Why Super Bowl halftime star Rihanna is seen as a 'trailblazing' philanthropist
By Leslie Albrecht
As fans await Rihanna's next album, her foundation has been busy handing out grants across the Caribbean and the U.S.
This year's Super Bowl halftime show star, Rihanna, hasn't released a new album since 2016, but she's been plenty busy putting some of her estimated $1.4 billion fortune to good use.
While fans have been waiting for new music, Rihanna has been building a reputation as a groundbreaking philanthropist with her Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF). Named for her grandparents, Clara and Lionel Braithwaite, Rihanna launched the foundation in 2012.
Its early work focused on projects in Barbados, with its first grant ($452,000) going to help a hospital there advance clinical care for cancer patients. Rihanna, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, lost her grandmother to cancer in 2012.
Since then CLF's scope has broadened from personal to global, funding work in all 50 U.S. states and seven Caribbean countries. CLF has now "leveraged" $100 million in grants (meaning that some of the money has come from outside donors and was distributed by CLF, a spokeswoman said).
In the process, Rihanna's foundation has distinguished itself with "trailblazing" work seeking social change through a multi-racial, community-led lens, said Tyeshia Wilson, an expert on Black philanthropy with the nonprofit Philanthropy Together.
"Her philanthropic efforts need to be celebrated and honored on the main stage just as much as her music," Wilson said. "She is making a significant impact in that she is changing the face and the narrative of philanthropy, especially as it relates to Black women's philanthropy, or just Black philanthropy in general."
The Clara Lionel Foundation now focuses on three priorities: climate resilience (helping communities prepare for and withstand natural disasters); climate justice (mitigating climate impacts in communities of color and island nations); and "legacy projects" supporting causes in Rihanna's native Barbados. Rihanna herself is "deeply passionate about the work we do and is very involved," CLF executive director Justine Lucas said. "She approves all grants and donations that go out the door."
CLF is at the forefront of philanthropy because of its "trust-based" approach to giving, Wilson said. That's a giving style that challenges traditional power structures in philanthropy. Instead of wealthy donors calling the shots about how their money should be used, trust-based philanthropy attempts to give power back to the people who are closer to the problem that the donor is trying to solve.
CLF also takes an intersectional approach in its work, recognizing that many overlapping factors create inequities, Wilson said. "Often, who we support is just as important to us as how we provide support," Lucas said. CLF is "proud that 95% of our partners are entities focused on and led by women, youth, Black, Indigenous, People of Color and LGBTQIA+ communities," she added.
One example of CLF's intersectional approach: it is investing in efforts to make reproductive and sexual health clinics in the Caribbean climate resilient, so their services aren't interrupted by natural disasters.
Wilson also lauded the foundation's collaboration with other funders. CLF combines resources with other funders, then hands the decision-making about how the money will be spent to grassroots groups, Wilson said. CLF's funding partners have included Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, whose philanthropic entity, Start Small LLC, donated $18 million directly to CLF in 2022.
CLF has also partnered with billionaire George Soros' Open Societies Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation on climate resilience funding. Last month, CLF joined prominent philanthropists including the Ford Foundation and Melinda French Gates' Pivotal Ventures to sign an open letter calling for more funding of Black feminist organizations.
Rihanna's fans can participate in her charitable work, too, by donating their own money to the Clara Lionel Foundation on its website and when shopping on Fenty Beauty. "We know we can't do this work alone so we are grateful for every dollar contributed to our work," Lucas told MarketWatch. "Rihanna's fans, the 'Navy,' are wonderful, passionate and loyal, and we are very appreciative of their support."
Rihanna made history when she became the first Black woman to create a fashion line with the global luxury brand LVMH (MC.FR), and her philanthropic work has broken barriers too, Wilson said. Though the fashion brand with LVMH ended in 2020, Rihanna's 50% stake in the successful makeup line Fenty Beauty (LVMH owns the other 50%) made her a billionaire in 2021, Forbes reported.
Few people, of course, have that kind of wealth, but Wilson sees Rihanna's philanthropy as a model that can inspire anyone because of its emphasis on collaboration. Philanthropy Together, where Wilson is director of engagement, teaches people how to start giving circles, a method of charitable giving where a group of people pool their money to maximize their impact. It's a strategy rooted in the West African and Caribbean concept of "ubuntu," or collective giving, Wilson noted.
"At Philanthropy Together we really seek to change the narrative of who is considered to be a philanthropist; Rihanna is doing just that," Wilson said. "She is breaking barriers and opening doors. There's this saying that 'you can't be what you can't see.' For a lot of communities of color, we're looking at her as a model of what we can be."
See also:Is Rihanna the first billionaire to perform at a Super Bowl halftime show?
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02-13-23 1017ETCopyright (c) 2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.