BNP Paribas Foundation : 40 years of reinvention and societal challenges

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Fondation de France Convention, founding act of the Fondation Paribas, 1984 - BNP Paribas Archives & History

Fondation de France Convention, founding act of the Fondation Paribas, 1984 - BNP Paribas Archives & History

Since 2000, BNP Paribas Foundation has been continuing the philanthropic action initiated in 1984 by its predecessor, Paribas Foundation. 2024 marks the 40th anniversary of a long-term philanthropy project closely linked to the ever-renewed challenges and social changes.
The ideal opportunity to put into perspective the history of French corporate philanthropy emerging from the 19th century and the Group’s contribution in this field. Back to highlights of BNP Paribas’s and its forerunners commitment, growing in fields as diverse as solidarity, health, culture, entrepreneurship and the environment.

The 19th century : Businessmen initiatives or the beginnings of philanthropic engagement

Partnership between the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Paribas Foundation in 1991. BNP Paribas Archives & History.
Partnership between the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Paribas Foundation in 1991. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

The first philanthropic initiatives emerged in the 19th century in the context of the Second Industrial Revolution. They are often businessmen who choose to support social actions linked to health, education, scientific research or culture, with which they share a private proximity.

​In particular, business bankers at the head of BNP Paribas forerunners participated in some of these actions. Alexis Rostand, president of the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris in 1910, Isaac de Camondo, administrator at the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas in 1901, and Henri Cernuschi, one of the founders of the Banque de Paris in 1869, were in turn illustrated by their philanthropic work.

The Bischoffsheim family is a outstanding example. Louis Raphaël Bischoffsheim (1800-1873), one of the founders of Paribas, helped professional schools or financed scientific and medical studies through charity, and was president of the Philotechnical Association. In 1866 he even built the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris to host conferences and concerts. His commitments were pursued by his son, Raphaël Bischoffsheim (1823-1906), in a sponsorship of scientific research. The latter helped Charles Garnier to build the Nice Observatory, owned by the University of Paris. Raphaël Bischoffsheim is also a free member of the Academy of Sciences. Its commitments were encouraged by French legislation favouring donations, bequests and subsidies to faculties and schools of higher education (decrees of 25 July and 28 December 1885).

From the 1960s onwards, André Malraux, a writer passionate about art and above all minister for cultural affairs, gave new impetus to patronage by directing part of the State’s actions towards the development of foundations. In 1969, the Fondation de France was founded. The Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) and Paribas both participate in the endowment enabling it to be created.

However, the two banks initially invest in projects under direct control, without a dedicated administrative structure. The financial support provided by BNP and Paribas to the Carnavalet Museum is part of this process. The two institutions also donated art deco furniture to the Café de Paris.

In the 1970s, Paribas committed its first support to the world of health and scientific research : Fondation pour la recherche médicale, Institut du glaucoma and UNESCO.

The rise of corporate philanthropy in France

The creation of the Fondation de France represents a first acceleration in the history of the development of corporate philanthropy, which had not undergone any major development until then. Corporate philanthropy initiatives proliferated in the 1980s under the impetus of a new Minister for Culture. Based on their past contribution to philanthropy projects focused on culture, social and medical assistance, and scientific research, BNP and Paribas choose two different models to manage their philanthropic activities.

Paribas Foundation embodies the Bank’s philanthropy efforts

From 1983, Paribas wanted to better structure its philanthropic commitments. In the same period, the State is increasing its incentives to develop corporate philanthropy. A new impetus was given by the creation of the Association for the Development of Industrial and Commercial Patronage (Admical) in 1979 and by the national approach to philanthropic thinking symbolised by the Heritage Year of 1980. The Bank’s corporate philanthropy committee, headed by François Debiesse, Head of Private Banking at Paribas, is preparing the creation of its Foundation. The report of the patronage committee of 10 June 1983 sets out the four objectives to be adopted as pillars of the Foundation :

  • Assistance to disabled people through equity participation in companies employing disabled people;
  • Supporting heritage by reintegrating historical heritage from abroad (books, manuscripts, objects…);
  • Aid for scientific and technological research;
  • Organisation of cultural events in the Orangerie.

In parallel with the Foundation, François Debiesse created a philanthropy council within the bank and a Philanthropy Award.
The banking sector is becoming a must in corporate philanthropy. Paribas Foundation was set up on 13 February 1984 under the aegis of the Fondation de France. Helping projects with a humanitarian, cultural, educational and scientific purpose is the mission of this new organisation, as stated in Article 3 of the founding convention: …The purpose of this organisation is to grant aid to persons, works or bodies whose activities are of a humanitarian, cultural, educational and research nature.”

Quatuor Ysaye, concert at the Orangerie, circa 1990. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Quatuor Ysaye, concert at the Orangerie, circa 1990. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Jazz concert given to the Orangerie with Manuel Rocheman, George Mraz, Al Foster in April 2000. Archives and History BNP Paribas with reference 2IMP1_72.

Jazz concert given to the Orangerie with Manuel Rocheman, George Mraz, Al Foster in April 2000. BNP Paribas Archives & History reference 2IMP1_72.

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Partnership between Delta 7 Autisme and the Paribas Foundation. Press meeting on the occasion of the opening of the first Educational Centre for Young People with Autism in May 1989. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Partnership between Delta 7 Autisme and Paribas Foundation. Press meeting on the occasion of the opening of the first Educational Centre for Young People with Autism in May 1989. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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From left to right: at the request of a Paribas employee, participation in the editing and promotion of this brochure to help SOS mucoviscidose; participation in an exhibition for the benefit of the Pasteur Institute and an extract from the letter from the Paribas Foundation of February 1999. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

From left to right: at the request of a Paribas employee, participation in the editing and promotion of this brochure to help SOS mucoviscidose; participation in an exhibition for the benefit of the Pasteur Institute and an extract from the letter from Paribas Foundation of February 1999. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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In the 1980s, the tax and regulatory framework for French foundations changed. The law of 23 July 1987 on the development of corporate philanthropy recognises them as being of public utility. This development reinforces Paribas’ decision to develop its philanthropic action through a Foundation.
From 1984, the strategy was led by Martine Tridde-Mazloum, General Delegate of Paribas Foundation. The bank reinforces its initiated commitments in the fields of culture, social affairs, scientific and medical research. Typical patronage activities of this period include : the creation of the Institut du glaucoma at the Hôpital Saint-Joseph in 1990; the partnership with the Association de la Fondation étudiante pour la Ville (AFEV) in 1996; support for the creations of Angelin Brejlocaj since 1989; and Gabriel Garrido for his musical fresco les Chemins du Baroque in 1992. ‘Museums and Monuments’ is another flagship initiative of the Foundation to publish a collection of multilingual art catalogues. In the end, the bank joined more than 93 museums in France and 26 worldwide. A beautiful legacy left at World Heritage !

BNP Paribas Foundation, Researcher profiles. The quest for science, supplement to the internal BNP Paribas Ambitions magazine, May 2006. Archives & History BNP Paribas reference PER1_2006_2.

BNP Paribas Foundation, Researcher profiles. The quest for science, supplement to the internal BNP Paribas Ambitions magazine, May 2006. BNP Paribas Archives & History reference PER1_2006_2.

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Invitation to the conference "Les cordons de la vie" given by the association Greffe de moëlle cordon ombilical in the context of medical research at Hôpital Saint-Louis, accompanied by the Paribas Foundation. 1991. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Invitation to the conference “Les cordons de la vie” given by the association Greffe de moëlle cordon ombilical in the context of medical research at Hôpital Saint-Louis, accompanied by Paribas Foundation. 1991. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Representation of a creation by Angelin Prejlocaj around 1990. Photograph by P. Victor. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Representation of a creation by Angelin Prejlocaj around 1990. Photograph by P. Victor. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Left : Gabriel Garrido at a concert in the 1990s. Right : the cover of one of the publications produced as part of the operation "Museums and Monuments" at the Musée d'Orsay in 2008. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Left : Gabriel Garrido at a concert in the 1990s. Right : the cover of one of the publications produced as part of the operation “Museums and Monuments” at the Musée d’Orsay in 2008. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Corporate philanthropy : the choice of the Banque Nationale de Paris

Poster from the exhibition "Love. The Barnes Collection: 72 masterpieces" at the Musée d'Orsay from 8 September 1993 to 2 January 1994. Archives and History BNP Paribas with reference 4af669
Poster from the exhibition “Love. The Barnes Collection: 72 masterpieces” at the Musée d’Orsay from 8 September 1993 to 2 January 1994. BNP Paribas Archives & History – 4af669

At the same time, BNP chose to directly manage its corporate philanthropy but also structures its projects in order to foster dialogue between the economic world and the world of culture, social affairs and science. The idea is to be part of long-term projects aimed at encouraging artistic expression and promoting French heritage.

In the 1980s, and with the state’s encouragement of corporate philanthropy, fine partnerships were forged in the worlds of music, dance and literary creation, such as the Young Writer’s Award in 1984, which saw the emergence of a new generation of authors, including Marie Darieussecq who won in 1988, the creation of the Maison de la Danse in Lyon in 1986, the Piano des Jacobins Festival in 1987 and the sponsorship of the iconic Barnes Exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay in 1993-1994.

Whether it is the originator or the contributor of the projects, BNP chooses to be involved over time. This is particularly the case with the “BNP for Art” programme, which contributes to the restoration or promotion of major works of art between 1994 and 2017. It will be renamed “BNP Paribas pour l’art” in 2000. The Barnes Collections’ exhibition at the Orsay Museum in 1993 had an unprecedented impact on the public and the world of Art. Other restorations, such as the ceiling of the Salon d’Hercule at the Château de Versailles, which the bank has been supporting since 1994. Between 1998 and 2002, the bank completed its work with a new book programme. Called “BNP pour Lire”, it aims to promote the French language throughout the world. The boldness of Anne de Lacretelle, who is responsible for sponsorship of the BNP management, in the creation of the “BNP pour Lire” system made it possible to carry out an unprecedented campaign to promote French literature among French Alliances throughout the world.

Extract from the promotional brochure "BNP Pour l'Art" circa 1990. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Extract from the promotional brochure “BNP Pour l’Art” circa 1990. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Left : photograph of Patrick Riou taken at the "Piano aux Jacobins" festival in September 2000. On the right is the cover of the 2002 "Piano aux Jacobins" festival booklet. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Left : photograph of Patrick Riou taken at the “Piano aux Jacobins” festival in September 2000. On the right is the cover of the 2002 “Piano aux Jacobins” festival booklet. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Left : cover of the book by the winner of the 1988 Young Writer's Award, Marie Darieussecq. Right : cover and fourth cover of the book published on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Young Writer's Award in 2009. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Left : cover of the book by the winner of the 1988 Young Writer’s Award, Marie Darieussecq. Right : cover and fourth cover of the book published on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Young Writer’s Award in 2009. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Poster of the BNP Paribas Foundation's 30-year communication campaign, Maria Nowak, 2014. BNP Paribas Archives & History with reference 5AF1313.
Poster of the BNP Paribas Foundation’s 30-year communication campaign, Maria Nowak, 2014. BNP Paribas Archives & History reference 5AF1313.

Also in the 1980s, BNP saw the protection of nature and the environment as a new commitment. The bank received the “Enterprises and Nature Heritage” award in 1988 following actions carried out in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which began in 1987. This partnership is also an opportunity to raise awareness among its young clientele about preserving biodiversity through their parents. BNP puts at the service of this cause all its assets in France: its national presence due to its banking network, its communication power and its ability to federate.

BNP’s philanthropic landscape is almost complete. All that is missing is the highlighting of entrepreneurs who cannot be financed through the so-called “traditional” credit granting channels. In 1989, Maria Nowak founded and chaired the Association pour le droit à l’initiative économique (ADIE). Its aim is to create a virtuous circle by giving a chance to job-seekers who will themselves bring jobs and wealth.

The partnership with ADIE, a commitment of almost 30 years.
Originally supported by both Paribas and BNP, the partnership with the association was renewed in February 2001, when BNP Paribas Foundation was created. Michel Pébereau and Maria Nowak, an economist, specialising in micro-credit, are undoubtedly the Group’s strong partnership with this association, which helps those excluded from bank credit to set up their businesses.

BNP Paribas Foundation in tune with societal challenges

The year 2000 marked the merger between Banque Nationale de Paris and Paribas. As their services learn to work together, the two entities pool their technical expertise and teams. But not only… François Debiesse, President of Paribas Foundation, and Antoine Sire, BNP’s Director of Communications, also want to make their corporate philanthropy complementary. Based on their respective experiences, BNP Paribas Foundation is the first of all entities in the newly formed group. It is the union of a strong and well-oiled administrative machinery with a multi-branch network. Social, cultural and environmental issues were already common, and outreach will increase tenfold.

While in 2003, the Aillagon law strengthened the tax advantages relating to foundations, BNP Paribas Foundation’s commitments increased. At the same time, ADIE continues its work of integrating and valorising talent. The French economic and social reality is stimulating the Bank’s projects. BNP Paribas understands the issues and concerns related to the city and territories. The Group wishes to become a major player by building on its Foundation and the diversity of its businesses.

Thus, the bank is associated with the Seine-Saint-Denis department and is developing several major projects with the help of these historical partner associations: Adie and Afev. In response to the social problems of youth revealed during the 2005 riots, BNP Paribas launched the “Projet Banlieues” in collaboration with its network of branches throughout the country. In particular, it supports associations working in priority neighbourhoods for school inclusion and social and occupational integration with the aim of ‘better living together’.

The partnership with this department also led to the rehabilitation of a former industrial complex in an office building on the site of the Grands Moulins de Pantin and also to support for the Académie populaire de la Santé en Seine-Saint-Denis after the COVID-19 pandemic.

By combining its actions, BNP Paribas becomes a major economic and social player in this department in just a few years. She and the large Paris-based business bank can mobilise all levels of its activity towards societal challenges.

In 2015, the “Odyssée jeunes” programme, which finances school trips for secondary school students from the 93’s, complements the Foundation’s youth programme. Similarly, during COVID19, a Youth Solidarity Plan is being implemented. The societal dimension extends to helping refugees by promoting their integration and joining the Association of the Student Foundation for the City (AFEV).

Photograph taken during an intervention by the Association of the Student Foundation for the City in 2000. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Photograph taken during an intervention by the Association of the Student Foundation for the City in 2000. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Cover and cover of the book of the exhibition "Humanité bio-inspirée une autre approche" held at the Cité des sciences et de l'industrie in 2020. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Cover and cover of the book of the exhibition “Humanité bio-inspirée une autre approche” held at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie in 2020. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Cover of the 2009 "Coup de Pouce" book, introduction by Martine Tridde-Mazloum. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Cover of the 2009 “Coup de Pouce” book, introduction by Martine Tridde-Mazloum. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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Coverage and fourth cover of the summary book of the operation Odyssée Jeunes between 2010 and 2012. Archives and History BNP Paribas.

Coverage and fourth cover of the summary book of the operation Odyssée Jeunes between 2010 and 2012. BNP Paribas Archives & History.

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It was also in 2015 that Jean-Jacques Goron, then General Delegate of the Foundation since 2013, launched the international Dream’up programme, dedicated to the dissemination of artistic practices in disadvantaged social environments.

BNP Paribas Foundation does not forget its classics and extends its support to artistic creation, jazz, circus arts and dance. New artists were accompanied, such as Mourad Merzouki from 2003 to 2012, Anne Paceo, La Horde and Ablaye Cissoko. In 2021, under the aegis of Isabelle Giordano, General Delegate of the Foundation and Global Head of Philanthropy of the Group, the Foundation joined with Villa Médicis for the residence programme aimed at young people in vocational lycées. New territories are being explored to continue the Group’s commitment, whether with SINGA Global or the Women’s Foundation in 2022.

The environmental aspect is no exception, since in 2010 BNP Paribas Foundation is once again highlighting the urgent need to act on climate issues. The objective is to support scientific research on climate and biodiversity by creating the “Climate initiative”, evolving over time and renamed the “Climate & Biodiversity Initiative” in 2019, continuing with the first partnerships of the 1980s and 1990s.

As demonstrated by the synergies of application for each of its projects, BNP Paribas uses all of its powers to act and unite around societal challenges. The social impact of the enterprise is now inseparable from its economic role. And all the Group’s expertise and businesses are part of this commitment. Employees can contribute through mechanisms such as the “Coup de Pouce” programme, enabling them to support associations in which employees are involved. The “help” program was confirmed and became “Help2Help”.

It was natural to combine the philanthropic actions of the company and its CSR commitment into a single entity. In 2017, the Corporate Engagement Department was created to lead clients, employees, business development and support to projects and creators in one step.

Corporate philanthropy and customer care: BNP Paribas endowment fund initiative

BNP Paribas endowment fund

The Group’s philanthropic commitment and philanthropy are also reflected in its historical archives

Once again, BNP Paribas has had the opportunity to mobilise all its businesses by preparing its Foundation for 40 years. In fact, a project to collect and use the archives was carried out by the Archives and History Department in close collaboration with BNP Paribas Foundation. This project was carried out in 2022 following an initial construction site in association with the École nationale des Chartes. Then, at a second archive site, this one was completed in 2022-2023. A campaign to digitise certain archives completes the project.
BNP Paribas Foundation’s heritage collections consist of more than 15 linear metres of historical archives and a collection of oral archives. They are kept in the archives and history department and are available for consultation by researchers.

La Fondation BNP Paribas en 7 dates

1960s : birth of the desire of the public authorities to develop cultural sponsorship by means of aid for the creation of foundations

1969 : Creation of Fondation de France, which is the matrix of future foundations

1973 : Creation of the Fondation Nationale Entreprise et Performance to which 11 public sector companies, including BNP

1984 : Creation of the Paribas Foundation

1987 : Law of 23 July 1987 recognising public utility foundations

2000 : merger between BNP and Paribas: creation of the BNP Paribas Foundation

2003 : Aillagon law providing unprecedented tax advantages to corporate philanthropy

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