Changing the Way We Give: Billionaire Seeks to Makeover Philanthropy from Ground Level

John Arnold is an introverted billionaire looking to solve underlying problems rather than just write checks. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Arnold got his start trading natural gas for Enron in 1996 and later went on to founding his own hedge-fund. In the last decade John Arnold managed to accumulate an estimated $4 million dollars working for Wall Street. In 2012 he opted to close his hedge-fund (Centaurus Energy) to retire and devote himself to philanthropy entirely.

While still in his thirties, John Arnold founded the Laura and John Arnold Foundation with the goal of using their wealth to solve some of the country’s biggest unsolved and underfunded problems such as hunger and obesity. The foundation would use their money to solve these problem through scientific research and data analysis otherwise not covered or deemed “too risky” to partake in by other organizations.

To evaluate the amount of nonviolent offenders behind bars in the state of New York the Arnold’s hired Anne Milgram and set out to determine that the CompStat crime-reduction system already in place was a poor tool for deciding who stays in jail. Anne Milgram went on to create a new tool for judges to use in three jurisdictions in the coming months. “What we’re hoping is that more policy decisions can be made based on data and not just on instinct or fear,” Laura Arnold says of the mission of the Arnold Foundation.

As well as researching the underlying causes of problems, the Arnolds have personally given $10 million dollars to build a new warehouse for the Houston Food Bank. At 300,000 square feet it is the largest food bank in the country and hosts an event entitled “rock n’ box” every Friday night to collect donations from supermarkets and nearby farmers. President of the Houston Food Bank Brian Greene discussed the food bank’s consumer data showing that hunger is a symptom but not the cause (illness, joblessness, etc.)Greene’s partnership with the Arnold’s led to a partnership with Feeding America, a network of food banks that provides aid to Americans across the country. The chief development officer for Feeding America-Maura Daly says, “the great things about the Arnolds is that they are not thinking small” and “most billionaires don’t have the luxury of putting forty years into solving a problem.”

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