Among the most effective institutions that are bringing change to the world are charitable foundations. Uplifting people and communities across the globe, these philanthropic institutions research issues, marshal resources and coordinate their assistance with military precision.

Many of these foundations are powered by the desire of a wealthy individual or family to leave a legacy to the world. We immediately recognize some of the names, from the Ford dynasty to Howard Hughes and Bill Gates. When a talented founder is deeply involved in a foundation, the same talents that allowed him or her to rise to the pinnacle of an industry also magnify the effectiveness of each charitable initiative.

Author and philosopher William James captured the impulse to leave a charitable legacy when he wrote: “The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

That compelling sentiment has built countless schools, hospitals and homes around the world, while igniting far-reaching economic and social change. Such foundations transform family and institutional wealth into a powerful force of prosperity, promise — and hope.

They reach out with idealism and innovation, helping populations one by one, community by community. Many of the best-known foundations are focused on health care, disease prevention, and other medical issues. Here is a sampling of the dynamic global foundations at work today:

Wellcome Trust, UK

This charitable organization focuses on mental health, infectious diseases and climate change across the globe. The Trust came into existence thanks to the medical supplies and wealth left by the pharmaceutical entrepreneur, Henry Wellcome.

Novo Nordisk Foundation, Denmark

This foundation started 100 years ago, with the mission to treat and prevent diabetes around the world. Today it invests in companies that are dedicated to improving health and fighting disease on a global scale.


Established by Canadian entrepreneur Shoaib Khan in 2016, Humaniti is focused on teaching skills that enable individuals and populations to rise, creating a foundation of knowledge that leads to thriving businesses and better infrastructure, sanitation and health care systems in many developing nations. Shoaib Khan is deeply involved in Humaniti’s work, guiding its direction and shaping its programs. Each initiative is designed to promote human rights and social justice, which are essential elements of Shoaib Khan’s perspective on philanthropy.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, USA

This foundation works directly with hospitals, medical facilities and community groups, and funds the initiatives of other like-minded institutions. Its grant program is a catalyst for generating innovative solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems, especially in the fields of public health and disease prevention.

Ford Foundation, USA

Since 1936 The Ford Foundation has prioritized education, public welfare and scientific advances. Following the course set by Henry Ford himself, the foundation is active in a wide range of countries, from Brazil and China to eastern Africa, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Mastercard Foundation, Canada

Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works program seeks to improve health and overall conditions in the continent by fighting poverty via targeted initiatives, including a program to create 30 million new jobs by 2030.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, USA

This foundation focuses on poverty and disease in developing countries. It seeks partnerships with the public and private sector to optimize its effectiveness. The foundation is well-known worldwide for its programs that enable vaccination of millions of children in developing nations.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA

Unlike its founder, this prominent foundation is hardly reclusive. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute proudly and very publicly boosts medical research by sponsoring leading scientific minds. Its overarching goal is to create new global solutions based on scientific discoveries and innovation.