Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is a registered charity[1] founded in England in 1961. It is one of the larger independent grantmaking foundations based in the UK, funding organisations which aim to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK.


The Foundation funds projects in the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change. The charity gives £20 - 40 million annually in grants or investments towards conservation work, community energy projects, national parks and biodiversity work.[2][3][4]

The charity initially funded projects to increase understanding and research in economics as well as social welfare.[4]:6 This included lectures, research fellowships and professorial chairs in the area of economics and mathematics. Examples include the Annual Esmée Fairbairn Lecture at the University of Lancaster,[5] an Esmée Fairbairn Junior Research Fellowship in Mathematics at New College, University of Oxford[6] and the Esmée Fairbairn Chair of Finance at the London Business School from 1966–1976. In the 1970s it began to fund projects in the arts, environment and heritage as well.[4]:6,7

It now focuses on areas where other funders are unlikely to be available. This includes novel and more risky projects. It may provide core funding and loans rather than grants. The Foundation also initiates some projects such as "Rethinking Crime & Punishment" in 2002–2005.[4]:9

In 2020, as a response to structural inequality, climate change and Covid19, the charity launched a new strategy that involved providing longer-term support to pre-determined areas rather than simply responding to requests. The overall objective was to ensure it achieved as much as it could with its resources and access, in particular collaborating with other like-minded organisations.[7]


As income from the endowment and the number of grants grew in the 1990s, the charity increased the number of trustees and appointed administrative staff. An investment committee was also required after the initial endowment was sold. From 2008 the charity has made some social investments.[4]:8

Trustees include Sir Jonathan Phillips (chair, from 2019), Tom Chandos, Joe Docherty, John Fairbairn, Beatrice Hollond, Thomas Hughes-Hallett, Kate Lampard, William Sieghart, Eleanor Updale and Edward Bonham-Carter.[8] The chair was Jeremy Hardie from 2003 to 2007[4]:7 Tom Chandos and then James Hughes-Hallett until 2019.

Edgar Palamountain was appointed in 1980 as the charity's first director (part-time) and was succeeded by Sir Robert Andrew in 1989.[4]:8 Margaret Hyde was appointed as Director in 1994[4]:9 and then Dawn Austwick was Chief Executive Officer from 2008 to 2014[9] and was succeeded by Caroline Mason.[10]


The charity was founded by in 1961 by Ian Fairbairn, a pioneer of unit trust investments, and named for his second wife who was killed in World War II.[11] Her sons Paul and Oliver Stobart were co founders. The endowment gave the charity 33% of the shares in the M&G Group plc investment trust and a regular income. This ended when it was sold to Prudential Corporation PLC in 1999 for £625 million, but allowed alternative investments that increased the income of the charity.[4]:8[12]


  1. ^ "Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, registered charity no. 200051". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  2. ^ "About Us". Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  3. ^ "Esmee Fairbairn Foundation - charity overview". Charity Commission. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Esmee Fairbairn Foundation - Annual Report 2010. Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. 2011. p. 68. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  5. ^ "Esmee Fairbairn Lecture - Andy Haldane". University of Lancaster, Department of Economics. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  6. ^ "New College". University of Cambridge alumni. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  7. ^ "Caroline Mason: A new strategy for the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation – if not now, then when?". Civil Society. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  8. ^ "Meet our trustees". Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  9. ^ "Interview: Dawn Austwick". Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Woman's Hour Power List 2020: The List". BBC Radio4. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  11. ^ "Meet our trustees". Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  12. ^ Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

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