Madonna’s Charity to Build School in Malawi Collapses

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March 25, 2011; Source: New York Times | Madonna’s announcement that she has halted plans to build a $15 million boarding school for girls, called the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, has received lots of press attention, but something is missing in those reports. According to the New York Times, $3.8 million had been spent by the singer’s charity, Raising Malawi, without a lick of construction before it shut the project down.

Apparently, the executive director, Philippe van den Bossche, the boyfriend of Madonna’s personal trainer, left the organization in October after criticisms for “what auditors described as outlandish expenditures on salaries, cars, office space . . . a golf course membership, free housing, and a car and driver for the school’s director.” The auditors were philanthropic advisors from the Global Philanthropy Group, a commercial firm Madonna hired last November to take a fresh look at the failing venture. The GPG report whacked van den Bossche and others associated with the project, but there’s still more to the story.

What’s missing is full transparency from a group that has spent millions with few results except for dashed hopes, and lots of confusion.

Some people think the GPG report scapegoated van den Bossche and sidestepped criticizing Michael Berg, the executive director of the Kabbalah Centre International, and Madonna herself, because Raising Malawi was supposedly Berg’s idea and largely under his control. The Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre International, an organization devoted to Jewish mysticism, also financially backed the project.

We checked, and lo and behold, Raising Malawi’s 990s show that it is structured as a supporting organization of Berg’s Kabbalah Centre International. Raising Malawi is also described as being related to Berg-affiliated Kabbalah Centres in California, New York, and Florida, plus the Kabbalah Centre-related Spirituality for Kids Foundation. The various Kabbalah Centres are described in the Raising Malawi 990s as 501(c)(3)s, but there are no 990s on these organizations after 2000.

Raising Malawi lists two for-profit private corporations as related entities, KAF LLC and Kabbalah Enterprises, both with the same address as the Kabbalah Centre. According to the 990, van den Bossche was paid $84,000 by Raising Malawi and another $56,000 from Raising Malawi-related organizations (for example, $28,000 as development director for Spirituality for Kids).

Raising Malawi, Spirituality for Kids, and the Kabbalah Centre have all received huge grants from Madonna’s own Ray of Light Foundation. The financial transactions to and through these nested organizations could bear a bit of scrutiny. Madonna says that she will continue the charity to address secondary school education in Malawi. She might also want to explain the now fruitless expenditure of millions of dollars to the confused and angry Malawian education minister or the line staff of Raising Malawi who were summarily laid off.—Rick Cohen

  • imeanwhat

    Can you believe that $3.8mill of the funding for the school magically vanished? See what happened @imeanwhat

  • Darolo

    There is no fraud here by Michael Berg and the Kabbalah Centre as you seem to suggest. Of course the Raising Malawi Charity has links to KC. Many charities are founded through links to major organisations. It doesn’t mean there is shady dealing going on. As a member of The Kabbalah Centre I have always had access to full reports on Raising Malawi and am fully aware of it’s links. The problem with the Girls’ School Project has arisen purely because the person charged with running it was not up to the job! How often has that happened in an organisation? The misappropriation of funds will have devastated both Madonna and Michael Berg. You will not find two people more committed to the improvement of Malawi. Many fantastic projects have been succesful already e.g the work done with
    orphanages. Yes! the news that the project is to be shelved, and an alternative developed, is certainly a setback. But there was no cover-up here so please do not use it as yet another opportunity to criticise the work of an organisation who’s agenda includes World Peace, the improvement of standards of living and healthcare an African nation.