In high school, Alicia Philipp dreamed of becoming a politician. She never ran for office, but she’s done more to change the Atlanta region than most elected officials ever could. Philipp is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, which she joined more than 40 years ago. Under her leadership, the group has become one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the Southeast—donating an estimated $100 million a year to nonprofit and faith-based organizations. Those charities touch people across the metro area, helping the less fortunate through programs like Learn4Life, a cradle-to-career education partnership with area school districts.
Philipp, 64, demonstrated an innovative approach to philanthropy early in her career. In 1981, the foundation was the city’s first private charity to address the looming HIV/AIDS crisis, awarding a grant when the disease was still known as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency). While there has been much progress since then, many challenges remain. Atlanta, Philipp notes, still has one of the country’s highest infection rates, largely concentrated among the poor.
The foundation takes a sophisticated approach to solving problems. “There’s definitely still a need for a soup kitchen, but we need to figure out why people are homeless,” Philipp says. “There’s so much more attention now to peeling the onion to get to the core issue.”
Philipp grew up in Maryland and came to Atlanta for college. She lives in Decatur and has two adult children living in Europe. While she had several chances to take other jobs over the years, she could never bring herself to leave the foundation, where she sees the impact its projects have on the community. She says the city is lucky. “People who come to Atlanta, and put their roots down, care deeply about the community and really want to give back,” Philipp says. “We have a lot of people who care.”