Billionaire Peter Buffett Talks Philanthropy in the Twin Cities
Emmy-winning musician, composer, author, and philanthropist Peter Buffett spent Thursday visiting the Twin Cities as part of a 15-city tour of United Way chapters across the country. His goal, he says, is to learn about the most pressing issues in each community, discover new ways he can invest philanthropically, and encourage others to find creative ways to invest in their own communities.
Despite his own high-profile accomplishments, Buffett is perhaps best known as the youngest son of the third wealthiest man in the world, businessman and investor Warren Buffett, whose net worth is nearly $90 billion.
In 2006, Warren Buffett gave Peter and his wife, Jennifer, more than $1 billion to distribute as they saw fit. That same year, the couple launched the NoVo Foundation with a purpose to “foster a transformation from a world of domination and exploitation, to one of collaboration and partnership.” The foundation works to raise awareness for and invest in numerous causes, like anti-sexual abuse organization Just Detention International, Spirit Aligned Leadership Program aimed at elevating Indigenous elder women, and the BlackLivesMatter campaign to end violence and systemic racism towards black people. More broadly, it works to promote general community collaboration in working towards a better future for all.
“We’re practicing twenty-first century alchemy,” Peter Buffett says. “We’re turning money into love.”
Buffett is quick to admit that as a white man and the son of a billionaire, he has had great privilege in life. So his goal, he says, is to use that privilege to make an impact. But that’s easier said than done.
“It could be easy to give money away if you just wanted to be popular,” Buffett told Forbes in 2017. “It’s much harder to give in a systemic way and go upstream to fix what’s causing the problems in the first place—that’s a much heavier lift.”
Buffett is on the road to learn about problems in different communities and see how they are, or aren’t, being addressed. By teaming up with United Way Worldwide—a nonprofit organization with more than 1,800 local offices around the world working to identify and resolve pressing community issues through partnerships with schools, government agencies, organized labor, financial institutions, and community development corporations—he’s able to connect with organizations across a wide variety of areas. Along the way, he hopes to help inspire community and business leaders to continue in their work and to look for new and creative ways to define philanthropy.
To kick off the Twin Cities leg of the tour, Greater Twin Cities United Way hosted a dinner for Buffett and some of the organization’s top donors. “His inspiration will help drive other major donors,” says Kittie Fahey, vice president of principal gifts at Greater Twin Cities United Way.
On Thursday, Buffett toured the Twin Cities alongside his team, United Way board members, and community leaders and activists from diverse communities across the Twin Cities. The tour focused primarily on the local African American, American Indian, Hmong, and Somali communities, where large opportunity gaps exist.
The intellectual, soft-spoken Buffett is also engaging more broadly with the communities he visits through music and community forums. “United for the Future: A Concert and Conversation with Peter Buffett” features piano performances by Buffett, accompanied by Michael Kott on the cello, as well as discussions on how philanthropy can transform communities by providing better access to housing, healthy food, education, and jobs. Buffett’s free, public event was held Thursday evening at the Guthrie Theater.
Of course, Buffett recognizes that most people don’t have $1 billion to donate, so he emphasizes in his talks that philanthropic investments don’t have to be monetary. He says he hopes the next generation will see the power of volunteering and engagement, and that they will seek ways to use their creativity to give back to their communities.
“Think of it as a return on investment for future generations and the necessity of a vibrant community,” Buffett says.
As far as his impressions of the Twin Cities, he sees both the challenges and benefits of diversity.
“[These communities] are part of the fabric of what makes this city potentially extraordinary,” Buffet says. “But they have to be heard. They have to be listened to and supported, so that all of those things can be woven together into a much richer fabric for everyone to benefit from.”