Interview with WISE Founders, Maurice Machenbaum and Etienne Eichenberger

Maurice Machenbaum and Etienne Eichenberger are the two co-founders of WISE-philanthropy advisors, a Switzerland-based advisory firm that aims to bring philanthropists closer to impactful projects. Since 2012 the company is also based in Vietnam to cover Asian clients. The two entrepreneurs laid the cornerstone for their organisation twelve years ago on their first collaboration, a project with street children in Central America.

Maurice Machenbaum and Etienne Eichenberger are the two co-founders of WISE-philanthropy advisors, a Switzerland-based advisory firm that aims to bring philanthropists closer to impactful projects. Since 2012 the company is also based in Vietnam to cover Asian clients. The two entrepreneurs laid the cornerstone for their organisation twelve years ago on their first collaboration, a project with street children in Central America.

Today, the two entrepreneurs continue to enforce their vision of a professional approach to philanthropy. They told Tharawat Magazine about the fulfilment of working with entrepreneurs and their families in the quest for positive change.

WISE choses projects carefully based on their ability to impact the lives of people in need in a real way.

WISE chooses projects carefully based on their ability to impact the lives of people in need in a real way.

Tell us about the project that set WISE into motion.

MM: We were working on a project with street children in Nicaragua. Etienne met with a Belgian philanthropist who wanted to support the cause. Our first ever match! He made a donation and we grew from there.

Soon after the project completed, Hurricane Mitch hit and destroyed everything we had built. We then helped the charity to cover the cost attached to the rebuilding. We travelled with our client to show how his engagement made a difference. Our client committed ten years of support after his visit. A few years later he joined us again, but this time as a volunteer. He now lives in Honduras where he takes care of the older children and helps them with their studies. The experience truly transformed his life.

On one side there was an organisation that needed long-term support, on the other an individual wanting to focus his philanthropic activities on a worthwhile cause. We simply connected the two. Our next step was to replicate the experience. How could we connect wealthy people to good, worthwhile projects? And so WISE was born. We founded our company to help people use their money, their time and their skills in impactful ways. Twelve years later we believe that we have proven our model to work.

WISE takes clients on trips to visit philanthropic projects they donate to.

WISE takes clients on trips to visit philanthropic projects they donate to.

How do you identify worthwhile projects?

MM: We begin from the donor’s perspective. Every client gets a tailor-made solution. Some philanthropists want to donate to a cause, others to a specific NGO. It is our job to evaluate opportunities and guide our clients through the process.

In order to promote long-term philanthropic commitment, and a greater experience for him or her, it is imperative that the donor’s aspirations are understood. We usually recommend a 3 to 5-year project commitment, ensuring our donors a way out if the project doesn’t inspire change. We pay a lot of attention to the organisations though, to us, the most important element is the people involved.

Another criterion we pay keen attention to is relevance. You might think that poor children in Vietnam are in need of education and that building schools is intuitively a good idea. However, if you do your research, you’ll find that the government is actually building lots of educational facilities. A better investment would be to ensure that good teachers are employed and materials are available at the existing institutions.