Frank Giustra is the Canadian-born founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, a film production powerhouse launched in Vancouver and now headquartered in Santa Monica, California. The company has grown into a sprawling media conglomerate over the years, and was behind hit films like the “Hunger Games” trilogy and “La La Land.” However, much of Giustra’s wealth, which some estimates put at $1 billion, comes from mining investments. He is CEO of the Fiore Group, a private firm managing a wide range of investments.
In the mid-2000s, Giustra developed a friendship and philanthropic partnership with former President Bill Clinton, first donating $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation, and in 2007, pledging $100 million to the foundation toward an economic development effort called the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative. This kicked off Giustra’s major public giving, though as he tells it in our recent interview, he had been donating anonymously for a while.
The Giustra Foundation focuses on humanitarian and economic issues, supporting women and children, health and education, homelessness and refugee resettlement. And while his philanthropy focused on the Clinton Foundation early on, it’s since expanded quite a bit. For example, Giustra’s foundation is a founding partner of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, which works to help countries around the world open new pathways for refugee protection. Giustra is also a long-running trustee of International Crisis Group (ICG), a nonpartisan think tank working on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict.
In our conversation, I found out more about Giustra’s escalating giving on the global stage, his preference for hands-on philanthropy, and where he expects to go from here.
A philanthropic start
Growing up in an Italian immigrant family of modest means in Canada, Giustra says they placed a premium on hard work and education. This led him to a successful career in business, but he says he’s now mostly dedicated to charitable work. “Ninety percent of my time is focused on my various foundations and initiatives. That’s what’s taking all my time these days,” he explains.
Through his experiences traveling for business, Giustra came to focus on people he observed around the world who were suffering from deep poverty. Giustra says he developed a quick friendship with Bill Clinton, and became a steady backer of the Clinton Foundation, supporting its HIV/AIDS Initiative, Global Initiative and Climate Initiative. “I gave a large sum of money to his AIDS Initiative, which was a really brilliant thing, which he created… basically to make available antiretroviral drugs to developing nations that normally wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Giustra says.
His work with Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation has been a source of controversy at times. News reports have suggested that the relationship helped Giustra build connections in countries where his business was expanding. In particular, New York Times coverage suggested that a multi-country philanthropic tour by the two men also involved Giustra seeking out the rights to uranium deposits in Kazakhstan. That trip became one component of a controversy around Russia’s purchase of Uranium One years later, pushed in large part by the conservative author of “Clinton Cash.”
While the story heightened scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation, there was never any evidence of wrongdoing surrounding Giustra’s donations, and both the Clinton Foundation and Giustra have vehemently pushed back against the implications. Giustra’s team emphasized to me that his philanthropy extends well beyond the Clinton Foundation and in countries where he does not do any business. That includes support for International Crisis Group.
Founded in 1995, International Crisis Group is headquartered in Belgium and is now co-chaired by Giustra. The charity works in countries like Niger, Nepal, Pakistan, Armenia, Venezuela, and Iraq, engaging in field research, analysis and advocacy.
“The reason we’re good at what we do is because we have fact-based field research. Our analysis is very robust, and then we have a really strong advocacy group that takes the recommendations from that research and puts it in front of policymakers that have a stake in it… could be the UN or it could be a particular country,” Giustra tells me.
Ultimately, the nonprofit is in the business of finding peaceful solutions to conflict, or preventing conflict altogether. Giustra says ICG played a big role in helping draft the original Iran nuclear deal back in 2013, as well as an agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) where Former President Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Prize.
ICG puts a premium on talking to all sides, even leaving the door open for the likes of the Taliban and other players. “Maybe you’re not going to find a final peaceful solution, but at least you can avoid bloodshed,” Giustra says. For instance, a few years ago, the organization helped prevent an invasion by Saudi Arabia and the UAE at a Yemeni port city.
Giustra also realized years ago that unless you have peace and security, it’s impossible even to begin tackling other issues like education and food insecurity. His Giustra International Foundation also supports Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an action-oriented think tank that seeks to lay the foundation for an American foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint; and The Sentry, an organization co-founded by George Clooney that “follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers.”
Food security and more
Though he grew up modestly, Giustra’s family did have a large half-acre garden, allowing him ample and nutritious food. This perhaps begins to explain another big interest—all things food.
Last decade, he launched Farmer Magazine, which covers issues that intersect with food, including climate change, food security, and the role of immigrants in the farming world. And during the pandemic, he partnered with South African restaurateur (and Elon Musk’s brother) Kimbal Musk’s Big Green to create the Million Gardens Movement, dedicated to mobilizing 1 million people to grow their own food and reap the benefits of gardening—tapping celebrities like Harrison Ford, Salma Hayek and Zooey Deschanel to spread the word.
Giustra sees the movement having an impact on other issues, citing a study last decade that said if Americans ate just one more serving of fruits or vegetables per day, it would save more than 30,000 lives and $5 billion in medical costs each year.
His other major project in this space is Acceso, which began as an initiative at the Clinton Foundation, but has since spun off into an independent entity. The organization invests start-up capital, manages, and scales agriculture businesses that lift smallholder farmers out of poverty using a farmer services model. “We basically do it by reverse engineering the demand from these large institutional-type buyers. We bring it right to a community. Small farmers, we train them,” he explains.
Acceso works in Latin America and the Caribbean, and includes Acceso Colombia, which sources fruits and vegetables from smallholder farmers in the Andean and Caribbean regions and sells to large local retailers, food service companies, and humanitarian feeding programs at the Colombian-Venezuelan border; and Acceso Haiti, which works with a network of farmers in the country to sell peanuts, mangos and other produce to local and international buyers.
“We’ve seen farmer incomes increased by two or three times.… That’s a difference between sending their kids to school or not sending them to school,” Giustra says, adding that this work also has an impact on migration. “The Biden administration is very focused right now on trying to understand what causes irregular migration. We think in our model… is a solution to that problem.”
Whenever Giustra moves into a new region, he begins with pilot projects, launching past work in poverty alleviation in West Africa, India and Indonesia. Not all of these projects have been successful, but in veteran entrepreneur fashion, he doesn’t seem particularly fazed. In fact, he hopes more philanthropists will adopt this entrepreneurial model.
He also hopes more deep pocketed funders will step up.
“The inequality gap has gone through the roof.… A lot of people are sliding down the other end of the scale. And I think that inequality is dangerous,” he says.