Andrew Carnegie is probably best known for being a 19th Century steel baron. But in 1901, he sold that business to J.P. Morgan for $480 million—the equivalent of about $310 billion today—to fund another kind of venture: giving his enormous wealth away to improve society.
As in business, Carnegie believed it was important to fund solutions that could scale. He shared all that and more in an 1889 essay entitled “The Gospel of Wealth,” which suggested that the rich had the personal responsibility to help those less fortunate, but in a way that created lasting change, strategizing beyond just “indiscriminate almsgiving.”
Carnegie’s tactics for doing that have changed with the times. Early on, he founded massive trusts, endowments, and institutions covering all manner of arts, science, educational, and peace initiatives. Since 2001, though, the Carnegie Corporation, the magnate’s original grant making foundation, has convened with over 20 associated Carnegie organizations to choose a class of Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy recipients. The goal is to honor those who continue to embody that ideal of strategic giving, and inspire more of their peers to do so. (How strategic.)
The 2017 honorees, which were just announced, include nine medal recipients from eight different initiatives (one is being worked on by a couple). To earn the honor, medalists must have a Carnegie-like vision for change (i.e. bold, broad, permanent), a sustainable track record of giving, and have made “a significant impact on a particular field, nation or group of people.”
The way it works is pretty simple. Each institution can nominate candidates with a seven-person committee made up of several core Carnegie groups—Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—and a rotating cast of others eventually choosing the winner.
To date, more than 50 recipients have been chosen, including Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. This year’s class includes an equal representation of women and men scattered internationally, with members in the U.S., China, India, and Australia. You can read more about the winners below. Click here for more information.
Mei Hing Chak (China): Chak heads HeungKong Group Limited, a $14.5 billion conglomerate with businesses covering everything from financial investing to resources and energy, and property management. In 2005, her company founded the first private corporate philanthropy group in China, the HeungKong Charitable Foundation, which works to improve education, alleviate poverty, and provide rescue and disaster relief.
Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest (U.S.): In 2000, former cable television company owner Gerry Lenfest sold Lenfest Communications to Comcast for $6.7 billion. Since then, he and his wife, Marguerite, a former elementary school teacher, have committed all of their money to charitable work, primarily through the Lenfest Foundation, which works on education reform. They also founded the Lenfest Institute for Journalism to support local news.
Azim Premji (India): Premji runs Wipro Limited, a former hydrogenated cooking fat company that, over the last several decades, transitioned into an $8.5 billion international IT, consulting, and outsourcing group. In 2001, he founded the Azim Premji Foundation to improve India’s impoverished public schools system. In 2011, he endowed Azim Premji University, which focuses on grooming more teachers and social workers.
Julian Robertson (U.S.): Robertson, a former hedge fund founder and investor, has an estimated net worth of $3.4 billion. In 1996, he and his wife, Jose, founded the Robertson Foundation, which makes impact-driven grants in education, the environment, and medical advancements. He’s helped reform New York schools, fight climate change, and fund stem cell research.
Jeff Skoll (U.S.): Skoll is an investor and social entrepreneur (and the former president at eBay). He runs the Jeff Skoll Group, which has invested various companies and foundations to battle inequality, boost economic opportunity, and protect the environment. That includes the Skoll Foundation for social entrepreneurship; Participant Media, which produces documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth; the Skoll Global Threats Fund against water scarcity, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, and other destabilizing societal forces; and Capricorn Investment Group to build more social good companies.
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins (U.S.): Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, founded Tompkins Conservation alongside her late husband Douglas, who was the founder of The North Face and passed away in 2015. Together, they acquired millions of acres for protected parks in Chile and Argentina. She’s part of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, which makes grants does research around environmental sustainability practices.
Shelby White (U.S.): White is the wife of late investor and mutual fund manager Leon Levy. After her husband died in 2003, she formed the Leon Levy Foundation, which supports a variety of historic preservation, arts and science, and Jewish culture projects. She’s funded the Institute for Study of the Ancient World, Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve in the Bahamas to save and study indigenous plants, and a neuroscience fellowship program
Sir James Wolfensohn (U.S. and Australia): Wolfensohn runs his own private equity firm but is better known as the former president of the World Bank. He headed the international development fund, which aims to reduce poverty, for a decade starting in the mid-90s and has also contributed heavily to humanities, science, and arts and culture institutions including Carnegie Hall, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Institute for Advanced Study.