Grateful For A Gift That Is Repairing The World


Ten years ago, my children, Ellen and Stephen, and their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, gave me the most unbelievable gift. They founded and endowed The Charles Bronfman Prize, which annually recognizes a humanitarian under the age of 50 who is changing the world, guided and informed by their Jewish values.

What I could not have imagined at the time, and what continues to amaze me still, is how this gift has continued to pay dividends, year after year, as we welcome each new laureate into our prize family.

I have often spoken about the importance of intentionality in philanthropy, that it has to stir the soul. This is true whether you are feeding the homeless, mentoring a child or working on climate change. This is true if you are giving $5 or $5 million.  Philanthropy and social change work are at their best when they are driven by your values and connected to what you care about most.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Prize and present the award to our newest laureate, I have had the time to reflect on all of the individuals we have recognized so far. It has been an inspiring privilege to come to know them. Each year I learn from them and am inspired by their work and their passion and enriched by the experience of getting to know them. Each of them has pursued the path that stirred their soul. They have tackled challenges in education and pursued justice for those held by the world’s darkest regimes. They have protected women and girls fleeing danger in Darfur by literally harnessing the power of the sun, helped the Lost Boys and Girls find their way and given voice to the disabled children the world would like to hide. They’ve created hope for leukemia patients, found missions at home for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, stirred a nation’s environmental conscience and changed the way we educate doctors.

We recognize young humanitarians who are already changing the world. And it is our hope that they will inspire the next generation to interpret the Jewish values that have inspired their work, and mine, to continue striving towards tikkun olam, repairing the world.

The Prize has endured because we have built a lasting fellowship of humanitarians who have followed the passions that stirred their souls. They’ve given their time, their dedication and their lives, and in doing so, they’ve stirred my soul — and the souls of our international panel of judges as well. 

I have also said that our philanthropic endeavors should be run with the same accountability as our business enterprises. There has to be a plan. There have to be goals. The goals must be measurable and measured. And the impact of our laureates can indeed be measured by the lives they’ve touched. The Talmud teaches us, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he has saved an entire world.” By that token, these 12 individuals have saved the world many times over, impacting the lives of more than 600,000 people in 120 countries on six continents.

This year’s recipient is Sam Goldman, who founded d.light design to bring clean, safe and affordable light to the 1.6 billion people worldwide who still live by kerosene. In doing so, he has improved the health, education and earnings potential of almost 40 million people, including 9.5 million children, as well as removed nearly three million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Sam, 34, is the youngest recipient we have recognized so far, and perhaps not coincidentally, the first social entrepreneur. Sam is also the first Canadian to receive the Prize. With each generation, we see new ways for people to increase the impact of their philanthropy, and as the Prize aims to inspire the next generation, we are always looking ahead and thinking about what giving might look like in the future. For Sam to be able to reach the greatest number of people as quickly as possible, he needed the capacity to scale afforded by a for-profit enterprise. This allowed him to create the truly innovative design, marketing, financing and distribution network necessary to bring light to the dark corners of the world. Sam truly exemplifies what can happen when the soul meets the business plan.

Recognizing our first social entrepreneur provides a perfect capstone to the first decade of The Charles Bronfman Prize. I am immensely humbled and honored by this generous and awe-inspiring gift from my children. I could never have guessed how life affirming the past 10 years have been, and, as we enter our second decade, I can hardly wait to see what’s next.

Charles Bronfman, a businessman and philanthropist, heads the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.