Women and philanthropy


Today is women’s day and I am wondering about women and philanthropy. The names of great philanthropists that come to mind are… men.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg in America, Armancio Ortega in Spain (founder of Inditex which supports educative programmes), Diego de la Valle in Italy (the founder of Todd’s who financed the columns of the Coliseum in Rome) and finally Bernard Arnaud (owner of LVMH who created the Louis Vuitton Foundation for contemporary art in Paris). There are few women among these very wealthy philanthropists.

Does this mean women are not generous? Of course not, but the weight of history, the fact that wealth is still for the most part owned by men and that entrepreneurs are also mostly men explains this apparent imbalance.

Fortunately, this is misleading and both history and the present are full of very admirable women. Melinda Gates’ influence and major role in the governance of the Gates Foundation for instance must not be overlooked. In France, the Bettencourt Schuller foundation created by Liliane Bettencourt and her husband in 1987 is the wealthiest private foundation. Looking back in history, Marie Curie immediately comes to mind. In addition to her extraordinary intelligence she was a woman of great generosity, refusing with her husband Pierre to patent Radium (which would have made them financially secure) to allow other French and foreign scientists to find applications for their discovery of radioactivity. Marie Curie always had the general interest of her discovery in mind, was completely selfless and risked her life for wounded soldiers during the first world war.

Times change and it is reasonable to think that women will be increasingly active in the philanthropic world. 

Firstly, because there are more and more wealthy women and this is true all over the world. This trend can be explained by the rise of women entrepreneurs, but also by the fact that women have a slightly longer life expectancy than men and will often inherit family’s fortunes.

Secondly, because there is often a strong sense of solidarity among women. And what does the study of women’s situation in the world tell us? Unfortunately, that the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, and that among the poorest people there is a majority of women. 70 % of undernourished people in the world are women, women’s access to education and healthcare is more difficult, they earn less than men and marry at a younger age. The situation is so critical that gender equality was included in the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.

Women philanthropists will speak from the heart and simultaneously discover that investing in women has an extraordinarily strong social impact. Indeed, according to the United Nations, “Each dollar invested in schooling programmes for girls and in increasing the age at which they get married generates five dollars in growth. Each dollar invested in programmes to encourage activities that generate revenues for women generates seven dollars in growth”[1]. Micro-finance institutions have understood this well as 81% of their clients are women.

There are both men and women among the new philanthropists.  The dynamic, sensitive, sincere and enthusiastic young women who devote themselves to the general interest.  Many work in NGOs and Foundations. Many also work in the corporate world and campaign for a more impactful CSR. They are no doubt inspired by some of their elders, among which Elisabeth Badinter or Simone Weil or Doctor Margaret Chan (who was 10 years at the head of the WHO until 2017) or JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, who gives a lot.

Thanks to them, I really believe women are the future of philanthropy!



Sources :

[1] www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/fr/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/Why_it_matters_Goal_5_French.pdf

Panorama of European philanthropy (Observatoire de la Fondation de France / CERPhi – April 2015)

Biography : Madame Curie by Eve Curie


Convergences –2016 Barometer of Microfinance (In French)

Forbes : Most Powerful Women in Philanthropy and Non-profits 2017

Claire Douchy Head of philanthropic and SRI offerings Societe Generale Private Banking