We've written a bunch about the fast moving big league philanthropy of Ray and Barbara Dalio, who've been moving increasingly large amounts of money out of the door of their foundation each year—and have plenty left, with Ray's net worth pegged at $15.9 billion.
Every time we look away, the Dalio Foundation's giving continues to soar. The Dalios' rapid emergence as major philanthropists underscores the times we're living in, as the historic fortunes of a new Gilded Age are harnessed to mega giving. And yet, even as Dalio Foundation grantmaking approaches a level that rivals the the likes of Rockefeller and Carnegie, there are many aspects of this philanthropic operation that remain unclear.
This is a foundation that keeps a low profile. It's a lean operation, with minimal staff and a one-page website. Sure, combing through the 990s of a small family foundation that gives away a few million a year to a handful of grantees isn't a big deal. But when you're giving away some $116 million to hundreds of grantees across the globe, as the Dalio Foundation recently did, things become, well, taxing.
In a past Dalio rundown, we tried to get a handle of some Dalio and his wife Barbara's more recent giving. In addition to Dalio's bread and butter interests like environmental conservation, education, and mental health and wellness (Dalio is a major proponent of transcendental meditation), which the family continues to fund, we also noticed new emerging work. Dalio's more local conservation efforts appeared to be expanding, and the foundation has launched what's called a "Dalio Explore Fund" to bankroll a number of different environmental and scientific research projects, many of which are focused on marine and ocean conservation.
Dalio also gave a rather large $10 million gift to Volcker Alliance, an outfit dedicated to rekindling the "intellectual, practical, and academic interest in the implementation of policy and serve as a catalyst for sustained government improvement." We pondered whether policy would emerge as another Dalio interest.
The Dalio Foundation's website still reads "Full Site Coming Soon." The lone page also gives a bit of a distillation of the family's giving priorities, hammering home some of the things we've observed. For instance, Dalio's interest in oceans:
Ray believes that the world’s oceans are the largest, most important and least well-supported natural resource; he is excited by them. He believes that he can “move the needle” in helping the oceans by supporting scientists’ exploration of them and media which heighten public interest in the oceans and exploration.
Protecting oceans, of course, is a huge interest among many top emerging philanthropists, as we've often reported. Education is another, and the Dalios are in this space, too, with a focus on the Northeast:
Ray and Barbara both believe deeply that equal opportunity is essential for a healthy society. Barbara is focused on ensuring that Connecticut public schools, districts, and educators enable students to achieve their full potential. She works full-time with her team to collaborate with, learn from, and support students, parents, educators, leaders, and community organizations in building a reality where all students – regardless of income or life circumstance – have an equal opportunity to attain a great education.
The Dalio Foundation also notes other interests like "social enterprises, medical research with a special focus on the heart and mind, brain science, meditation, and music heritage with an emphasis on jazz and blues." The music interest is something that we hadn't picked up on yet.
Overall, the foundation states that "giving is intended to support the diverse philanthropic passions of each family member," which is a good reminder going forward: Despite the immense nature of the family's philanthropy, their work is personal, driven by Dalio, Barbara, and the couple's children.
Speaking of which, we've written about their son Matt, who's long been involved in philanthropy through China Care Foundation, a nonprofit he started that helps orphans in China. The Dalio Foundation's own grantmaking has supported China Care Foundation, as well as a chair in Southeast Asian Studies in Foreign Policy at Brookings Institution, among other efforts.
A look at recent tax returns reveals that this personal interest area continues to receive attention from the Dalio Foundation's grantmaking. In the 2014 fiscal year, the foundation directed some $3.8 million to the Beijing Dalio Public Welfare Foundation, an outfit which "which seeks to promote best practices and develop expertise in philanthropy in China, to support social welfare projects and to contribute to a harmonious society."
The bulk of these funds went towards Chunhui Bo'Ai Children's Welfare Foundation(CHBA) and China Care Home's (CCH) work with orphaned and disabled children. Another grant went towards a sports camp for children with disabilities, and to fund a music program. While this China-focused foundation appears to so far be keyed in on the areas that you'd expect— orphans and children— the mandate of the foundation suggests something broader that we'll have to keep an eye on. The foundation, by the way, is chaired by Jianxi (Jesse) Wang, a business veteran who was an executive vice president and chief risk officer of China Investment Corporation.
As the gifts keep coming, the Dalio Foundation's apparent new transparency is a big deal that will hopefully allow for more clarity in all the goings on of this major funder. For instance, per a recent tax return, the foundation made a $25 million gift to Harvard to the Raymond T Dalio Fund for the Harvard Innovation Lab to "support programs, operations and new initiatives per the discretion of the Dean of Harvard Business School." This is but one example of the major gifts the Dalio Foundation has made that have remained well under the radar.
Whatever new transparency comes, though, don't expect getting on the Dalio family's radar to be any easier. As of now, the foundation does not accept unsolicited donation requests or proposals.