FUNDING AREAS: Agricultural development, water, and conservation
IP TAKE: The son of Howard G. Buffett, and grandson of Warrren Buffett, Howard W. grew up traveling often with his father to explore the issues of poverty, hunger, and conflict in far-flung spots of the world, and they share a deep commitment to addressing these challenges.
PROFILE: Buffett has been policy advisor for the White House Domestic Policy Council, special assistant in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a member of Obama's Presidential Transition Team, where Buffett's work included setting up the policy agenda for the White House Office of Social Innovation. It's not unusual for young descendents of powerful figures to land political appointments in administrations with which their families are close, but what is striking about Buffett is how many other things he's done, too. And helpful things at that.
After earning a master's in public administration from Columbia University, Buffett worked at the United Nations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and also served on various foundation boards. Today, Buffet, a sustainable agriculture enthusiast, operates a 400-acre no-till farm with the help of his wife in Omaha, Nebraska. (A writer for New York magazine reports that Buffett engaged him in the "most in-depth conversation [he]'d ever had about soil.")
But just because he's farming doesn't mean Buffett has gotten away from the policy or philanthropic worlds for which his family—particularly his grandfather, Warren—is so well known. Howard W. Buffett served briefly as executive director of his father's charitable outfit, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and now is influential as a trustee of the foundation.
Warren Buffett—financial wizard, philanthropist, and patriarch—left his progeny with some money to get their start in the world. "I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything," Warren Buffet once said, "but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing." Indeed, if Howard the younger is any indication, Buffett's plan to instill his kids with ambition-inducing—as opposed to ambition-inhibiting—resources seems to be working out quite well. Howard W. takes his role as grantmaker seriously. And his passion is evident when he talks about what he does. Discussing his motivation in an interview with the Washington Post, Buffett explains:
When I was 5, my father was very much my hero. And he ran for political office in a very thankless campaign for a very thankless position. And he did it because his mother had instilled in him, if you are someone who has the capacity to make a great change, you have the responsibility. So, taking that advice to heart, taking the incredible wisdom my grandfather imparts on anyone who will listen, taking this concept of what I call the "lottery of life"—my grandfather calls it "the ovarian lottery"—my dad made the decision he would dedicate his life to helping others.
And, as a 5-year-old running around campaigning with him, it was very inspiring.
It is impossible to interact with folks whose daily life is farming and who are poor—who can't even produce enough food to feed themselves and their families, which is so antithetical to farming when you're in the United States, right, because all we do is grow a ton of food and sell it all—it's, in my mind, impossible not to be passionate about it.
As a trustee of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Howard W. helps direct resources toward the natural world he cares about so much. The foundation's tens of millions in yearly grants go to organizations working on food security, water security, conflict mitigation (with a focus on hunger's relationship to conflict around the world), and—somewhat more obscurely—cheetah and mountain gorilla conservation. The foundation's stated goal is "to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the world's most impoverished and marginalized populations."
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation states that it does not accept unsolicited grant proposals. However, please note that the foundation does its work in Africa, Latin America, and the United States, and a more detailed rundown of its aforementioned areas of focus is available here.
A few final newsworthy Howard W. Buffett tidbits: an active Twitter feed (see below) focuses heavily on philanthropic happenings and global food supply issues; the book 40 Chances—written with his dad—on making the most of those 40 "productive" years of our lives; and this story about how Barack Obama almost ruined Howard W.'s wedding proposal plans.