Spend Down / Essays

A Generational Transition
By Stephen Bronfman, November 2013

Philanthropy – as my father often says – is in the Bronfman DNA, and we are fortunate to be able to practice it generously and expansively. Representing this philanthropic tradition properly and effectively is a responsibility I embrace and will pass to my own children.

The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies’ (ACBP) focus on Canadian heritage, Jewish community and Israeli culture, education and society building is critical. Its footprint will be long lasting, especially as it helps to put its major grantees on paths toward sustainability after it shuts its doors in 2016.

The work and mission of ACBP has always and rightly reflected the interests and passions of my father and his late wife, Andrea. I have my own, and I expect my own children to one day chart their own direction as well.

Deciding to close ACBP and direct his philanthropy through other channels shows how my father respected generational differences and transitions, and also a changing world in which new challenges emerge and demand new philanthropic responses and approaches.

The decision reflects a philanthropic mindset to not burden a new generation with certain strictures, missions and infrastructures. It empowers us to pursue our own visions and approaches to affect positive change. This is a desirable outcome.

From our base in Montreal, my wife and I chair The Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation. We have built structures and partnerships incubating and supporting creative and innovative projects locally and throughout Canada and Israel, focused on the environment, culture, entrepreneurship and Jewish community involvement mainly through support of youth and young adults.

Of course, there are overlapping interests between the generations. Commitment to Jewish community and to Israel is an unbreakable bond linking my grandparents’ generation to my parents’ and to mine. But how we choose to exercise that commitment differs, particular to and reflective of our own philanthropic vehicles, strategies, and worldviews, as it should be.

In 2002, for example, ACBP joined with several other foundations to form the Green Environmental Fund to provide a boost to the grassroots environmental and preservation movements in Israel. This continues to be a major philanthropic partnership that is credited by many for creating a cohesive, effective and vibrant green movement there.

It is a good illustration of ACBP’s commitment to, and focus on, capacity building - in this case building the environment field as a force and giving it voice.

My commitment to environmental issues in Israel is as strong. But philanthropically, it is exercised with different strategies and outcomes in mind, and is focused on specific projects such as one with The Israel Nature and Parks Authority to help protect and conserve open spaces in the country.

By 2016, ACBP will have served its purpose and helped to incubate other independent organizations to carry on the work in a fast-changing world.

I am impressed as I watch a purposeful and well designed spend down ensuring the sustainability of operating programs and long-term grantees, and the well-being and professional security of talented staff members.

My father recently presented his namesake award – The Charles Bronfman Prize – to Eric Rosenthal, a humanitarian of great impact working globally to end the abuse and segregation of children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.

My sister Ellen and I – and our spouses – established and endowed this annual award in 2004 as a gift to our father. He believes that Jewish values matter and can drive the evolution of bold ideas that can advance the world to a better place and inspire younger generations.

As The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) spends down and moves toward closure in 2016, the Prize is one way by which we – a generation removed from the founders of ACBP – are recognizing and perpetuating the spirit that has fueled our father’s philanthropy, and informs our own.

Stephen Bronfman is the Executive Chairman of Claridge and is involved in several philanthropic and civic organizations. He co-chairs the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation and is President of the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation. He serves as a director of several non-profit organizations, including The David Suzuki Foundation, and chairs the Combined Jewish Appeal 2014 Campaign.