Henry Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland, the first son of businessman Jean-Jacques Dunant and Antoinette Dunant-Colladon. His family was devoutly Calvinist and had significant influence in Geneva society. His parents stressed the value of social work, and his father was active helping orphans and parolees, while his mother worked with the sick and poor. Henry Dunant grew up during the period of religious awakening known as the Réveil, and at age 18 he joined the Geneva Society for Alms giving. In the following year, together with friends, he founded the so-called „Thursday Association“, a loose band of young men that met to study the Bible and help the poor, and he spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work. On November 30, 1852, he founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization.
In 1849, at age 21, Dunant was forced to leave the Collège Calvin due to poor grades, and he began an apprenticeship with the money-changing firm Lullin et Sautter. After its successful conclusion, he remained as an employee of the bank.