The Ikea Foundation is Ramping Up

The 2013 annual report the Ikea Foundation released today reveals that its giving is growing - and fast. Last year, the foundation awarded more than $140 million in grants to international development NGOs, an increase of 21 percent from 2012.

To put this figure in perspective, the Ikea Foundation not only gave away about as much money last year as the Rockefeller Foundation, it gave far more for global development. Who knew? 

Last year also marked the year the Ikea Foundation made it into City A.M.'s list of top 20 donors for the first time (that list tracks private sector charity). The foundation has come a long way since its 1982 inception, when it focused its charitable giving exclusively on programs for architecture and interior design. 

Today, the Ikea Foundation makes investments in four primary funding areas:

  • Combating child labor 
  • Supporting refugee shelters for children and families
  • Empowering women and girls through education and business development
  • Disaster relief

Yup, this work along the raw frontiers of human suffering is a long way indeed from giving for interior design. Ikea, as most IP readers probably know, is a wildly successful global furniture store. Ingvar Kamprad, the company's Swedish, octogenarian founder, is consistently ranked among the richest people in the world. Kamprad's three sons are also billionaires, if famously low-profile ones. Yahoo! Finance reports that none of the brothers has ever given a press interview, and observe a culture of frugality (flying coach, etc.). Ingvar has written a manifesto on how to avoid frivolous expenses. 

But reclusivity can only shield you from so much scrutiny when your net worth is something like $4.1 billion. And when you have a record of embracing historically shameful political causes. During the last several years, media have focused on Ingvar's Nazi connections, Ikea's use of East German prison labor in the 1970s and 1980s, and both the company and founder's questionable tax practices. A few months before Ingvar stepped down as head of Ikea last year, Business Insider speculated the billionaire, long dogged by controversy, might be expanding his charitable work to create a more humanitarian legacy for himself. 

2013 was a record year for Ikea's profits. And since the Ikea Foundation's funding is made up of three percent of the company's profits, it was a record budget year for the philanthropy, too. In a press release, the foundation notes that it funded projects serving millions of children in 35 low-income countries last year. And with 31 grantees, the number of international development groups the Ikea Foundation partnered with increased by 12 since the year prior. 

Not unlike the company that finances it, the Ikea Foundation isn't overwhelmingly approachable. The organization doesn't accept funding solicitations, choosing instead to invest large sums in well-known NGOs with established reputations. Often, the foundation's donations come in response to international crises. Last year, the Ikea Foundation gave more than $4 million to UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and Save the Children for emergency typhoon relief in the Philippines. Following destabilizing events in Syria, the Ikea Foundation donated 50,000 mattresses (Ikea, of course) to the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

What's next for the Ikea Foundation? The charity says its current programming will benefit 100 million children by 2015. And the corporate side of Ikea is expanding. The company opened five stores last year, two of them in China, bringing its global outpost tally to more than 300. Ikea is hoping to nearly double its 2013 annual sales figures by 2020. As long as Ikea continues on the path of profitability, its philanthropic arm will expand, too.

And the Ikea Foundation seems poised to take on a more ambitious portfolio. With Per Heggnes, the charity hired its first CEO ever in 2009. Heggnes, a former PR and shipping executive, has significantly expanded the foundation's international presence, and appears determined to turn the once obscure Ikea Foundation into a philanthropic force worth paying attention to.