The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Economy
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Economy

This is Part 8 of a Guide to Social Entrepreneurship Foundations. In these series of articles we will highlight top international Foundations focused in social business and social entrepreneuship.

Guide done by Paula Newton and Maria Fonseca

About the Foundation

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is focused on steps that can lead to the development of a circular economy, which it believes will be hugely beneficial for society. The Foundation believes that we currently operate in a linear economy which emphasises the steps of take, make and dispose. This model requires a large amount of inputs of materials and energy. The circular model differs from this and takes an approach that is restorative and regenerative. By providing thought leadership and spreading ideas and concepts about this topic, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation hopes to deliver change to the way that we use resources, and deliver greater sustainability.

Management team and founders

Ellen MacArthur founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and now acts as the Chair of Trustees. She is supported in the organisation by a range of energetic talent including Lucy Hardy, the Digital Project Manager, Luisa Santiago, the project lead for the CE100 Brazil Programme, Joe Iles, the Editor in Chief of Circulate, and James O’Toole, the Global Partnerships Manager, to name but a few.


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was set up in 2010. It aims to help fast forward a move to the circular economy. Correspondingly, the organisation’s mission is:

“To accelerate the transition to a circular economy.”

In the following video, Ellen MacArthur explains what she means by the circular economy:

In working towards this mission, the organisation has established itself as an international thought leader, focusing on getting the circular economy into discussion in government, business and academic circles.

Geographical Location

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is based on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. While physically located in the UK, the organisation has partnerships that spread across the globe, and aims to create change on a global scale.

Areas of Focus

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has four main areas of focus which it considers to be linked together in accelerating the transition to a circular economy:

Education – in this area the organisation is focusing on driving inspiration for revisiting thoughts about the future, taking a circular economy framework approach. To achieve this the organisation is building a platform for learning and teaching on a global scale. The education offered will be both formal and informal, and offered online for greater accessibility on a wide scale. The Foundation is working to make sure that the content it offers is insightful and that it generates a systems thinking approach regarding the transition issues.

Business and Government – in this area, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation strives to help organisations and government deliver the conditions needed for the circular economy to succeed. It has a goal of acting as a catalyst to promote change, and provides guidance to business and government. The reason for the focus on this area is the realisation that innovation in business will be likely to aid the faster transition to the circular economy. In this regard the organisation has built some important partnerships with innovative firms such as Cisco and Google. The work in this area seeks to generate business innovations and overcome barriers that exist in attaining them.

Insight and Analysis – to transition smoothly to a circular economy there is a need for a firm grasp of what needs to be done, and the importance of change. The Foundation seeks to deliver evidence on this to demonstrate the benefits of transitioning. In particular, it focuses on quantification of the benefits, and the ways in which value and economic goals can be realised. It carries out this work across a range of industries and considering the needs of very varied stakeholders, to provide the greatest value.

Communications – the organisation believes that it needs to capture and engage people about the concept of the circular economy. To achieve this, it works on identifying new and exciting ideas and it circulates them through the publications part of its structure. It spreads literature that is report-based, research study focused, and also case studies and books to demonstrate the ideas and perspectives. In getting the word out it also uses Circulate which is an online area which presents updated news and interesting insights into the circular economy and other matters of relevance to this.

Ellen Macarthur Foundation Logo
Ellen Macarthur Foundation Logo

History – Founders

Ellen MacArthur is the founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In 2005 she was the quickest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe. During her trip due to the confines of space she had to limit the number of resources that she took with her on her journey. This helped her to start to see that resources are limited and finite and that the economy needs to change. Subsequently to this, MacArthur went travelling around the world with a focus on learning and personal development. Her area of focus was understanding the way in which the economy uses resources. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was launched in 2010.

Types of Grants/Awards and Funds available

The organisation does not offer grants or awards and does not provide funds to other organisations.

Examples of work done by the Foundation

One of the activities that the Foundation has worked on has been creating a toolkit for policy makers worldwide to help them with the transition to the global economy. The toolkit includes helping countries assess their starting point, outline their goals, assess opportunities by sector and overcome obstacles and review economy wide implications. The Foundation worked with the Danish Business Authority and Danish Environmental Protection Agency to develop the toolkit, and additionally gained support from McKinsey and NERA, and funding from the MAVA Foundation.

Another activity has been Project Mainstream which is a CEO-led global initiative focusing on advancing innovation brought about by businesses to help to grow the size of the circular economy. This is achieved through bringing about collaboration between organisations. There are three initiatives as part of this undertaking, including the development of a roadmap to reduce plastic packaging globally, the development of intelligent assets and coming up with good rules for paper products in order to be more efficient in this regard.

Ellen Macarthur Foundation Circular Economy
Ellen Macarthur Foundation Circular Economy

Approach to Education

Education is integral to the activities of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It achieves this through encouraging collaboration between different kinds of organisations, distributing thought provoking content, creating toolkits for the transition to the circular economy and through its platform for learning, which offers both a formal and informal education in relevant topics. The organisation is focused on improvement for society, rather than being a money making enterprise.

Social media channels

The organisation can be found on Facebook at:
The organisation has a LinkedIn page at:
The company also may be found on Twitter:

Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 1- Skoll Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 2 – Ashoka Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 3  – Schwab Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 4 – UnLtd
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 5 – The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 6 – Jasmine Social Investments
ntelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 7 – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 8 – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 9 – The Clinton Foundation
Intelligenthq Series on Social Entrepreneurship Foundations Part 10 – The  Young Foundation