Charity Begins With Oprah

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

With a yearly income said to be in the $200 million range, Oprah Winfrey reached billionaire status in 2003. But while she may live large, she also gives large.
Ms. Winfrey has donated more than $50 million to charity, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, landing her a spot on last year’s prestigious Chronicle of Philanthropy as one of America’s top donors. She became the first person to receive the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences at the 2002 Primetime Emmy Awards in recognition of her ongoing support of numerous human rights causes.
Ms. Winfrey’s humble and at times traumatic background is what inspires her to speak for people, especially children, who don’t have a voice, her friends and colleagues said.

“She’s a real humanist,” said Dianne Hudson, former executive producer of Ms. Winfrey’s talk show and current president of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which was established in 1987. “It’s in her nature. She’s always been this way, and her foundation is just a more formal philanthropic effort.”
Ms. Hudson said Oprah is extremely clear about her goal-to educate as many children as possible. And she’s wasting no time doing just that. Along with Free the Children, a nonprofit that builds schools around the world, her private foundation has already had a hand in launching 35 schools in countries including Haiti, India, China and many in South America and Africa. Her foundation has also worked with Help the Afghan Children, another nonprofit. The organization has built two schools in Afghanistan and is slated to build four more.
Her National Scholars Program awards scholarships to students who plan to use their education to give back to their communities. There’s also the Oprah Winfrey African Women Fellowships, a partnership with New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, an endowed program that helps educate African women for leadership positions in their home countries.
Passion for Giving
Add to that list A Better Chance, a nonprofit that awards scholarships to students with merit, for which Ms. Winfrey is the national spokesperson.
Ten years after she began her private foundation, Ms. Winfrey decided to share with her viewing audience her passion for giving and announced the launch of Oprah’s Angel Network. The public charity, launched on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” is funded by viewer donations and celebrity sponsors and contributors who often match the dollars collected. The charities reflect Ms. Winfrey’s values, and her large staff is constantly researching worthy charities spanning the globe. Frequent on-air updates let contributors know where their money is being directed.
To date, the Angel Network has raised $17 million.
To reward those fighting the good fight with less than Ms. Winfrey’s resources, there is the $100,000 Use Your Life Award, which she established to give a helping hand to those who are working to improve the lives of others. Winners are announced online.
Asked how directly involved the talk show hostess is with all this largesse, Ms. Hudson said, “Very. Remember, Oprah still signs all the checks herself.”
Through all the years of giving, no gesture seems to have had quite the impact of her emotional trips to South Africa. In 2002 Ms. Winfrey told her audience that she was determined to give children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic the best Christmas of their lives. She and her team, including 40 Harpo employees who volunteered three weeks of their vacation time to travel to South Africa, brought gifts of clothing, shoes, books and toys.
After the “ChristmasKindness” special aired, viewers contributed $6 million toward helping those children.
“I’ve been blown away by people’s willingness to help and do good,” Ms. Hudson said. “People wrote in and said, `We’ll pack up our family; I’ll quit my job, just tell me where to go.’ Oprah increases awareness through example. Most people have no idea of the AIDS pandemic because they don’t realize the number of children who have been affected.”
Recently Ms. Winfrey’s foundation broke ground on a public school outside Johannesburg, South Africa, scheduled to open in 2006. The Leadership Academy for Girls comes directly from her belief that “women will change the world.”
The foundation is also exploring partnering with groups that could offer satellite dishes, monitors and generators to provide educational tools to as many children as possible in the most remote areas.
Expect more projects to come. As Ms. Winfrey said at her recent 50th birthday party, “I’m just getting started.”