Global Giving 2015: Winners, Losers, and What’s Trending

Trying to narrow down a few trends in global philanthropy is difficult. From education to healthcare and economic development, there's a lot going on in this space and a ton of ground to cover. Here's a look back on some of the more interesting highlights—and low points—in global giving that jumped out at us in 2015.

The Winners

The Global Youth Bulge

The world’s burgeoning youth population isn’t a new thing. But funders seem to be realizing that it's a bad thing to have hundreds of millions of unemployed, disenfranchised, and largely undereducated young people on the planet. If the Arab Spring taught the world anything, it was that not only are young people playing a central role in sparking uprisings and protests, but they are also a key—if not the key—to future global economic growth and innovation.  

So which funders are paying attention? A bunch, including the Rockefeller, Coca-Cola Africa, and Citi foundations. The MasterCard Foundation is also on the case, as is the Carnegie Corporation, which has an eye on the security implications of the youth bulge.  

Financial Inclusion

A report this year found that between 2011 and 2014, 700 million people became account holders at banks, other financial institutions, or mobile money service providers. Overall, the number of “unbanked” individuals fell by 20 percent, to 2 billion adults. That's a huge gain, with profound implications for global economic development, and a range of funders pushed hard in 2015 to accelerate this trend.

Near the front of the pack is the MetLife Foundation, which has made financial inclusion worldwide its top priority, and deep-pocketed funder, The MasterCard Foundation, which is giving in this area at a major level. The Gates Foundation is also a major player. A range of other funders, like the Omidyar Network, also work on financial inclusion and have high hopes for transformative change, especially as mobile phones spread to the world's poorest communities. 

Women and Girls

The global movement to empower women and girls continues to draw major philanthropic attention, with funding efforts moving forward on a number of fronts including financial inclusion, reproductive health, education, and political rights. There's a wide range of funders in this space, bringing different approaches to gender work. Major private funders like Hewlett, Ford, NoVo and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation are in the fight for global gender equality, as are corporate funders like the Caterpillar, and Coca-Cola foundations as well as, The MasterCard Foundation. The Walmart Foundation, as we've reported, is also in this space, with a focus on women's economic empowerment—an angle popular with corporate funders looking to expand global prosperity. Other funders, like Johnson & Johnson, seek to empower women in order to take on HIV/AIDS. 

I would be remiss, here, if I didn’t give a huge shout-out to Caterpillar and its fearless leader, Michele Sullivan, for steering the foundation into an era of bolder and more effective philanthropy. Empowering women and girls is on the top of Caterpillars philanthropic to-do list because, as Sullivan puts it, “If a girl is successful, so is the rest of the family. It helps everyone. If you help the girl, you help the family and the village and the society.” Well said.

Healthcare Systems 

The Ebola epidemic was decisively defeated this year, and some of the credit goes to funders like Paul Allen, Larry Page, the Gates Foundation, and many, many others who chipped in with hundreds of millions of dollars. If they hadn't, the death toll would have been much higher. Of course, putting an end to the rapid spread of the disease gets top honors here, but the Ebola crisis exposed the failing state of the health infrastructure of many African countries. This widespread problem is now gaining a lot more funding attention than it did before the crisis hit.

Slavery and Trafficking

There are some 20 to 36 million people in the world that suffer at the hands of modern-day slave traders. Lately, more funders have been paying attention to their plight. Among the key players in this global fight are CIFF, NoVo Foundation, Greenbaum Foundation, Humanity United, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

The Losers


One would think the phrase “the worst refugee crisis since World War II” would have not only funders, but the world at large digging deep into their wallets to ease at least some of the suffering that the largest refugee population in history. This, unfortunately, wasn't the case. António Guterres, head of the United Nations refugee agency, puts it this way: “This worst humanitarian crisis of our era should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead, help is dwindling.”

The few foundations doing the heavy lifting here deserve more recognition than I can give, but hats off to the UPS Foundation for raising its funding for Syrian refuges and internally displaced people and recognizing that “the crisis is continuing to scale and get bigger and bigger.” And Gates has been paying attention to the plight of refugees in Gaza and Iraq. Major kudos to the Ikea Foundation for making the global refugee crisis a top giving priority, and thank you Sezgin Baran Korkmaz for your $20 million donation to help children impacted by the ongoing conflict in Syria.


While there has been a slight uptick in HIV/AIDS, overall funding is still down. Yet the rate of new HIV infections isn’t falling fast enough, and is threatening to significantly wind back decades of progress. Sure, outfits like Gates, Gilead Sciences, Wellcome Trust, and AmfAR remain steadfast in their HIV/AIDS funding, but the overall pattern of giving here continues to indicate an easing up on grants. Meanwhile, over a million people a year are still dying from AIDS. 

These are some of the key trends that jumped out at us in the past year. Like I mentioned at the top, there’s a lot of ground to cover here, so I’m sure there are a number winners and losers I didn’t cover and many more NGOs and individual donors whose work deserves highlighting. Feel free to jump in with a comment below.