Wyss, Yet Another Big Philanthropist, Turns to the Oceans

The Wyss Foundation, which is known for its work in land protection in the American West, is the latest in a string of funders getting involved in global ocean conservation, with a recent $10 million commitment. 

Wyss Foundation is the main philanthropic outlet of Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss engineer who made his fortune in medical devices, but has a deep fondness for the American landscape, particularly the West. He currently lives in Wilson, Wyoming. In 2013, Wyss signed the Giving Pledge to donate most of his assets, estimated at nearly $9 billion.  

The foundation’s latest big pledge goes to Oceana, one of the titans of ocean conservation, with a $10 million commitment over five years. The funds will provide matching support focused on rebuilding fisheries in Peru and Canada, two of the world’s top fishing nations.  

Related: Paul Allen’s Marine Giving Takes Shape Amid a Growing Ocean Push by Billionaire Funders

This is the Wyss Foundation’s first major commitment to ocean conservation, following a trend that has seen philanthropists like Paul Allen, Eric and Wendy Schmidt, and James Simons putting significant funds toward protecting and researching our oceans. 

The Wyss Foundation has mostly been concerned with land protection, citing $175 million in funding to protect nearly 14 million acres in the West. It’s been a big funder of groups like the Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, and the Conservation Lands Foundation, and supportive of establishing protected public land including state and national parks. 

Related: Wyss Foundation: Grants for Conservation

That’s another thing that sets the Oceana gift apart from his earlier environment funding. His land work tends to be about carving out protected areas, while the oceans grant seems to be motivated by maintaining our ability to feed the world.  

But Hansjörg Wyss has never been one to be pigeonholed by one type of philanthropy. The foundation also gives regular grants to liberal think tank the Center for American Progress. And the Wyss Foundation is just one of his philanthropic endeavors. He also runs the HJW Foundation, which is more concerned with progressive and social justice issues including health care and reproductive rights. In 2013, Wyss committed $5 million to a Clinton Foundation initiative in support of global rights for women and girls. Let’s not forget, of course, the two gifts totaling $250 million that he personally donated to Harvard University for biomedical research. 

Indeed, Wyss's giving is driven by many passions, and they tend not to run small. As he starts giving away more of his fortune in coming years (he's pushing 80), the Oceana grant will almost certainly not be the last we see of his marine funding.