Edythe Broad, 84
Company: Broad Foundations
How did philanthropy become important to you?
My grandparents immigrated from Lithuania and Belarus to Canada with very little means. My parents both grew up as older children in large families. While everyone had to do their share, it fell more on the oldest to help with the younger children and the finances. I don’t know if you call that philanthropy. I do know that helping others is a value that was deeply ingrained in me from an early age.
When Eli sold (SunAmerica Inc. in 1998), we had a very large amount of money. We began to think about how we could make a difference in the world. I made a list of all the things I thought needed to change. Eli looked it over and said, “At our age we can’t do all of this, but if we can help improve public education, children will grow up and make these changes.” That’s how we started our work in public K-12 education.
How do you and Eli differ in terms of your philanthropic interests and strengths?
I would say I’m more a gut person and Eli wants more evidence. For example, when we met Eric Lander, who leads the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., I had a really strong instinct that his idea would work. Eli was very impressed, too, but needed more time to research. Almost 20 years later, the Broad Institute is our largest grantee. One thing I’ve learned from Eli is the importance of leadership. He strongly believes that whoever is at the top makes the difference.
How has the role of the Broad Foundations changed over the years?
When we started our philanthropy 50 years ago, we would donate to the causes we believed in. But when Eli retired and we had a lot more time and money, that was a game changer for us. That’s when I made “the list,” and we got much more involved in our foundation. In recent years, we have decided, with (foundation President) Gerun Riley, to focus our philanthropy on Los Angeles.
What’s next on your agenda?
I would love for all children to be able to get a good education. But most recently, we started investing in climate change. At our age, life won’t change too much in the next few years. But really this work is about the future. If people — especially children — don’t have clean water and clean air, there won’t be much of a future. I don’t understand how people can deny the science or not worry about it. No one I know thinks it’s silly or a hoax.
What do you do for fun?
I like to travel, read, go to operas, symphonies, spend time with friends and family and do Pilates. Lately I like to take walks. Some of my neighbors are serious walkers — I just like to saunter!