The fourth-generation Rockefeller and her husband are making strategic investments in renewable energy sources through the Growald Family Fund

Rising temperatures, melting glaciers and extreme weather conditions—climate change is undoubtedly the biggest existential crisis facing our planet today. A recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report suggests that the world needs to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Recently in Singapore, Eileen Rockefeller Growald, great-granddaughter of oil magnate John D Rockefeller, who was the first American billionaire, says, “Climate change is the greatest threat to our planet. Our survival is at risk and without it, supporting other issues is futile.” The daughter of banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller and his wife, Peggy, shares, “Humans are part of something much larger in the natural world. We have an obligation to care for the earth because it is the foundation of life for all.”

Growald Family Fund

With the belief that philanthropy plays an important role in de-risking the market for investing in environmental protection, Rockefeller Growald, together with her entrepreneur husband, Paul Growald, founded the Growald Family Fund more than a decade ago to help reduce the effects of climate change. The fund focuses its grantmaking on the global energy transition. Growald explains, “When we talk about decarbonising the global economy, there are already technologies out there to address this, and more will emerge over time. We are convinced that there are opportunities on both the business and philanthropic fronts, but it would depend on financial institutions and individuals making investments in these areas.”

The Growald Family Fund evaluates potential and existing grantees based on a venture philanthropy model that looks at factors such as innovative approaches with high-impact potential, measurable results and scalability. “In the same way investors look at early-stage companies that have the potential to grow in profits, we look at organisations that have the potential to grow philanthropically with high impact. We have seen first-hand how we can achieve huge impacts with relatively small grant dollars paired with technical assistance. It is very rewarding,” says Growald.

Importance of collaboration

Richard Ditizio, president and COO of the Milken Institute, a US-based non-profit and non-partisan think tank, agrees that “venture philanthropy makes great sense as a tool for donors in setting the strategies of their philanthropic portfolios, and I very much like the notion of the recyclability of capital which many venture philanthropy models seek to achieve. By marrying the expectations of social and financial return, a clearer set of accountability metrics tends to emerge, and you can attract pools of capital from varying sources toward the cause”.

One of the Growald Family Fund’s first seed grants is the Beyond Coal campaign run by the non-profit Sierra Club, which advocates for the closure of coal plants, while halting new plants from being built across the US, Europe and Asia. Former New York mayor and billionaire philanthropist, Michael Bloomberg, has also pledged his support since 2011, and recently announced a US$500m investment in a new Beyond Carbon initiative, extending the cause to other fossil fuels.

Recognising that climate change is an issue beyond one individual or institution, the Growald Family Fund sees the importance of collaborations with other foundations and non-profit organisations on the path towards a clean energy future. At the Global Climate Action Summit held in San Francisco last September, it committed US$25m—specifically to the electricity sector—to address global climate change, alongside 28 other foundations and philanthropists including the Hewlett Foundation.

Humans are part of something much larger in the natural world. We have an obligation to care for the earth because it is the foundation of life for all
Eileen Rockefeller Growald
My father used to give us an allowance every week. We were taught to spend one-third, save one-third, and give away one-third—that really was the beginning.
Eileen Rockefeller Growald

A legacy of giving

Now entering its seventh generation, the Rockefellers are known for their philanthropic work undertaken through the various family foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and David Rockefeller Fund. This mindset of giving has been shaped since the early days. Rockefeller Growald shares, “My father used to give us an allowance every week. We were taught to spend one-third, save one-third, and give away one-third—that really was the beginning.”

Growald offers this insight, “The glue that holds the family together is this common interest in helping to improve the world, and being stewards of preserving the family’s wealth in order to make a difference. It’s not just about giving money, but having a larger idea of purpose.”

Home is on an organic farm

The Growalds are walking the talk when it comes to climate action. For more than 20 years now, they have been living on an organic farm in the US state of Vermont, and supporting various sustainable and environmental protection endeavours in their community.

On the legacy that they hope to leave behind, Rockefeller Growald reveals, “I want to be remembered for having done my best at protecting our world—with nature and the environment.” Growald, meanwhile, is philosophical: “That I used my life for something that outlasted it.” Surely, everyone will thank them for that.

  • PhotographyBenny Loh
  • Art DirectionJana Tan
  • HairBenedict Choo
  • Make-UpBenedict Choo, using Giorgio Armani Beauty
  • LocationNational Gallery Singapore