Four Important Female Philanthropists of Our Times

Four Important Female Philanthropists of Our Times

Nurturers, carers and givers, women are often considered these things but when it comes to philanthropy they are mostly overlooked. Today we shine a light on four amazing female philanthropists of modern times, not only to appreciate their contributions but as role models for everyone.

A lot of people think that success and generosity can’t be bedfellows but it is often women who buck this trend. Take for example our first great philanthropist.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw who is one of India’s top five richest women and founder of Biocon, she prefers the term “compassionate capitalist” to philanthropist. In 2004 she started the corporate social responsibility wing of Biocon which focusses on health, education and infrastructure. She believes that good business models can promote sustainable social progress. “Innovation and commerce are as powerful tools for creating social progress as they are for driving technological advancement… when they are put to use for social progress , the implementation is a lot cheaper, a lot more people benefit and the effect is more lasting”

In 2015 she joined The Giving Pledge to donate 75% of her wealth to charity. “My legacy is going to be affordable health care” an admirable goal for a strongly capitalist society where few can afford up to-date-treatments for things like cancer and even primary healthcare.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, IT entrepreneur, arrived in the UK as a child refugee from Germany. At 18 she changed her name to Stephanie Brook, then later became Stephanie Shirley after her marriage to Derek Shirley, a physicist. As a women she encountered many obstacles in her education. Firstly at high school where she had to get special dispensation to study maths at the neighbouring boys school and then, because only biology was available for women at university, she began work at the Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station. While building computers from scratch and programming them in machine code she took evening classes and got her degree in Mathematics after six years. With £6 she started Freelance Programmers, now a part of Supra Steria Group, whose projects included programming the Concorde’s black box. She again changed her name, this time to Steve to deal with the male dominated industry in which she operated. In business she hired mostly females (of a staff of 300 only 3 were male) and upon retiring at 60 she decided to focus on philanthropy. The Shirley Foundation’s current mission is “facilitation and support of pioneering projects with a strategic impact in the field of autism disorders with a particular emphasis on medical research”. Her autistic son Giles passed away from an epileptic seizure at the age of 35. Having donated more than £67 million by 2013 she noted that “I do it because of my personal history; I need to justify the fact that my life was saved.”

Ertharin Cousin was born in 1957 and grew up in a poorer neighbourhood of Chicago, studied a BA then law and has now been listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2014. She began her career as Assistant Attorney General for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Deputy Director of the Chicago Ethics Board. In 1993 she moved to Washington and went from strength to strength under the Clinton Administration, from helping in the DNC to get Clinton the win to being appointed to the Board for International Food and Agriculture.

In 2002 She joined America’s Second Harvest and helped raise $20-$56million for Katrina victims and then became Executive Director of the UN World Food Program. I have had to leave out many milestones on the path of this tireless individual who has strived to feed the vulnerable of this world with every ounce of energy she has. She is now a member of the leadership Council of Compact2025 that develops evidence based advice for decision-makers with the goal of ending hunger and undernutrition within the next 10 years.

Betty Amsden, one of Australia’s most active givers, did not want to be a chequebook philanthropist either. Her friend Frankie Airy said of her, “Whoever she came across in life, she wanted them to feel that if they wanted her help, they had it, Money was only part of it. She really gave of herself.” She was a lively lady with a bright smile, raced a 500cc Norton in her youth, she wanted to be work with the people she was helping and was so deeply involved with the Arts Centre Melbourne that her funeral was held there earlier this year after she passed away at the age of 90. Although focused on arts ($5million to the Arts centre and $1million to public arts that promote inclusion) Guide Dogs Victoria, the RSPCA, Polyglot Children’s Theatre and Melbourne Recital Centre were among other organisations she supported.


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