aramin, a Palestinian whose daughter was killed by border police, are spokespeople—encourages those who have lost loved ones in the conflict to engage in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Making Headlines In 2019 a high-profile dinner at Manhattan’s James Beard House brought together Israeli and Palestinian chefs and launched a major new U.S. fundraising campaign.

LEBRON JAMES


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Grand Plan Create a path for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Making Headlines In 2018 the L.A. Laker superstar opened the I Promise public school in Akron for kids who are falling behind because they lack resources.

DANNY MEYER & BILLY SHORE


Grand Plan End child hunger. Meyer (far left, with Shore) is a longtime board member of Shore’s Share Our Strength, which has raised more than $700 million.

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Making Headlines Since the launch of its No Kid Hungry campaign in 2010, 3 million children have gained access to free school breakfasts.

KENNETH LANGONE


Grand Plan Medial research and training have long been among the billionaire's causes.

Making Headlines After donating $200 million a decade ago to NYU's Medical Center, now named after him, last year he gave another $100 million to further an effort to make NYU's med school tuition-free for all.

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HARRY & LAURA SLATKIN


Grand Plan Provide better education to autistic children (their 19-year-old son, David, was diagnosed as a baby).

Making Headlines They recently opened their second New York Center for Autism charter school—the two are the state’s first public schools devoted solely to autistic children—with locations in Harlem and the Bronx.

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BARBARA UNDERWOOD


Making Headlines When she stepped in as interim New York state attorney general last May—and the first female one, at that—Underwood put the Trump Foundation at the top of her hit list. By June she had sued the dubious charity, accusing it of doing nothing but illegally bankrolling Trump’s campaign and other business interests. By December the foundation was ordered to dissolve. Her other adversaries? In the eight months she spent as AG (before Letitia James was elected), Underwood sued Exxon for misleading investors about climate change and settled with seven NYC hospitals that were illegally billing rape survivors for evidence kits.

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YVON CHOUINARD


Grand Plan The 80-year-old outdoorsman and Patagonia founder donates 1 percent of company sales to environmental causes.

Making Headlines Patagonia recently donated the $10 million it saved via the Trump tax cut to combat global warming; it also decided it would no longer co-brand vests with financial firms that don’t share its values.

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KJELD & THOMAS KIRK KRISTIANSEN


Grand Plan The third (Kjeld, pictured,) and fourth generations of the family that owns LEGO has committed to using predominantly sustainable materials by 2030 and has transferred 25 percent ownership of the LEGO Group to the nonprofit LEGO Foundation.

Making Headlines Last winter LEGO made a $100 million grant to the Sesame Workshop to bring play-based education to refugee camps.

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WES MOORE


Grand Plan Use metrics-based investment techniques to fight poverty.

Making Headlines Moore, the CEO of Robin Hood, recently launched Mobility LABs, a $25 million national program to lift families out of poverty.

ALEXANDRE MARS


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Grand Plan To make giving easier, more transparent, and more universal among both individuals and companies.

Making Headlines The 43-year-old tech investor–turned–Epic Foundation founder recently published Giving: Purpose Is the New Currency, a philanthropic manifesto for our times.

CRAIG NEWMARK


Grand Plan Fight fake news.

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Making Headlines This year the founder of Craigslist donated $10 million to Columbia University to create the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security. He has also written big checks—$85 million worth—for Poynter, New York Public Radio, and the American Press Institute.

HANSJOERG WYSS


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Grand Plan Protect 30 percent of the planet by creating more national parks, wildlife refuges, and marine reserves.

Making Headlines Last October the Swiss entrepreneur wrote an op-ed in the New York Times pledging $1 billion to accomplish his conservation goal by 2030.

NAT & LAURA BAXTER-SIMONS


Grand Plan Follow through on the Giving Pledge by committing their fortune to a low carbon economy.

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Making Headlines Last year their Sea Change Foundation revealed that it has quietly given $500 million since 2006 to clean energy and climate change nonprofits.

FRED BLACKWELL


Grand Plan Stand up for the Bay Area’s low-income and minority residents.

Making Headlines Last summer the CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, one of the U.S.’s largest community foundations, created Keep Oakland Housed, which has helped hundreds of residents avoid homelessness.

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BOB & RANDI FISHER 


Grand Plan Make clean water accessible to all. Bob (whose parents founded the Gap clothing empire) and his wife Randi’s Pisces Foundation focuses on water resources and education.

DARREN WALKER


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Grand Plan Eradicate injustice everywhere.

Making Headlines At the Global Climate Action Summit, the president of the Ford Foundation joined eight other groups in committing $459 million through 2022 for forest protection, sustainable agriculture, and indigenous peoples’ land rights.

LAURA & JOHN ARNOLD


Grand Plan Spend billions reforming America’s most burdensome institutions.

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Making Headlines In March they announced a $39 million plan for bail reform.

JENNY XIA & PATRICK SCHMITT


Grand Plan They founded FreeWill, a free online estate planning tool that encourages users to leave money to charity.

Making Headlines FreeWill has earned $404 million in nonprofit commitments.

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JUAN MANUEL SANTOS


Grand Plan Bring peace to his country, Colombia, and make it an environmental example for the world.

Making Headlines Before he left office last year, the president of Colombia (who also picked up a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016) signed the country’s first climate change law and expanded Chiribiquete National Park by 3.7 million acres.

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DENNY SANFORD


Grand Plan Donate every penny of his $2.6 billion before he dies.

Making Headlines The 83-year-old banking CEO has donated $1.6 billion in recent years, including $25 million in March to create a new pharmacogenetic testing program for veterans.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG


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Grand Plan Make climate change the defining issue of the 2020 election.

Making Headlines His new Beyond Carbon campaign will push for a 100 percent clean energy economy, aiming to shut down all coal plants in the next 11 years.

OPRAH WINFREY


Grand Plan Help get Puerto Rico the aid it needs.

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Making Headlines Feeling inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Winfrey donated $2 million to the island’s Hispanic Federation and Flamboyan Arts Fund, to help with disaster recovery and support its arts institutions.

RAY & BARBARA DALIO


Grand Plan Close the education gap.

Making Headlines While the couple have given more than a billion dollars to various causes, it’s Barbara’s hands-on work improving Connecticut’s public schools that earned them a spot on our list.

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CHRIS HOHN


Grand Plan The British investor has given the slip to his bad boy reputation by using his hedge fund to finance his Children’s Investment Fund Foundation to the tune of a reported $4.5 billion.

Making Headlines In the past year CIFF paid for the world’s largest air monitoring effort and a $15 million health program for girls in Kenya.

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MACKENZIE BEZOS


Grand Plan That’s the question, isn’t it?

Making Headlines The philanthropy world is champing at the bit to know what the recently crowned fourth-richest woman in the world is passionate about.

STRIVE & TSITSI MASIYIWA


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Grand Plan The Zimbabwean telecom mogul and his wife are behind the Higherlife Foundation, which supports education and healthcare for orphaned children.

Making Headlines In March the Masiyiwas pledged $225 million to aid clean water efforts in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

BOB & RENEE PARSONS


Grand Plan Support veterans and women.

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Making Headlines The founder of GoDaddy and other businesses and his wife, a sales executive, have donated $167 million since 2012, most recently offering a $10 million matching grant challenge for the Semper Fi Fund for post-9/11 veterans.

GEORGE SOROS


Grand Plan Promote democracy and human rights.

Making Headlines The billionaire investor has put 80 percent of his personal wealth into his Open Society Foundations, which have the USA’s second-largest philanthropy budget. Unfortunately for his haters—including Trump, Putin, and countless conspiracy theorists—this means the organization can afford to operate in perpetuity.

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DAVID RUBENSTEIN


Grand Plan Preserve America’s greatest assets.

Making Headlines He has given millions to the restoration of the Washington Monument, Monticello, Mount Vernon, and other cultural heritage gems.

CARINEH MARTIN & ARIANNE PHILLIPS


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Grand Plan Replace “Who are you wearing?” with “Where did you donate?”

Making Headlines They founded RAD, which gets the brand a celebrity wears on the red carpet to donate to a cause of her choice.

CANDICE PAYNE


Grand Plan There wasn’t one.

Making Headlines During the polar vortex, the Chicago real estate broker rented 30 hotel rooms for homeless people.

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*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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