Getting involved in your own philanthropy projects is extremely satisfying - Mitchell Dong

Mitchell Dong — Savvy Investor
Mitchell Dong — Savvy Investor
Mitchell Dong - Savvy Investor

Henry Kravis, CEO of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. or KKR, was interviewed on Bloomberg last week. He started KKR 44 years ago in 1976. Today, they manage $ 250 billion and has over 13,000 employees.

On philanthropy, Henry said, “When I started making money, I asked David Rockefeller for advice. He wisely said:

‘don’t just write a check; get involved, give them your best ideas.’

“It turned out to be the best advice ever. It’s so satisfying. For example, I created a fund to invest in companies in poor neighborhoods. I raised $ 50m and invested in these companies.”

“At a recent event, a little boy in the 8th grade said to me, ‘You saved my life. I was on drugs. Your program got me off drugs. I will never go on drugs ever again.’ Henry said, “I was touched. If I could save just one life, I would be very happy.”

I very much related to this story as I have had a similar experience of getting deeply involved, much beyond writing a check.

At my 10th college reunion, I heard a pitch from the staff of the planned giving unit of Harvard’s Development Office about leaving money in my Will to the University. I thought, why wait until you are dead? Why not see the benefits of your gift during your lifetime?

“Also, at that same reunion, I heard a presentation by Harvey Fineberg, the then Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. As a teenager I was always interested in the world’s food supply, solving air and water pollution, so I reached out to Harvey to learn more. He invited me to join the Visiting Committee of the School. I started a “Friends” group for the Environmental Health Department and raised $100,000 for confocal microscope. I then co-founded a “Friends” group for the Nutrition Department and raised money for research that could not be funded by the National Institutes of Health. At my 25th reunion, I endowed a University Chair in Epidemiology at the School and six scholarships for promising graduate students in public health and for students at Harvard College.

It has been immensely gratifying to see the Dong Scholars while they are in school, during their careers and seeing the impact they are having on improving the public’s health. It’s immensely gratifying to see the research funded and the lives saved by the prevention of disease. My favorite motto is ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’.

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