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Wallis Annenberg Brightens Los Angeles One Project at a Time

“Los Angeles is my home. It’s where I’ve been very happy, and I want to give back to this community,” says philanthropist Wallis Annenberg. Annenberg has done just that, leveraging her financial resources and her ability to convene public and private players to contribute projects such as a tree house that is wheelchair accessible and a theater made from out of an old post office.

In fact, since Wallis Annenberg assumed leadership of her late father, Walter’s, foundation in 2009, the Annenberg Foundation has given more than a quarter of a billion dollars to over 500 organizations, many of which bear their name. To do this, Annenberg, together with Executive Director Leonard Aube, have pounded the pavement in search of the most visionary nonprofit leaders in Los Angeles, and supported them not only through grants but also by building their leadership skills, particularly their relationships with their boards.

Annenberg’s own board is comprised of Annenberg and three of her children, each of whom, in addition to managing a joint portfolio of grants, exercise individual grantmaking discretion. Beyond her board, Wallis Annenberg has taken care to build a culture of teamwork at her foundation and to share responsibilities, so that every staff member has a chance to connect directly with grantees.

Though Annenberg’s philanthropy has been enormous over the last decade, she readily admits her favorite projects are relatively modest in scope. Take, for example, the Annenberg Community Beach House, which offers public access to the California coast. “If I can do these little things,” says Annenberg, “I’m very proud of that.”

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It never feels like work or that it's a toil. The idea that you get to roll out of bed in the morning and do what can, that day, make a positive difference or impact on somebody else's quality of life? It's not work. We always see it as an incredible pleasure.

Collaboration. A lot of philanthropists you'll find, they want to be like my dad: that's a one-man show. I don't think he ever collaborated. But to me that is a great privilege, to be able to get the state, the community at hand, the philanthropy, the public, all on the same page.

The nicest compliment I can get is when people say, ‘Oh, we love the show at the [Annenberg] Photography Space’ or, I've had people walk up to me on the street, ‘Thank you for the [Annenberg] beach club.’ That's the reward.