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Roche heirs bid goodbye to ‘unsustainable’ philanthropy

Andre Hoffmann
Andre Hoffmann Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

The heirs of Switzerland’s pharmaceutical company Roche are ending an era as philanthropic donors for major nature conservation projects, the NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Their Mava Foundation, established 25 years ago, will shut down next year. “The traditional form of philanthropy has failed,” Roche Vice Chairman Andre Hoffmann told the German-language weekly in an interview published on Sunday.

Transferring money because you have a guilty conscience doesn’t do any good, the 63-year-old foundation president and economist explained.

“You may feel good about it yourself, but it doesn’t solve the problems,” he said. “Projects that exist only as long as we pay and stop when we withdraw are misguided.”

At last count, the Mava Foundation was involved in 180 projects with 120 partners. Many managed to continue and survive on their own, according to Hoffmann, spokesman for the Roche shareholder pool.

The foundation’s closure has been in the works for years.

Founded in 1994

The foundation, based in the town of Gland, canton Vaud, had been established in 1994. Launched by Hoffmann’s father, Luc, its original aim was to protect unique landscapes such as the Camargue.

Hoffmann told the newspaper he and his children would continue to support projects provided that they are based on a business model that ensured survival.

“The success of a project should not depend on the donor,” he stressed.

Hoffmann, who is involved in more than a dozen charitable activities, also called for greater accountability from companies when consumption of their products causes harm.

Food manufacturers, for example, should have to answer for health damage caused by excessive sugar content in their products, he said.

Greenwashing

He also criticised the way many companies still develop products without paying attention to their ecological footprint. It is only later that something is donated.

These companies, he argues, are guilty of greenwashing. “It’s not how you spend the money that matters, it’s how you do it,” he said.

Hoffmann believes the financial industry has the highest potential to make an impact because “it determines where the capital of pension funds and other investors goes”.

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