“Making a difference is a privilege” – a premium donor story

Published on Monday, 6th of July 2015

Maria Bondestam, a CMI premium donor, believes in long-term philanthropy.


“Dear President Kekkonen,” began 9-year-old Maria Ahlström her letter to the Finnish head of state. The year was 1973. The spirited girl was worried that someone could get hurt on the dangerous ski jump ramp in her hometown. “Well, why don’t you do something about it?” her father challenged her. “You could write to the president!”

And Maria wrote. Months later, a reply arrived from Kekkonen’s adjutant thanking the young lady for her studious attention. Later on, the ramp was gone.

Taking responsibility

”A coincidence, I guess,” laughs Maria Bondestam more than 40 years later. A coincidence or not, her urge to make a difference has not changed. This is why she, a nurse by profession, also contributes to peacebuilding work.

“No one has opportunities or rights in a war zone. It’s important to delve into the root causes and concentrate on preventing conflicts,” she ponders.

“If educated, financially independent people don’t take responsibility, then who will?”

Born into the Ahlström industrial family, bearing responsibility runs in Bondestam’s blood. The founders of the family business, Antti and Eva Ahlström, were remarkable Finnish philanthropists at the end of the 19th century. They believed that wealth obligates.

”I think that being able to contribute is foremost a privilege,” says Bondestam fiercely. The importance of helping those in need became a reality when she spent 15 years in seven different countries. ”Working in a children’s shelter in a polluted Chinese city taught me that the world is not a good place for all.”

When Bondestam moved back to Finland she wanted to foster discussion on responsibility. “If educated, financially independent people don’t take responsibility, then who will? And if now is not the right time to act, then when is?”

Philanthropy needs to be realistic

In 2010 Bondestam established the Eva Ahlström foundation together with women of her extended family. The foundation focuses on supporting NGOs that work with underprivileged families, especially women and children.

Philanthropy needs to be realistic, Bondestam believes. Every heartbreaking orphanage cannot be supported. It is important to support trustworthy and professional organisations.

“Donating solely money can sound brutal. But we should be wise enough to admit that we cannot be experts in everything. Isn’t it smarter to give financial resources to those who know what they are doing?”

Maria Bondestam is a CMI premium donor since 2014. Read more about becoming a premium donor here.

This story was first published as part of CMI’s annual report in May 2015. You can find the complete annual report here (pdf) or here (web version).