Merge and invest: The new face of corporate philanthropy


Michael Alberg-Seberich


On the 7th of March 2016 BMW celebrated its 100th birthday by looking at the future of cars and mobility. They also announced two significant decisions for corporate citizenship and philanthropy in Europe:

  1. The merger of the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation and the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, the two corporate foundations of BMW, into a single organization, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt.
  2. The set-up of the Eberhard von Kuenheim Fund with a focus on impact investing and the promotion of entrepreneurship.

This ‘merging birthday’ is an important event in corporate philanthropy. It highlights the ongoing discussion of how to align a sometimes diverse and fragmented foundation landscape that has developed within a corporate setting. This is the case, for instance, for large multi-national companies working in many countries, for example Coca Cola has a wide network of corporate foundations that are strongly committed to serving their key focus issues. But especially companies which have been in existence for a long time often assemble around themselves a wide variety of foundations. Just have a look at the corporate social responsibility reporting of major companies in Europe and you will find two, three or more foundations. If corporate citizenship is about taking responsibility in solving social challenges and driving social innovation then focus is crucial.

The impact investing community must have been waiting for BMW’s ‘investing birthday’ under the lead of its foundation, because the European Venture Philanthropy Association and others have recently published reports on the state of corporate impact investing. At Beyond Philanthropy we published a case study on the topic, which explores the impact investing activities of the French company Schneider Electrics to fight energy poverty. Previously, corporate impact investing in Europe has mainly been driven by such French companies because of the favorable regulatory environment that exists in France that promotes this form of social finance innovation within companies. Now with BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, another player has entered the space with a clear commitment that may encourage others to develop their next steps in the field. A corporate impact investing fund can be a crucial link between a company and its foundations. It can also be a tool that brings social innovation closer to a company and its employees.

Last week was the ‘happy birthday’ of one company but we may look back in the future and also remember it as the day when corporate citizenship made significant strides. ‘Game-changer’ may be too big a word for this present but it is an eye-catcher, for sure. It will be interesting to see what this company makes of this change and whether others will follow. Let’s see.

Michael Alberg-Seberich is a managing partner at Active Phialnthropy and Beyond Philanthropy.

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