NET WORTH: $1.4 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Pershing Square Capital Management, Gotham Partners
FUNDING AREAS: Health, Education, Arts & Urban Development, Economic Development, Social Justice, Jewish Community
OVERVIEW: Bill Ackman has committed several hundred million dollars to charitable and social causes since he and his soon to be ex wife Karen founded the Pershing Square Foundation in 2006. He has a broad range of philanthropic interests.
BACKGROUND: Bill Ackman was raised in a Jewish family in Chappaqua, New York, and grew up around the financial industry, the son of the chair of a real estate financing firm. After attending Harvard College and Harvard Business School, he cofounded Gotham Capital Management, which grew to more than $500 million in assets over the next decade. Ackman started Pershing Square Capital Management in 2004.
EDUCATION: Though it took a back seat to Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to transform Newark, NJ public schools, Ackman's $25 million gift was in some ways more generous, considering that his net worth is less than one twentieth that of Zuckerberg. Harvard College has also been a major recipient, along with the Dalton School and the Boys & Girls Harbor. Teach for America, DonorsChoose, and iMentor have been recipients as well, each receiving grants of several hundred thousand dollars. Ackman has also been among the top funders of scholarships for undocumented immigrant students, the so-called DREAMers.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT: Among Ackman's global bets has been the One Acre Fund, which supports small farmers; Root Capital, which also works with small farmers in Africa and Latin America; and Bridge International Academies, a for-profit company that funds primary schools in both Uganda and Kenya. Other grantees have included Living Goods, Nuru, Echoing Green, the Social Entrepreneurs Fund, the Grameen Fund, Digital Divide Data, and Kickstart International, all of which are involved with things like microentrepreneurship, creating sustainable green economies, and providing Internet access, financial tools, twenty-first century job training, and other resources to developing populations.
ARTS: The Ackmans' biggest gift in arts and culture has been to the Signature Theatre Company, where they committed $25 million to a capital campaign. They've also given millions to Friends of the High Line. The Park Avenue Armory has also received significant contributions, and while most of this money stays in New York City, they have also given to the Boston Ballet.
HEALTH: In 2013, the Ackmans helped form a partnership known as the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance, which supports promising innovation work by young investigators at a stage when traditional funding is lacking. The foundation's primary area of interest in health, however, seems to be more about basic healthcare needs, and particularly access for the poor. This was undoubtedly part of the impetus for its endowment of the Chair of Global Health at Harvard Medical School.
The Pershing Square Foundation also previously funded the Global Health Discovery Project, and has funded Health Leads, which works to expand health clinic capacity in six major cities, improving minimum standards of care and ensuring broader access to health care, as well as Last Mile Health, which provides healthcare services in rural Africa. They've also made smaller donations to Mass General, the American Cancer Society, and the Cold Spring Harbor Lab.
JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS: Ackman has given $10 million to Human Rights Watch to develop new initiatives for its Africa and Women's Rights divisions. (Karen sits on that organization's board.) He's also been a major supporter of the Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries, both of which are dedicated to investigating cases of those who may have been wrongfully convicted.
NEW YORK COMMUNITY: The Ackmans have given millions to the Robin Hood Foundation, one of the major poverty-fighting organizations in New York City.
JEWISH CAUSES: Given than Ackman has acknowledged that he is "not a particularly religious person", and believe that his "limited time on earth is all [he] is going to get," it may seem a little strange that he spearheaded an effort for the Center for Jewish History to retire $30 million in debt, personally contributing $6.8 million himself. Perhaps it's more about history and culture than religion, but in any case, he's also been a major contributor to Natan and Mati, two organizations that focus on social entrepreneurship and business development in Israel, as well as the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
LOOKING FORWARD: Ackman is still relatively young, and very involved in his hedge fund. We expect this Wall Streeter to continue to keep giving away a lot. However, it was recently reported that Ackman and Karen are divorcing, and that, because the couple did not sign a prenup, Ackman may lose half of his fortune.