John W. Kluge, Sr. was once the richest person in America and, when he died in 2010, left a fortune estimated at $6.5 billion. So you'd figure his son and heir, John Jr., would be nicely set up to play The Giver. But you would be wrong.
"My father gave me the gift of having to earn a living," says John Jr. "People make assumptions about me with regard to philanthropy based on my family, or my name, or my father. I wish that I had those kinds of resources available. Ninety-nine percent of my dad's resources are committed to minority education, cancer, diabetes and sepsis. Trouble is, he wasn't around when I decided that sanitation was really important to me—or should have been to him. My job is to go out and raise more resources more than it is to provide resources that I wish I had."
John Jr., who was adopted when he was two weeks old, also differs from his dad in his theory of philanthropy. "My father chased ideas and was a serial entrepreneur. It was only later in his life that became a philanthropist. That's not the way I see the world." Kluge says he takes his inspiration from punk rock: You need not accept the status quo and not only the wealthy can create change.
So he formed an angel investment firm—Eirene, named for the Greek goddess of peace and prosperity—that supports causes Kluge champions. Sanitation is his main focus through Toilet Hackers, as we discussed last week, but Kluge is also planning to invest in the aging/caregiving, peacebuilding and education sectors. Eirene is also acting as a consultancy on cause marketing and analytic giving, says Kluge.
Kluge's "philanthropunk" approach to peacebuilding is a $50,000 seed investment in a company called Fonderie (Foundry) 47, a social enterprise that recovers weapons from African conflict zones and melts them down in a forge in Brooklyn (where else?) to create high-end rings, watches, bracelets and other jewelry.
Fonderie 47 is the baby of Peter Thum, whose previous start-up, Ethos water (now owned by Starbucks), sold bottled H2O to support water and sanitation projects in the developing world. Thum was in Nairobi to inspect a water project a few years ago when he witnessed the aftermath of post-election violence and the proliferation of assault weapons. Thum named his project after the notorious Avtomat Kalashnikova (AK)-47, the cockroach of assault rifles.
Kluge sports a gorgeous signet ring from Fonderie that funded the destruction of 75 assault rifles. Watches go for $350,000 -- and they tell time, too.
Oh, and Kluge has also co-authored a book called “Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies “($16.41 on Amazon). He lays out the tools one needs to get in the game: Time, Talent, Treasure and Transaction. Kluge is obviously using what treasure he has to make an impact. How much? I asked.
“I’m devoting my life,” says he. “What else is there?”