Jennifer Buffett: Concepts Worth Sharing

In 2011, I wrote this piece about Jennifer Buffett and her foundation, NoVo. Five years later, the organization improves women and girls’ lives through a variety of initiatives that support marginalized and oppressed women in girls in indigenous communities and communities of color. A few examples are NoVo’s development of a farm to table program for urban food deserts in New York City, impact in policies that addresses sex trafficking, and organization of spaces where indigenous women take the main seat at the table. Additionally, NoVo recently announced a $90 million dollar investment to expand the academic opportunities of girls, while also ensuring the safety of girls as they go to school. In reflection, this piece demonstrates the actions that organizations and individuals can take to grow and flourish. Because with that, even more individuals can be lifted and flourish.

Jennifer Buffett will change the world. You may not know her now, but when all is said and done I believe she will own the title, The First Lady of Women’s Social Change Philanthropy.  Jennifer is the life size symbol of NoVo – to alter, invent.  The NoVo Foundation she created with her husband Peter is based on the premise that if you give a girl an opportunity, she will become a successful woman who will in turn create successful communities, businesses, and families. Jennifer’s story is just that.

After deep examination of the focus of their philanthropy and a personal examination of her own expression of her values and influence, Jennifer is speaking around the world sharing her personal story and experiences. She and her husband Peter spent years examining the interrelation between systems, culture, and relationships to determine place of impact and opportunity for change before launching the largest foundation serving women and girls, the NoVo Foundation.   Jennifer has incredible perspective to offer activists, social change drivers, and philanthropists and after hearing her recently, I distilled these ten concepts that are worth sharing; 

  1. Look at the roots of the problems, examine patterns and themes and find the programs and the stories that rule the world and which ones make sense. When dealing with our indigenous women and girls’ program, it was imperative to look at the impact that colonialization and government intervention had on the community. Once this history is recognized and processed with the community, take stories and experiences to create create strategies for change.
  2. Acknowledge two conflicting truths:  1. Girls and women are the primary drivers of change.  2. Cultural attitudes and systems put girls in a vicious cycle; blaming them and affirming that they are not valued.   The girl effect demonstrates that if you invest in a girl, her family thrives, she contributes to her community, and eventually her country succeeds.
  3. Invest in places where value is held and not yet recognized.  Note: there are 600 million adolescent girls living in the developing world who are currently ‘undervalued assets’.
  4. Value balance and partnership and affirm feminine values. This is particularly important for our “Promoting Local Living Economies” initiative. Often times, skills women possess are feminized and hold no economic value. Creating value for these skills deconstructs the position of female work and gives women the income they deserve from this work. Additionally, sustainable local economies just ignite larger economic opportunities as capital and products are developed.
  5. Encourage women to use their voice, say what is want and needed, take credit, and invite men to join as equal partners and co-creators. The oppressor must claim responsibility and step back in their positions of power and privilege. NoVo paired with A CALL TO MEN to invite and encourage men to recognize their role in dismantling oppression of women and girls. We called on them to create solutions to problems such as violence against women.
  6. As a woman, choose to be seen and heard and work to change the course of the boat named Earth Community. 
  7. Improve gender dynamics by recognizing that the qualities in the masculine ‘toolbox’ - force, hierarchy, punitive, and a focus on head not heart - are learned, normalized, and internalized. 
  8. Honor and showcase the characteristics found in the feminine toolbox; listening, connectedness, experiential learning, honoring innate cycles and rhythms, and wholeness. 
  9. Establish learning environments that allow for inquiry and participation. Our “Advancing Social and Emotional Learning” initiative draws on the feminized characteristics (empathy, deep connections, etc.) that women often are demeaned for in society and academia. Normalizing these feminized actions in these spaces and applying them to both genders creates a more comprehensive education and stronger communities. Additionally, it breaks down the gendered stigma around behaviors and emotion.
  10. As conduits of feminine energies, allow the most precious qualities of clarity, strength, knowing and vulnerability of yourself to come into full light. 

Practices for Advancing a Culture of Philanthropy

1. At each meeting, one leadership member spends up to four minutes sharing their personal story of connection to the work.  The more details of the story and the stronger the person’s connection to women’s rights/ issues of focus, the better.  Feel free to tie into your story the words Advocate, Educate, “Genderosity” or other relevant brand themes.  

2. Consider a meeting dedicated to shaping an advocacy and/or programmatic goal.  The focus is on a defined action (i.e. address FMLA in the county, join a coalition on fair pay, research safety issues and their solutions for women and their families, etc) and developing a ‘case’ for support.  Attach a financial goal to the case statement that includes staff support to administer project and support for the Executive Director.  

3. In each quarter, find at least three forums / outlets (i.e, a newsletter, event, one-on-one appeal to a donor) to start talking about and ‘test’ your case for support/story about a larger vision for the work.  

4. Prepare lists and ideas for introductions to at least 50 potential new TrusteesSpend one third of each meeting discussing five of these names and possible action items that will engage them to ask for their advice in shaping ‘the case’.  

5. Prepare lists of new audiences to solicit for funding and prioritize these based on conversations at the leadership level and in one-on-one meetings with fellow trustees.  Such new audiences to pursue   might include men, federation allocation, project-based giving, people to sponsor young women to be trustees, donations from philanthropic foundations that focus on women and / or identified issue areas.   For each funding source area, set a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.  

6. Utilize time with trustees or prospective donors to ask: What is the most compelling issue for you? What is your legacy?  What impact do you want your giving to have?  Start compiling these answers for use with capacity asks and collateral materials.  

7. Start every conversation with an invitation to be a “partner of our work for life” and explain the need for long term support to affect deep systemic change.  Invite people to share their legacy and consider being a ‘member of a team’ that is serving their legacy and that of other like-minded people.  From the invitation for a legacy gift, encourage a multi-year ask as a first step towards a commitment.