On this, International Women’s Day, we are delighted to give a shout out to the women in philanthropy,       their vision, their ambition, their commitment and their achievement.

While there are many high-profile female leaders in philanthropy worldwide – Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Sigrid Rausing, to name but a few, there are so many lesser known names, quietly engaging with giving in a strategic and purposeful way.

Increasingly women are key influencers and decision makers in how philanthropic funds are used and for what purpose. Whether this is through family funds, donor advised funds, corporate philanthropy, participation in giving circles, or individual private giving. Their impact on causes for the benefit of society cannot be underestimated. They are providing true leadership.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are putting the spotlight on a number of women in philanthropy who have made, and continue to make real impact in the lives of others. Read the short snapshots and be inspired.

While these are ones we have named to illustrate the array and richness of what is being achieved, we acknowledge and celebrate all women philanthropists. To one and all, a sincere ‘Thank You’. 

Norah Casey

We may be more familiar with Norah Casey from her stint on RTÉ’s Dragon’s Den. But the eminent Irish business woman is also a dedicated philanthropist. Harmonia, Casey’s magazine publishing company gives a range of supports to various charities, and generally Harmonia aims to raise on average €150,000 annually for its chosen charities.

Causes such as the Irish Hospice Foundation, Women’s Aid, and Make a Wish are all close to Casey’s heart, and she regularly lends her name to campaigns and events. But her standout moment as a philanthropist came last year when she spoke out about her own experience of domestic violence, in the hope to empower others.

Norah Casey’s contribution of time and influence to the causes she supports is evidence that philanthropy can be about more than a financial commitment, a feature acknowledged in the recent awarding of Philanthropist of the Year .

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson made history in 1990 when she was elected the first female President of Ireland but she is also a trailblazer in her philanthropic work. Founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, a centre for education and advocacy on sustainable and people-centred development in the world’s poorest communities, she also contributes enormously in her personal time and influence.

The Vision of the Organisation is:

By 2020 global justice and equity will underpin a people-centred, developmental approach to advancing climate justice and more effectively addressing the impacts of climate change.

It’s areas of work are: Human Rights & Climate Change, Women’s Leadership on gender & Climate Change, and Future Generations

The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Change

Katharine Howard

The Katharine Howard Foundation (KHF) was established in 1979 by Katharine Howard, who was the last survivor of the Earls of Wicklow and resided most of her adult life in Co Wexford. She set up the Trust with assistance from friends who agreed to support her by becoming Trustees. Her intention was to support locally based projects and community activities. She was a founder member of the Gorey Girl Guides and was involved in other voluntary organisations such as the Camphill community that assisted people with disabilities and others, involving environmental projects.

Initially she allocated £20,000 to her fund and gradually added more modest funds to the Trust which continued distributing small amounts of funds until her death in 1990. Subsequently her estate and that of her American grandmother was then added to her endowment funds and this greatly increased the funding that was available. These funds were then carefully invested by the Trustees who also expanded the organisation and sought advice to become strategic and focused about its grant making.

The Katharine Howard Foundation

Loretta Brennan Glucksman

A prominent Irish-American philanthropist, Loretta Brennan Glucksman is widely recognised for her dedication to Ireland and Philanthropy.

So vast is Brennan Glucksman and her late husband’s philanthropic activity, that it is difficult to estimate its full impact on Irish society. Evidence of her giving can be found throughout the country, particularly through cultural and educational projects such as; UCC’s Lewis Glucksman Gallery, and the University of Limerick.

€300m was raised during her tenure as chair of the Ireland Funds, in support of peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, education and community development on the island of Ireland and in the U.S. A significant feat of achievement and leadership in the philanthropic space.

J.K. Rowling

Moved by a photograph in the Sunday Times of a child being kept in caged beds in an institution, J.K. Rowling set out to seek an end to the systematic institutionalisation of children worldwide. In 2006, these efforts resulted in Lumos- named after the light-giving spell in Harry Potter, and founded to shine light on some of the world’s most disadvantaged children. Much of the Foundation’s work is funded from royalties and book sales of Rowling’s work.

Since 2009, Lumos has prevented 20,915 children from entering harmful institutions. In 2015, the Foundaiton funded a significant research project in the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway.

The Lumos Foundation, is a prime example of how experiences and passions can shape a philanthropist’s giving activity. J.K. Rowling, has not only funded a solution to a problem, but she has championed the cause, raising awareness of the issue that is the institutionalisation of children.

Lumos Foundation


Angela Burdett Coutts

In 1837, Angela Burdett Coutts inherited the fortune of her grandfather, Thomas Coutts, who founded the eponymous bank. As a woman she was unable to become involved in the work of the bank so she chose to channel her time and energy into philanthropy.

Yet her gender and class also prevented her from developing an intimate knowledge of the causes she wished to help. So, she turned to one of the bank’s clients, Charles Dickens, for help – knowing that they shared a passionate interest in the conditions of the poor.

Burdett Coutts had a huge and diverse range of philanthropic interests, from temperance to animal welfare, and from lifeboats to supporting the wives of soldiers serving in the Crimea. With Dickens’ help she became a progressive and radical philanthropist, supporting new ideas and using new methods to do so.

Charles Dickens dedicated his novel Martin Chuzzlewit to her.*

Today the Coutts Foundation builds on the legacy of Angela Burdett-Coutts, and is currently focused on projects supporting women and girls in the UK.

*Snapshot courtesy of Dr. Beth Breeze, University of Kent.

The Coutts Foundation 

Who is your favourite female philanthropist? Whose acts of giving, and commitment to civil society do you  admire most? Let us know on twitter @PhilanthropyIE using the hashtag #FemalePhilanthropists