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September 2015 (4 posts)

Eye On: Sylvan Adams
September 30, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sylvan and Margaret Adams and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Generosity has become a family legacy for the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Sylvan-adams-150Sylvan and Margaret Adams joined the Giving Pledge last week, whereby individuals pledge to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.   Sylvan Adams is president and CEO of the Quebec-based real estate firm Iberville Developments.

“From my parents’ example, it was natural for me to continue the family tradition of trying to do some good in the world around me,” Sylvan Adams said in the couple’s Giving Pledge letter.  

Adams, 56, learned about philanthropy from his parents, Marcel and the late Annie Adams. 

After surviving three years in a Nazi labor camp in his native Romania, Marcel Adams fought in the Israeli War of Independence before moving to Quebec City in 1951.  He earned a living as a tanner until an investment in a housing project yielded a 70% return.  He founded Iberville Developments in 1958. 

Over the years, Marcel Adams built the family real estate empire in Quebec.  Marcel Adams made Forbes Magazine’s Billionaires list in 2013 and 2014.  Today, the family owns and manages 100 properties that span 8 million square feet and feature shopping centers, offices, industrial properties and residences.

Sylvan Adams

  • Quebec City, Canada, native
  • President and CEO of Quebec-based Iberville Developments
  • Trustee, Jewish General Hospital Foundation in Quebec
  • Award-winning competitive bicycle racer
  • Net worth is approximately $1 Billion

Sylvan Adams, who holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, said that his parents taught him about philanthropy and giving.  “My parents were generous givers early on, when they didn’t have great means,” he said.

The family’s donations escalated as their business and wealth grew.  In 1986, the family launched the Marcel and Annie Adams Institute for Business management Information Systems at Tel Aviv University.

Father and son both serve as Board trustees for the Jewish General Hospital Foundation, which supports the Jewish General Hospital, a 637-bed McGill University teaching hospital in Quebec.

It was natural for me to continue the family tradition of trying to do some good in the world.

The family is notoriously private, especially the media-shy, 95-year-old Marcel Adams.  Sylvan Adams and his British-born wife, Margaret, have been married for 30 years and live in Westmount, an affluent suburb of Montreal. 

With assets of nearly $11 million, the Sylvan Adams Family Foundation made two grants totaling nearly $1.2 million in 2014 to promote Jewish culture. The foundation gave $1 million to the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal and $194,232 to The Canadian Committee for the Tel Aviv Foundation to promote Jewish culture, education and programs.

So why would such a private philanthropist take such a public pledge like the Giving Pledge? Sylvan Adams said he is inspired and motivated by the competitive nature of the Giving Pledge.

“The Giving Pledge is inspiring successful men and women to engage in what I would call ‘competitive’ philanthropy,” Sylvan Adams said.  “Directing the same competitive instincts that these driven people employed to achieve the pinnacle of financial and social success, the Giving Pledge is encouraging us to outdo one another in giving our wealth away.  Brilliant!!!”

The real estate magnate said he wants the family tradition of philanthropy to be a “generational project,” so that his children and future grandchildren work to “improve things around us, in appreciation of our good fortune.”

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Sara Blakely
September 24, 2015

(Melissa Moy is the special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sara Blakely and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Sara_Blakely YellowSara Blakely’s desire to help female entrepreneurs and empower women and girls is rooted in her belief of “paying it forward.”

Through her philanthropic endeavors via the Sara Blakely Foundation, the Spanx Inc. founder is positively shaping the lives of women.  Bill Gates personally invited Blakely to join the Giving Pledge, whereby wealthy individuals have pledged to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime. 

Blakely’s mentor and friend, Virgin Group tycoon Richard Branson – the first British Giving Pledger – made his pledge in February 2013, and Blakely followed suit in May 2013, demonstrating the multiplier effect that being open about one’s philanthropy can have.

In her Giving Pledge letter, Blakely described her gratitude for being a woman in America when millions of women around the world are “not dealt the same deck of cards upon their birth.” She added, “Simply because of their gender, they are not given the same chance I had to create my own success and follow my dreams. It is for those women that I make this pledge.”

Sara Blakely:

  • Successful entrepreneur and owner of Atlanta-based Spanx Inc.
  • In 2012, Forbes Magazine named her the youngest self-made female billionaire
  • TIME Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Influential People 2012 list
  • Clearwater, Fla., native
  • Minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

At 44, Blakely has a number of “firsts” under her belt – including the youngest woman in the world to become a self-made billionaire and the first self-made female billionaire Giving Pledger.

I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment.

Through her Atlanta-based foundation, Blakely invests her woman’s shapewear fortune into philanthropic initiatives that focus on women and girls, from entrepreneurship and education to addressing homelessness.

The foundation gave $613,520 to 30 organizations in 2013. Significant grant awards made through the foundation in that year show a variety of philanthropic interests including: $100,000 to V-Day to stop violence against women; $100,000 to the Focus Foundation to help children and families with X & Y Variations, Dyslexia, and/or Developmental Dyspraxia reach their potential; $65,520 to help women survivors of war, poverty and injustice; $50,000 to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to help preserve marine life in her hometown of Clearwater, Fla.; and $40,000 to Girls on the Run of Atlanta to empower young girls, grades 3 to 8, through a youth development and running program.

“I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment,” Blakely said in her Giving Pledge letter. “While many of the world's natural resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed — women.” Using her fortune to invest in start-up female entrepreneurs must be very satisfying for Blakely, having been one herself not that long ago.

The Florida State University graduate developed the idea for Spanx while getting ready for a party. Blakely didn’t have the right undergarment to wear under her slacks. She cut the feet off of her control top pantyhose and liked the slimming effect.

With great tenacity, the Florida saleswoman researched the undergarment business and even wrote her own patent to save money. Facing skeptical hosiery mill owners in a male-dominated field, Blakely eventually convinced one mill owner to manufacture her products.

Blakely credits her big break to Oprah Winfrey, who named Spanx one of her “favorite things” in 2000. The next year, she sold 8,000 units on home shopping network QVC in the first six minutes.

Blakely’s commitment to “paying it forward” informs Spanx corporate philanthropy, which prioritizes giving female entrepreneurs assistance through its Leg Up program. Blakely notes that every woman can benefit from a “leg up,” or assistance from other women. The unique program offers female business owners the opportunity to promote their products to Spanx customers via the catalog, website and Social Media.

In 2015, Spanx selected two innovative Leg Up businesses, the Akola Project and Sseko Designs.

The Akola Project empowers Ugandan women in extreme poverty by providing a livelihood developing handcrafted jewelry; 100% of the profits are reinvested into the community.

Sseko Designs is a fashion company that employs impoverished Ugandan women and supports their education; 100% of the company’s employees are currently pursuing their university degrees or are graduates.

The entrepreneur’s passion around women’s issues is also expressed in the Spanx company mission, “to help women feel great about themselves and their potential.”

“Since I was a little girl I have always known I would help women,” Blakely said. “I have been setting aside profits since the start of Spanx with the goal that when the time comes I will have an amazing opportunity to help women in an even bigger way.”

--Melissa Moy

Last Call for Glasspockets Survey Feedback
September 16, 2015

Do you have a moment to help us make Glasspockets better? We are about to close our feedback period for a short survey to assess ways to improve Foundation Center’s Glasspockets web site, services, and social media presence. We invite you to contribute to our thinking around new directions for our work, and how we can improve our web site and social media engagement to better engage and inform our audiences toward the goal of encouraging greater foundation transparency.

You can access the survey here until September 25th. We look forward to your feedback!

Katrina Ten Years Later: Philanthropy’s Reflections and Lessons Learned
September 3, 2015

(Melissa Moy is the special projects associate for Glasspockets and Janet Camarena is the director of transparency initiatives.)

Although Hurricane Katrina is one of the most devastating and catastrophic events this country has faced, the disaster inspired heroic acts of courage, banded neighbors and communities together, and served to shine a bright spotlight on how philanthropy and our collective capacity to give, can generate hope and promise during even our bleakest hour.  

According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, at $108 billion, it is the nation’s most costly natural disaster and one of the most deadly hurricanes with more than 1,800 lost lives. 

Hurricane Katrina also left a unique and indelible mark on philanthropy, with Giving USA estimating that $6.5 billion came from the private sector in just the two years following the disaster.  However, given the enormous impacts on community health, shelter, jobs and the economy, philanthropy and government had an unprecedented challenge in addressing the great and urgent needs of New Orleans and the surrounding areas in Katrina’s aftermath. 

Anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance.

Since anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance, the last few weeks have provided a number of articles, reports, and programs that open up the work in new ways, showing both transparency around data and lessons learned, as well as pointing to potential ways forward with continuing challenges. Below is a round-up of the various resources that have recently been produced related to helping us better understand and learn from our field’s continuing efforts to render aid, hope, and ultimately change for the better:

  • ULGNOlogoNew coalitions and opportunities arose in the areas of education reform; economic development and entrepreneurship; criminal justice reform; and housing recovery.  With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, New Orleans has released a resilience strategy.
  • The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), which focuses on “the when, where and how of informed disaster giving,” recently released an assessment of how and where foundations are spending their dollars.  Members of the CDP also shared their perspectives on lessons learned and discussed how some organizations were transparent about their failures. For example, the American Red Cross admitted to their failure when fraud occurred while providing financial assistance.
  • Katrina10LogoFoundations and organizations also report disparities, including racial and economic impacts. For example, a report from the Urban League of New Orleans finds that recovery efforts have disproportionately benefited white residents, and that many African American residents who left the region after the disaster, have not returned.
  • For an examination of Katrina’s significance to our national struggle with race and class, our own PhilanTopic’s Mitch Naufft’s recent blog, “When the Past is Never Gone,” is a must read.
  • Overall, philanthropic organizations can inform and promote their goals and results through innovative storytelling.  Katrina 10 – a group of nationwide foundations and corporations – is one such entity that is sharing recovery data.

Data and infographics, particularly through the use of social media, provide foundations and others, a unique opportunity to report on events on the ground as well as how, where and who receives funding.  Additionally, foundations can tell unique stories with data and infographics, and expand opportunities for transparency.

People often say that time heals all wounds; the recurring theme from the resources might instead lead us to believe that though it does heal some wounds, the passing of time also creates new and unexpected wounds.  As a result, the best way to truly heal may be to increase our collective understanding of what is working and what isn’t.

--Melissa Moy & Janet Camarena

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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    Director, Transparency Initiatives
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