Which Oscar winners have far-reaching foundations?

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 23 February 2016

Oscar statuettes. It’s Oscar season, so Devex put together a list of actors and actresses who have made a name for themselves in film — as well as through their own foundations and nonprofit organizations. Photo by: Prayitno / CC BY

Type a celebrity’s name along with the word “foundation” into a Google search and the results might turn up concealing makeup rather than evidence of their charitable work. Outside of platforms focused on philanthropic news, even details of well-known celebrity humanitarian Angelina Jolie and husband Brad Pitt’s foundation are often limited to a quick mention on a celebrity news site.

But if you can’t find a dedicated website detailing your favorite celebrity’s charitable giving, it doesn’t mean they aren’t sharing their fortune. Many make monetary donations to causes they believe in, while others engage in grant making through their own foundations, such as The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which provides clear guidance on how to apply for grants, or Paul Newman’s Own Foundation that states all funding applications are “by invitation only.”

Some celebrity charities, meanwhile, may have a web presence, but with a focus limited to a few countries, a specific cause or a very vague mission.

This Oscar season, Devex has filtered down the list to look at Academy Award-winning actors and actresses who aren’t just making monetary donations, but are very much involved in their foundations or charities’ work and whose reach goes beyond their homelands.

1. Sean Penn

Academy Award Best Actor for “Mystic River” (2004) and “Milk” (2009)
Nonprofit: J/P Haitian Relief Organization or J/P HRO

There’s no shortage of NGOs and celebrities that sent help to Haiti when the 7.0-magnitude quake ravaged the country in 2010 and left millions homeless. Sean Penn was one of them, having largely been moved by what he saw on television — thousands of injured, including children, being operated on without pain medicine. He remembered his son, Hopper, who at that time had just recovered from a head injury, he told various media. So he set up the J/P Haitian Relief Organization — initially with Bosnian-born philanthropist Diana Jenkins — a few days following the disaster. But unlike other celebrities who helped from afar, Penn headed to Haiti armed with a few aid supplies and volunteers. Almost six years on, Penn’s nonprofit continues to work in the country, from relocating those left in the camps, rebuilding and piloting quake-proof homes, providing medical support and running several community development programs in areas in the capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the J/P HRO website. The actor’s annual celebrity fundraising gala for Haiti in January reportedly raised $7 million.

2. Forest Whitaker

Academy Award Best Actor for “The Last King of Scotland” (2007)
Nonprofit: The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative

While filming “The Last King of Scotland,” where he played the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker became exposed to the plight of child soldiers. That knowledge and experience — combined with his childhood growing up in a rough neighborhood of Los Angeles — led him to start his foundation in 2012 that provides training focused on youth in violence-stricken neighborhoods in Mexico and the United States, as well as conflict-affected northern Uganda and South Sudan. The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative educates youth on conflict resolution and helps build their communications, technology and life skills that would allow them to introduce their own peace building projects in their respective communities. Whitaker’s peace building advocacy, however, isn’t confined within his organization. He served as UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation from 2011 until his appointment in 2015 as the aid agency’s special envoy for the same role. Last January, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed him as one of the 17 individuals to campaign and push for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

3. Kate Winslet

Academy Award Best Actress for “The Reader” (2009)
Nonprofit: Golden Hat Foundation

In 2012, Kate Winslet released her own book. But instead of talking about her life under the Hollywood limelight, the multi-award winning actress centered on the issue of nonverbal autism and how there is so “little progressive therapy, teaching or research” about it. All proceeds from the book are meant for the Golden Hat Foundation, the nonprofit the actress co-founded in 2010 with Margret Ericsdottir, mother of a teenager suffering from nonverbal autism. Ericsdottir produced a documentary on the topic that inspired Winslet, who narrated the documentary in English. More than raising awareness about autism, however, the foundation also seeks to build “campuses” where individuals with the condition can receive the education and training suited for their needs.

4. George Clooney

Academy Award Best Supporting Actor for “Syriana” (2006)
Charity: Not On Our Watch

When not acting, writing, producing and directing movies, George Clooney works on his activism, in particular on the plight of internally displaced people in the conflict-torn region of Darfur in Sudan. Clooney co-founded Not On Our Watch, a U.S.-based advocacy and grant-making charity, with fellow “Ocean’s Eleven” cast Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle, producer Jerry Weintraub, and U.S. Ambassador David Pressman. The charity’s main premise is to bring attention to neglected crises across the globe where there are reported human rights violations. It also provides humanitarian aid grants to relief groups working in these regions and seed money to projects such as the Satellite Sentinel Project  — which uses satellite imagery as a surveillance tool to detect possible threats to civilians and evidence atrocities in Sudan — and The Sentry, a new joint initiative from Clooney and Enough Project Founder John Prendergast aimed at tracking money fueling conflicts in Africa.

6. Patricia Arquette

Academy Award Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood” (2015)
Charity: GiveLove

Long before she won her first Academy Award, Patricia Arquette was already working in Haiti with her childhood friend and fashion designer Rosetta Millington-Getty. The 2010 earthquake fueled the two’s interest to help in Haiti. But while most focused on housing, Arquette’s and Getty’s GiveLove charity honed in on the problem of sanitation, providing composting toilets and introducing households in Santo Village, near Port-au-Prince, to a low-cost system where human waste is regularly collected for composting to be used as fertilizer later on. The charity hopes to make the compost a source of revenue that would pay for the labor and management costs associated in maintaining the community sanitation system. The charity has been planning to stem outside Haiti and set up EcoSan projects in other places such as Nicaragua and India, according to its website.

7. Goldie Hawn

Academy Award Best Supporting Actress for “Cactus Flower” (1970)
Charity: The Hawn Foundation

Goldie Hawn is best known for her comedy movies, from “The First Wives Club” to “Cactus Flower,” for which she won an Oscar. But unknown to many at that time, the blonde beauty was having anxiety attacks, struggling to deal with fame and being on the limelight, she told various media. And that’s when she started exploring and learning about neuroscience and the power of meditation, the same tools she looked into when setting up a mindfulness program for kids and which is now central to the work of her foundation. The program essentially helps kids manage the stressors confronting them, be it at school or at home, such as bullying, which can lead to depression or suicide. It has been introduced in several schools across the U.S., and in other countries such as Canada, Australia, U.K., China, Serbia, Australia and Venezuela, according to the foundation’s website.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. If we missed anyone, please comment below. And in case Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins his Oscar, we’re sharing his foundation here.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.


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