In 2006, his old man gave him and Jennifer 1 billion dollars to spend on philanthropy. The 100,000 dollars he gave them was only a primer. There was no specific instruction from the giver other than to spend it on something that needs attention but has almost been ignored by other foundations and philanthropic projects.
The couple began the NoVo foundation which focuses on young women, who they think are society’s “undervalued assets.” Peter entrusted the organization to Jennifer, knowing that his wife is in search of something worthwhile to do. Unbeknown to many, Peter and Jennifer’s foundation did not only save lives in Africa and other third-world countries. It also salvaged whatever was left of their marriage.
Jennifer’s Early Bio
Jennifer was born in Milwaukee to a middle-class family in 1964. She has another brother aside from her male twin and female sibling. Her parents provided for the family and they lived quite comfortably. Jennifer was trained to manage her money back when she was a young girl. She knew that what she was spending was her parents’ hard-earned salary.
When Jennifer was 18 years old and was excitedly preparing for college, she was taken aside by her mother and father to talk about their impending divorce. They have arranged that she’s going with her mom, while her brothers will be taken by their dad. It was bad news for Jennifer who really had no idea that her parents’ marriage was in shambles. She had nothing in her mind but the idea of going to college and getting a degree. To add insult to injury, her father told her that he was no longer paying for her college education since she would just marry eventually anyway.
Upon hearing what her father just said, Jennifer couldn’t believe her ears. There she was, all packed up for college and suddenly informed that no one will be shouldering her matriculation just because they assumed that she had no hope for herself besides getting married.
But she did not allow her parents’ divorce to keep her from getting a life of her own. She worked hard to put herself through to college. One thing she could thank her parents for is that they took the time to teach her how to manage money. She completed her college education without depending on anyone but herself. What’s even more impressive is that she did not incur debts and even managed to save 10,000 dollars in the bank.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism and communications. The determination she displayed in her early life was telling of her future achievements as a go-getter leader.
Meeting Peter Buffett
All his life, Peter Buffett lived under the lens of society. Being the son of a wealthy businessman, Peter knew that his circumstance was slightly different from other kids. What could have been worlds apart was reduced to an insignificant divide mainly because of how he and his siblings—a brother and a sister—were raised by Warren and Susan Buffett. For someone as rich as his father, Peter never felt that he was entitled to his wealth. He went to the same public school where his mother went and even had the same teachers she did as a kid. That kind of upbringing gave Peter a semblance of a normal life considering that his father is one of the top-earning businessmen in the world.
He grew up to be a man of simplicity. He had no grand ambition in his life but to live a full existence. Warren never pressured him to develop a liking for business. When he showed inclination in music, he was pretty much left to decide which career path to take.
While in a Milwaukee restaurant one day, Jennifer and Peter’s paths crossed. If you ask Jennifer, she would describe the event as: "It was like a meteor hit our hearts... It undid all my plans. I don't know if destiny is the word, but there's an inner knowing. I believe that when you have those feelings and impulses, your job is to follow them." It must be the same with Peter because the couple eventually decided to marry in June 1996.
Peter and Jennifer Buffett’s Marriage Goes on a Bumpy Ride
As with most marriages, Peter and Jennifer’s union was not a bed of roses. For a time, Jennifer was happy supporting her husband’s musical career. Society has always branded women as their husband’s shock absorber. That was the kind of life Jennifer was living—she’s just in the background, contently blending in and serving as a wallflower most of the time. Until one day she realized that she felt empty.
She thought about what she had to go through just to earn a degree and be a woman of her own person yet she found herself in a marriage where she felt “invisible.”
In an interview with Marie Claire, she said, "I remember thinking, ‘This isn't working. I'm putting all this energy into someone else's thing, but it's always going to be his, not ours. I have no voice.’ So I started to be really depressed."
At that point of her life, she was desperately in need of someone who would understand her feelings and tell her that she does matter. Of all people, Peter was turning a deaf ear to her crisis. She felt alone and sank deeper and deeper to depression. She further shared in Marie Claire,
"When I hit the low point, I realized that it didn't matter if the marriage was over. I finally said, 'Enough!' — and everything changed... I just said, 'I'm taking control of my life. You can do what you want, but I'm not participating in it anymore... I don't think the traditional female role serves us. I think it serves men... When somebody is subordinating themselves, it's just too easy for the other person to take them for granted and not value them. We need to start to say no. You think you're being selfless in giving, but you're being a martyr. Self-care is not a selfish act."
Warren Buffett’s Pledge: Life-changing for Peter and Jennifer
When the family gathered for Christmas, Warren announced that he will be giving each of his children 100,000 dollars to be used for philanthropic work. It couldn’t come at a better time. Jennifer and Peter, whose marriage was hanging in the balance, found something to do together.
Jennifer used the grant given to them in 1999 to get the Wisconsin Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Association started. According to her profile in SheSource, the Wisconsin Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Association was launched "to advance practice and policy around healthy social emotional development for young children."
Early on, Jennifer had a soft spot for kids and women in general. Years later after she was told by her father that she wouldn’t be sent to school because she would only marry anyway, Jennifer feels compelled to prove her father wrong. She wants not only her father but all men to acknowledge what women contribute to society. If she felt hurt by her father’s indirect suggestion that she was as a woman, how much more the other girls from countries where women’s rights are disregarded or simply non-existent?
Jennifer and Peter Found the NoVo Foundation with the Help of Warren Buffett
Nine years since they were given the 100,000–dollar grant to support philanthropic projects, Jennifer and Peter had the most shocking news of their life when Warren announced that he will be giving each of his children 1 billion dollars to use for their foundation. For Jennifer, it was surreal. She calls it The Big Bang, probably because of its “outwordliness,” for lack of a better word.
With that hefty money came a great deal of responsibility. It’s a good thing that Warren thought of entrusting them with a relatively small amount in 1999. The 100,000 seems miniscule when put side by side the 1 billion dollars.
They have to use it on something that will create a lasting change, a change that will outlive them if possible. In choosing where to spend the money, Jennifer admitted that she had always known that women need the most attention.
Asked by Fast Company how Warren influenced her in choosing to focus on women, she candidly replied:
“Yes. Warren talks about undervalued assets, places where tremendous value is held but not necessarily recognized. We’ve been so inspired by him and his trust in us. His philosophy of life and business is so applicable in everybody’s life, really. So that idea resonated with us: That women and girls are undervalued assets.”
However, the Buffetts employed science in choosing the best method of helping marginalized people. She related how they narrowed down their choices in her interview by Fast Company:
“We spent two years bringing a ton of people in here to learn from them, everyone from authors to researchers, heads of non-profits we admired, people from the NGO world. What could we do that would be catalytic? What could we do that would really make a difference? What interventions make sense? And then, we traveled the world. We wanted to go to tough places where society had fallen apart. How do you help put a country back on the road to sustainability, to justice and fairness and peace? What has been learned there so far? What’s being done and not being done?
What we saw over and over again was that women and girls were being left out—of everything. So marginalized and exploited, part of no conversation. And the violence was off the charts.”
The NoVo Foundation was established in 2006. Its name means “for change” in Latin. NoVo’s main goal is to eradicate poverty by focusing on society’s undervalued assets—adolescent women. How could society’s future be in the hands of adolescent women? Peter, the co-founder of the foundation, has this to say:
“The women are doing all the work; and when they get the resources, they put it right back into their families and their communities. There was an indigenous community somewhere in Central America— some students from Harvard went down thinking they were going to do one little project and write about it for the school.
And they found these women who were making these beautiful little bags of some sort. They turned them into cell phone covers and different things, and it ended up taking off, and these women suddenly got a big check. And they wanted to think about where should this money go, and they built a school; they put it back into the community. They didn’t say, what can we do for ourselves? They were thinking about the children, and future generations.
The future generation part is a fundamental thing, as you know with indigenous cultures everywhere. Nothing belongs to anybody, but it’s just held and passed on.” (Source: The Esperanza Project)
What the NoVo Foundation has Accomplished
Peter left NoVo’s management to his wife. Because its main goal is to uphold women’s rights, Jennifer oversaw the 30-million-dollar investment in the International Rescue Committee.
According to Wikipedia, IRC "is a nonsectarian, non-governmental international relief and development organization based in the United States, with operations in over 40 countries. The IRC’s mission is to provide emergency relief, post-conflict development and resettlement services; to work for the protection of human rights; and to advocate for those uprooted or affected by violent conflict and oppression. Composed of first responders, humanitarian relief workers, international development experts, health care providers, and educators, the IRC has assisted millions of people around the world since its founding in 1933." (Source: Wikipedia)
Jennifer and Warren's foundation partnered with IRC in ending violence against women practiced in West Africa following the apartheid conflict. They saw the need to rebuild the country's vocational systems and interest women to again go to school and make something of themselves. Another partner NoVo has is Maria Eitel's Nike Foundation. They gave the organization 100 million dollars for The Girl Effect project, which tests and disseminates approaches that can enable women from developing countries to be financially independent.
Jennifer also plays a part in expanding the reach of Women for Women, an award-winning organization that helps women from war-torn countries get their life back and even become productive leaders in their field of expertise.
Apart from organizations created to help women in third world and developing countries, the NoVo Foundation also works on projects meant to help women regardless of their nationality. They call it the Move to End Violence campaign. After knowing that no movement has been created to prevent violence but only its effects, they took the initiative to introduce the campaign.
NoVo Foundation Awards
The Buffets' NoVo Foundation, according to their website, is "willing to venture where others are reluctant to go; we remain patient in developing sustainable solutions; and we wish to convene diverse stakeholders to address common challenges. We seek out these ideas from both traditional and non-traditional sources, including academic research and conversations with grassroots organizers."
Due to the boldness of the woman behind it, the NoVo Foundation has gone a long way and is achieving leaps and bounds in the area of philanthropy. In fact, the organization was awarded by President Clinton the Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2008 and was described by the former US president as having visionary leaders and scalable work in addressing crucial issues plaguing the world. President Clinton must have really been impressed with Jennifer's leadership skill that he handpicked her to be one of the founding members of the CGI Lead in 2010, which was also the same year that she was awarded the Gloria Steinem Award by Ms. Foundation for Women.
Jennifer believes that "Girls in school have an opportunity to escape early marriage and early motherhood, and to gain skills that give them enhanced economic and social opportunities" and she is doing all she can with the help of Peter and the NoVo Foundation in “getting the last girl” educated.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- NoVo Foundation
- International Rescue Committee
- The Girl Effect
- Wake Up Campaign
- Caring Sisters
- Women's Funding Network
- Nike Foundation
- Women for Women International
- Wisconsin Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Association
- International Center for Research on Women Leadership Council
- Adolescent Girls Legal Defense Fund
- 10x10 Campaign
- Women & Girls Rebuilding Nations
- Girls Not Brides
- Move to End Violence
- social and emotional learning
- CASEL (Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning)
- BRAC USA
- Apne Aap Women Worldwide
- Women Moving Millions
- CGI LEAD
- United Nations International Day of the Girl
Awards and Achievements
- 1997: Helped launch the Wisconsin Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Association
- 2007: Co-founded NoVo Foundation
- 2008: Earned the Clinton Global Citizen Award with Peter
- 2010: Chosen by President Clinton as a founding member of the CGI LEAD
- 2010: Awarded the Gloria Steinem Award by Ms. Foundation for Women
- Ranked by Barron as belonging in the top 25 list of most effective philanthropists
- Named by Newsweek and The Daily Beast one of "150 Women Who Shake the World"