Eye On: David Sainsbury
August 27, 2015
(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation. Through the Clore Social Leadership Programme, she was a visiting fellow at the Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more information about David Sainsbury and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)
David Sainsbury describes his approach to philanthropy as “very simple” in his Giving Pledge letter, which also details his family’s giving philosophy.
“The approach of my wife, Susie, and I to philanthropy is very simple,” Sainsbury said. “We do not believe that spending any more money on ourselves or our family would add anything to our happiness. However, using it to support social progress we have found deeply fulfilling. We focus on a few areas which require investment and which we care about deeply, and seeing these projects develop and bring major benefits to people has been a life-enhancing experience.” Sainsbury desires to strategically and proactively give away his wealth to the social causes he cares about.
- Former Chairman of J. Sainsbury plc
- Labour Peer
- British born U.K. resident
- Former Minister of Science and Innovation
- Became Lord Sainsbury of Turville in 1997
- Became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 2011
- Accepted the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy on behalf of the Sainsbury Family in 2003
- Net worth $ 1.1 billion
For the second consecutive year, the Sainsbury family topped the 2015 Sunday Times Giving List which tracks the giving amounts of U.K. philanthropists. The Sainsbury Family donated $314.2 million – or 40 percent of their wealth – to the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, 18 grant-making trusts. Each trust has its own board of trustees, led by an active family member.
Philanthropy is a family priority that has spanned four generations. In 1869, Sainsbury’s great-grandparents opened a grocery store, Sainsbury’s, that would eventually become one of the U.K.’s largest supermarket chains. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, Sainsbury joined the family business, J. Sainsbury plc. He served in many capacities, including finance director, chairman and deputy chairman before stepping down from the board in 1998.
Like much of his extended family, Sainsbury’s interests in philanthropy started at an early age when he set up the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 1967, just four years after graduating from King’s College at the University of Cambridge. Over the years, Sainsbury has given the Gatsby Charitable Foundation more than $1.55 billion. The foundation provides grants in the key priority areas of plant science, neuroscience, education, public policy, the arts and Africa.
In his Giving Pledge letter, Sainsbury explained that investments in plant science and neuroscience have the best long-term potential for making a difference in the fields of food security and mental health. Through the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, he gave more than $193 million to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, one of the largest donations to a U.K university. An M.B.A. graduate of the University of Columbia, Sainsbury prioritizes education. The Gatsby makes education grants to various universities, including Stanford University, the University of Columbia and Harvard University.
Unlike his wealthy contemporaries who tend not to mix political and philanthropic interests, the 74-year-old father-of-three has been an active participant in British politics. Sainsbury has been a major donor to The Labour Party for many years. In 1997, he was elevated to the House of Lords as a Labour Peer, and he sits on the Labour benches as Lord Sainsbury of Turville. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sainsbury accepted the unremunerated post of Minister for Science and Technology. His interests in politics and philanthropy share common ground with an emphasis on innovation, partnership and long-term strategy.
Sainsbury advocates that charitable foundations should take risks that governments, in their role as guardians of the public money, may not. He believes that taking risks, whether in education, international development, science or research, helps expedite the broader social and fiscal needs agenda. In 2009, he set up the Institute for Government, a venture that seeks to “act as a catalyst for inspiring the best in government.” Similarly, he created the Centre for Cities, a research organization that evaluates British cities’ economic growth and change and helps them to improve their performance.
In many ways, Lord Sainsbury’s public life reflects his philanthropic interests, from government to education and the arts, including his post as Chancellor of University of Cambridge since 2011. He continues to engage in public policy as evidenced in his 2013 book, Progressive Capitalism, an effort to stimulate conversations on politics and the economy.