by Bob Lupton Paul Tudor Jones is a billionaire with a big heart. His Robin Hood Foundation is New York’s largest poverty-fighting charity. Over the past two and a half decades, he has raised over a billion dollars from some 200,000 New Yorkers, every penny going directly to the front lines of the city’s most effective non-profits. But Jones is no soft-hearted philanthropist. He is a hard-driving hedge-fund manager, dead-serious about return on investment. And he expects no less from every one of the 500 non-profits he supports. Each must have a solid business plan with clear goals and objectives, and a tracking system for measuring results. Those that fail to perform are defunded. His foundation staff are highly competent analysts and accountants who conduct “best practices” research, provide training and support to grant recipients, and insure accountability. Foundation overhead is covered by board members so that every donor dollar goes directly to addressing human need. It is a model of excellence in the philanthropic world.
Tudor Jones believes he has discovered the key to eliminating poverty. Education. His research shows clearly that education level has a high statistical correlation with earning potential. Thus, if children are to emerge from poverty, they must receive a quality education. His first venture into this arena was inspired by wealthy businessman Gene Lang who in 1986 adopted a Harlem high school class, promising every student a full college scholarship upon graduation. The experiment was a well-publicized success. Jones was inspired. He attempted to replicate the same approach in a Brooklyn middle school class. It failed. The reason, Jones concluded, was that he didn’t begin at an early enough age. His second attempt is a K-8 all male school housed in a former crack house in a rough part of Brooklyn – Excellence Boys Charter School. This time the results are more encouraging. Math and science scores are significantly higher than average and reading is slightly above average. Jones is encouraged.
In a recent 60 Minutes interview, (5/5/13) Jones was questioned about the poverty rate in New York City. Had the billion dollar Robin Hood investment moved the city’s poverty needle? Was the infusion of huge sums of charitable cash into the city’s best charities and most promising public schools having any measurable effect on the alleviation of poverty? “No, not really,” Jones admitted. Poverty is still 20% and holding, virtually unchanged in 25 years. “I’m investing in futures,” the hedge-fund philanthropist offered as justification. Maybe it would take another generation or two to see results.
Or not. Education, as important as it is, may be essential to the health of a community but it is not sufficient. The same is true of responsibly run social service programs. They may be necessary safety nets but they do not alleviate poverty. You cannot educate or serve a community out of poverty. Unless the parents of school children have jobs that enable them to adequately provide for their families, no amount of public or private subsidy will lift them from dependency. Good services may bring Meals on Wheels to seniors and Boys & Girls Clubs for kids and daycare centers for infants, but services alone will not move the needle. And the best that education can deliver to the children of a dependent community is a ticket out. A community will never become healthy unless it is economically viable. And that means upwardly mobile neighbors with decent jobs.