What Cheryl Saban Is Doing to Empower Women and Girls

Cheryl Saban, wife of billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, has had her share of trials. She was born and raised in San Diego to a working class family, and eventually became a single working mother who struggled to make ends meet. What's more, she was sexually assaulted as a teen. She credits resources like the Los Angeles Free Clinic for helping her through difficult times. 

These days, 63-year-old Cheryl Saban lives in a palatial Beverly Hills estate and is the author of 14 books including What is Your Self-Worth—A Woman’s Guide to Validation. On the philanthropic end, she takes a leading role as president of the Saban Family Foundation, and also runs the Cheryl Saban Self-Worth Foundation for Women & Girls. When the Saban Self-Worth Foundation was established in 2009, it made a $10 million pledge to charitable organizations for the aid, advancement and empowerment of girls and women.

In other words, chalk up one more funder who's tackling what is emerging as the top socioeconomic issue of the 21st century: ensuring full equity for half the world's population. We write often about the growing number of funders in this fight, which include a mix of private foundations, corporate philanthropies, and wealthy women. Saban and her husband are worth $3.5 billion, so it's no small thing that she is working this issue. 

And she's working gender equity from different angles, including reproductive rights, health, and STEM education. So far, the amount of money going out the door isn't huge, compared to other funders we track, but plenty of wealth is waiting in the wings.

In a recent year, the Saban Self-Worth Foundation gave just under $1 million. A major Saban grantee is Girls Incorporated (Girls Inc.), which runs programs for girls in education, health, and financial literacy. It's worth noting that Girls Incorporated has an affiliate in Orange County, California, and Southern California tends to be the main grantmaking region for the couple's philanthropy at large—not just through the Saban Self-Worth Foundation. In 2013, $150,000 went to Girls Inc., toward its Eureka Program, which focuses on STEM education for middle and high school girls.

The Saban Self-Worth Foundation also recently supported Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles toward research into female-pattern heart disease. In 2013, $500,000 went to the U.S. National Committee for UN Women. By the way, Cheryl Saban was recently appointed by President Obama as a public delegate to the UN's 67th General Assembly, and as a US delegate to the 57th Conference on the Status of Women at the UN. While she certainly seems like a good pick on the merits, it's worth mentioning that Haim and Cheryl Saban are top donors to Democrats and gave $1.3 million in the 2012 election cycle. 

Saban Foundation grants have also gone to the Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization which works for social, political and economic equality for women, and to the Women's Funding Network, which describes itself as "the largest philanthropic network in the world devoted to women and girls." Additionally, Saban has supported Girls Who Code, whose goal is to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020. Support has also gone to the American Indian College Fund, providing scholarships to American Indian women.

A component of the foundation considers supporting women in Israel as well, which is consistent with the couple's work through the Saban Family Foundation, and its major advocacy for Israel and support of Jewish causes. The Saban Women's Self-Worth Foundation has funded the Rashi Foundation, which provides "education and social welfare for Israel’s young and under-served." The Saban Women's Self-Worth Foundation also considers microloan projects and has supported We Invest, which lends to female entrepreneurs. Here, too, the foundation is hitting a major note in current women's philanthropyempowering women financially with the goal of helping empower them in every other way. 

The Saban Self-Worth Foundation says that it reviews proposals from "from organizations with demonstrated, measurable successes in our outlined focus areas." 

Remember, while this is not yet a major philanthropic operation; that could easily change if the Sabans choose to further ramp up and professionalize their giving, which seems likely to happen eventually. That would be good news for grantseekers working on women's issues.