Jean Shafiroff has a deep desire to help others. Growing up, the USA-native was instilled with the values of kindness, generosity, and the importance of giving back.
As she got older, these values evolved into expansive philanthropic work, and a powerful platform for change.
As the author of “Succcessful Phlianthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give”, Jean wants to inspire others to do the same.
Her fulfilment in life comes from the causes she fights for and the people she uplifts. She is the epitome of a woman in charge, using her influence for good and the betterment of communities all over the globe.
In our exclusive Q&A, Jean chats to Glamour about her humanitarian journey - and how she fills her cup by pouring into others.
You have a passion for society and uplifting communities. When did you realize you have a drive to help others?
When I was very young, I was taught in school that we had an obligation to take care of those who were less fortunate than we were. I attended 12 years of Catholic school where the nuns taught us the importance of giving back.
My family was very middle class. My father was a music teacher in a public school. He truly cared about his students - and his family. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who cared for the family and then did volunteer work at the school and church we attended. I was most fortunate to have parents and teachers who were good role models. They ingrained in me that we must be useful to society and work to be helpful to others.
In the book I wrote Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give, I state that philanthropy needs to be taught in the schools. Parents can be good role models by teaching their children to share and to be kind. Parents can lead by example and teach their children to be caring and useful to those that suffer for many different reasons.
How did you begin your work in this space?
My first career was as a physical therapist at the inner-city hospital, St. Luke's Hospital in New York City. After graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University with a BS in Physical Therapy, I decided to work locally as a physical therapist in New York City. While working at St. Luke's Hospital, I saw a great deal of human suffering. My patients were people who lived at or below the poverty level and who also had serious health issues. Seeing so much suffering reinforced in me that life is not equal and that I must do my best to help. After a short career as a physical therapist, I decided to go back to graduate school, so I returned to Columbia University and attended the Graduate School of Business where I earned an MBA in Finance. I then worked on Wall Street in public finance and private partnerships. Working on Wall Street was a very big change. My education and work experience have all been extremely valuable in my philanthropic work. Education opens many doors.
Regarding my philanthropic work, I started slowly. Initially I volunteered at my daughters' schools. Then I joined a few charity boards where I volunteered my time and services. Today I serve on eight charity boards, chair about eight large fundraising galas each year, and then host many smaller events for different charities. The boards I serve on are the American Humane, NY Women's Foundation, Southampton Hospital Association, Mission Society of NYC, French Heritage Society, Couture Council of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Casita Maria, Southampton Animal Shelter Honorary Board and Global Strays. As I am Catholic, I served on the board of the Jewish Board for 28 years and I am now an Honorary Trustee. I love the volunteer work I do and find it most rewarding.
Regarding my philanthropic work, I started slowly. Initially I volunteered at my daughters' schools. Then I joined a few charity boards where I volunteered my time and services. Today I serve on eight charity boards, chair about eight large fundraising galas each year, and then host many smaller events for different charities. I love the volunteer work I do and find it most rewarding.
What are some of the highlights you’ve achieved through your philanthropic initiatives?
The most important achievement I have received is knowing that I have helped others. You may never meet those you've helped but just knowing that you have contributed to society so others can have a better life is extremely gratifying. Over the years I have given and raised very large sums of money for various charities. My four main areas of focus have been underserved populations, women's rights, health care and animal welfare.
I have been honoured dozens of times by different charities - some international and some local. In 2023, I received a proclamation as the “First Lady of Philanthropy” from the New York State Assembly. I was also recognized by the 117th US Congress for my work in philanthropy. These honours have made me only want to do more to be of service to society.
You’ve interviewed the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Ndaba Mandela. How did that experience impact you? What lessons did you learn from that conversation?
I am a huge fan of Nelson Mandela who was one of the most important men of the last century. His impact on the world always impressed me. Like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela changed the course of history in a very positive way. I was truly honored to interview Ndaba Mandela on my TV show “Successful Philanthropy”. Ndaba Mandela, was raised by his grandfather Nelson Mandela starting at the age of about 13 years old. Ndaba is a highly intelligent man doing a great deal of good through his foundation, The Mandela Institute for Humanity. In my interview, he mentioned that he cared deeply about South Africa and its people. I asked him if he would consider running for political office and he said yes, if his country needed him. This greatly impressed me! This interview was one of my favourites. I have been able to air it on my show often.
Tell us about your television show “Successful Philanthropy”. How does it act as a platform for seasoned and aspiring philanthropists?
On my television show, “Successful Philanthropy”, I have interviewed celebrities, politicians, royalty, philanthropists, and executive directors of different charities. The show gives my guests an opportunity to speak about their work and then their lives. The TV show also serves to motivate others to get involved in the philanthropic process. When others learn about what my guests are doing in the way of charity and philanthropy, they often want to get involved in doing good, too. Hosting and producing a TV show is a fascinating experience!“Successful Philanthropy” airs several times each week and it is my desire to expand the show to new markets.
What are some of the key messages that come across in your book Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give?
The main message of my book is that anyone can become a philanthropist. If you do not have large amounts of money to donate to a cause, you can become a philanthropist by giving your time and knowledge. However, I do believe that those that have financial resources have an obligation to give. Another important message that was conveyed in my book is that giving is greatly rewarding. When we give to help others, we achieve great personal satisfaction. Giving is most often far more satisfying than receiving. The purpose of writing my book was to motivate others and then to serve as a guide for philanthropic work.
How do you champion women empowerment in your work?
Women's rights are vitally important to me. One of the boards I serve on is the New York Women’s' Foundation. Our mission is to empower women out of poverty and to create a just and equitable world for women. We fund many charities that help to make more opportunities for women. Our focus in recent years has been on women of colour.
I recently met with Cherie Blair, the wife of Tony Blair, a former British Prime Minister Cherie Blair is the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation, an international women’s whose mission is to empower women to start, grow and sustain successful businesses so they can redefine the future for themselves and their societies. I have supported her work over the years by donating and telling others about the good work this charity does in many countries throughout the world.
Why do you think it’s important to strive for women in leadership?
Women make up more than half of the world's population. Women absolutely must be involved as leaders in government, business, education, and every other field. A strong education should be available to all women. A good education opens doors to opportunity. Thankfully, I was raised to believe that I could achieve as much as a man could achieve. All women must be given this message. Women make strong leaders and we have seen many female heads of state across the world! I tell everyone: believe in yourself and you can achieve. Work hard, live an honest life, be kind to others and never underestimate your ability to achieve.
Outside your philanthropic work, what are some of your other interests? How do you spend your free time?
I don’t have much spare time as I serve on eight charity boards, host a weekly TV show, and chair and host many philanthropic events each year. In addition, I am working on a new book to be published later this year or early next year. However, when I have free time, I love spending it with friends and family. I also have a passion for fashion, as different designers and styles truly excite me. One of the boards I serve on is the Couture Council of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology. It is one of my greatest honours to be involved with this educational institution.
I personally own a large collection of ball gowns that I have collected over the years, which I will donate to a museum one day. The fashion industry employs millions of people around the world, which is very important to me. Travel is another great passion of mine and I love to do it when I can find the time. Through my social media channels including my Instagram account, I can share my fashion and travel experiences and promote the various charities and designers that I work closely with at this time.
To learn more about Jean Shafiroff, go to JeanShafiroff.com or follow Jean Shafiroff on social media: