An Austrian heiress, who supports taxing the rich and doesn’t believe in philanthropy, just wrote away a large chunk of her $27 million fortune

When Marlene Engelhorn came into her multi-million-dollar fortune, she wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Her wealth, inherited from the founder of German chemicals company BASF Friedrich Engelhorn, also conflicted with some of the causes she had spearheaded, such as TaxMeNow, a group aimed at fighting wealth inequality.

So, the chemical giant’s 32-year-old heiress decided to give away the bulk of her €25 million ($27 million) fortune to 77 groups that work towards climate change, social reform and other left-wing causes.

A 50-person panel, Guter Rat (“the Good Council” in German), was picked by a polling group and tasked with choosing the sum of money for each group without Engelhorn’s involvement. The panel met for six weekends in Salzburg to discuss how the money could be used and publish the full list of recipients on Tuesday. The goal was to push for a fairer and more transparent way to distribute wealth, one of the panel members said in a statement.

"A large part of my inherited wealth, which elevated me to a position of power simply by virtue of my birth, contradicting every democratic principle, has now been redistributed in accordance with democratic values," Engelhorn said in a statement.

The donation amounts range from €40,000 ($43,000) to €1.63 million ($1.75 million), and the causes include housing, consumer activism, women’s rights, access to education and fighting rare diseases.

"The result is as diverse as the Council itself," Guter Rat's project manager Alexandra Wang said. "Both small and large organizations were considered, as well as young initiatives and long-established organizations."

5 People standing in a line with microphones
5 People standing in a line with microphones

Engelhorn’s contrarian view

Engelhorn has long slammed her “birth lottery” and the Austrian system for its lack of robust taxes on wealth and inheritance—one that left her with a $27 million sum after her grandmother Gertraud Engelhorn-Vechiatto died in 2022.     

When reports of Engelhorn’s plans surfaced in March, she said she wanted to start a discussion on wealth inequality, seeing as her windfall wasn’t taxed following a 2008 Austrian law that abolished inheritance tax.

A number of A-list billionaires have recently given away their wealth. For instance, the Gates Foundation, set up by Bill and Melinda French Gates, has dedicated $8.6 billion to donations this year for causes such as fighting diseases, hunger and poverty. Chuck Feeney, the co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, also gave away all his wealth for education, healthcare and more while he was alive.

However, unlike other billionaires who have dedicated their wealth to philanthropy, such as MacKenzie Scott, Engelhorn doesn’t believe it is the best way to redistribute wealth. A common critique of philanthropy is that it can reinforce the donors’ power in society by directing funds toward their interests and needs.

“Philanthropy is only to be taken seriously when it considers its own abolition,” she told Bloomberg earlier this year. “I can’t wait for my government to tax me. They’re not going to do this anytime soon. But we do need this wealth to be redistributed into society.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

Advertisement