Six philanthropists who devote time and money to uncommon causes

From grizzly bears to student housing to refugees, these business leaders and celebrities have taken a stand

From grizzly bears to student housing to refugees, these business leaders and celebrities have taken a stand


1. Michael Audain

The Vancouver property developer champions beauty and the beasts. Since 1997 the Audain Foundation has given more than $100 million to the visual arts; the Audain Art Museum, home to a permanent collection of nearly 200 B.C. works, opened last spring in Whistler. Now Audain, who was a dedicated social activist in the 1960s, is backing the province’s shrinking grizzly population. The Polygon Homes Ltd. chair’s existing charity put up $500,000 to launch the Grizzly Bear Foundation, which supports protecting and conserving the animals.


2. Angelina Jolie

Jolie’s breakup with Brad Pitt may have grabbed headlines, but it’s her humanitarian work that deserves the spotlight. For the past 15 years, the Oscar-winning actress and filmmaker has used her star power to draw attention to the plight of refugees and other displaced people in dozens of countries as far-flung as Ecuador, Pakistan and Sudan. As special envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Jolie regularly visits war-torn regions.


3. Charlie Munger

Anyone who’s lived in campus housing would agree that Munger, vice-chair of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., picked a good cause. In 2013 he donated US$110 million to the University of Michigan, most of it for a new graduate residence at his alma mater. Last June the billionaire pledged US$200 million for a US$1.4-billion undergrad dormitory project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Every campus I know of in the world abuses its undergraduates,” Munger told the UCSB newspaper. “It finally gets pretty gross.”


4. Julian Lennon

Last spring the musician son of the late John Lennon signed on as a patron of the Plastic Oceans Foundation, an international charity that aims to stop people from dumping an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste into the sea each year and also supports the Vancouver Aquarium. When given the chance to name a seal pup at the aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, the foundation passed the honour on to Lennon. He chose Jude, a nod to the hit Beatles song he inspired. Cute, hey?


5. Nicolas Berggruen

Like fellow billionaire Donald Trump, Berggruen is a trust fund kid who made much of his fortune in real estate and takes an interest in politics, but the similarities end there. Besides patronizing art galleries in Europe and the U.S., the German-American investor’s eponymous trust backs the Nicolas Berggruen Institute, founded in 2010. This independent think tank—its directors include former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo—seeks to flesh out ideas that will help political and social institutions to navigate the 21st century.


6. David Lynch

You’d never know it from neo-noir shockers like Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, but the eccentric film director is a big booster of transcendental meditation. Lynch claims to have practised TM twice daily since 1973, crediting it for “effortless access to unlimited reserves of energy, creativity and happiness deep within.” Top donors to his David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace include fellow devotee Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund firm.