Charity: The Olav Thon Foundation


James Drew highlights a charity foundation that has a penchant for the natural sciences.

Renowned property developer and philanthropist Olav Thon, the founder of the Olav Thon Foundation, was born in 1923 on the Thon farm in Hallingdal, Norway. From helping out on a daily basis with tasks around the farm, he became extremely interested in trade from a very young age. When he was eight years old, he ordered Christmas cards from Utstyrmagasinet, a mail-order catalogue based in Oslo, and went around the village selling them.

As a young teenager, he began to buy and sell leather. As educational opportunities had become hard to come by because of World War II, he increased his trading activities instead. He became the owner and manager of a fur shop in Majorstuen in Oslo – Volvat Pels – at just 18 years of age. After the war, he also travelled abroad and traded wholesale. He accrued funds that he invested in real estate, which he soon found to be a lasting and solid investment.  As a property developer, Olav Thon built up an extensive portfolio over the years. He started with apartment buildings and shopping centres, and later invested in hotels. In 2013 – when a significant share of his capital was transferred to the Olav Thon Foundation – he owned around 70 shopping centres and a similar number of hotels, both in Norway and abroad.

Then, in December 2013, the Olav Thon Foundation came into being, with Thon transfering the majority of his assets – shares in Olav Thon Gruppen AS, worth NOK 25 billion (€2.7 billion) – to the charity foundation. The primary purpose of the foundation is to conduct the business activities of the Olav Thon Group and underlying companies in accordance with the main business management principles adopted by Olav Thon. Of the foundation’s profits, up to NOK 50 million (€5.3 million) – sometimes as much as NOK 100 million (€10.6 million) – may be awarded to charitable causes, mainly relating to research within the natural sciences, as defined in the foundation’s articles of association.

The Olav Thon Foundation awarded its first research prizes and grants on 5 March 2015, and future awards will be made at around the same time each year. The prizes are awarded at a ceremony in the University of Oslo Aula, with a subsequent gala dinner at the Hotel Bristol to honour the winners. Other funding for purposes within the foundation’s specified areas is awarded more informally throughout the course of the year.