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The Baring Foundation was created in 1969 as a corporate foundation of Barings Bank, a major London-based merchant bank that traced its history back to 1762. The generosity of the Bank meant that the Foundation grew to be the tenth largest grantmaking charity in the UK by 1995.

The collapse of Barings Bank in 1995 significantly reduced the income of the Foundation and meant it became an independent funder operating through the use of an endowment.

Since 1995, the Foundation has maintained its attention on three grants programmes: Arts, International Development and Strengthening the Voluntary Sector. The Foundation shifts its focus within these areas over time. Examples during the last decade include the contribution of the African diaspora to international development,  arts and refugees, intercultural dialogue, climate change and the independence of the voluntary sector.

ING, which bought Barings Bank in 1995, has continued to support the Foundation through donated services and office accommodation.