Capital ideas

The observer: Fall ’06
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Currents in the nation’s philanthropic world continue to take their lead from Western Pennsylvania patterns and people. In May, the Council on Foundations held its annual meeting in Pittsburgh, co-​hosted by the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation. At the meeting, the Council chose Heinz’s Max King as its new chairman. The other major national philanthropic association, The Private Sector, is chaired by the Pittsburgh Foundation’s Bill Trueheart.

More seismic philanthropic news followed in June, when Warren Buffett, the world’s second-​richest man, announced he would be handing over most of his $44 billion to the charitable foundation run by the world’s richest man, Bill Gates. His unprecedented largesse roughly doubles the size of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The 75-​year-​old Buffett told Fortune magazine, “We agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society.”

Why didn’t the Oracle of Omaha set up the Buffett Foundation? He considered it and decided that establishing and overseeing a foundation wasn’t for him. As he said, “What can be more logical, in whatever you want done, than finding someone better equipped than you are to do it?”

Buffett’s decision, while interesting, isn’t novel. It’s been happening here since the establishment in 1945 of The Pittsburgh Foundation. As the region’s only community foundation, it is for donors of almost any scope who want professional oversight of money they dedicate to benefit local people and projects. The Pittsburgh Foundation has quietly grown to $684 million.

On the subject of putting capital to good use, somebody in this city should be finding an unbeatable opportunity for the kind of human capital embodied by University of Pittsburgh senior Adam Iddriss. People who know him say the 21-​year-​old East Liberty resident is one of the smartest guys around town. There’s some agreement on that beyond the city, too, as Iddriss recently received the nationally prestigious Truman Scholarship.

His academic prowess is matched by public service. As president of Pitt’s Golden Key International Honour Society, he has furthered local work with Family House, mentored Peabody High students and helped create international projects with organizations in Malaysia and the Virgin Islands. He just returned from two months in Tanzania with the Engineering World Health Summer Institute.

His accomplishments go on and on, but what of the future?

The Pitt Chronicle described his goals: “To earn M.D. and Ph.D. degrees and then work as a bioengineer and physician dedicated to patient care, biomedical research in tissue engineering and advocacy work for minorities in science.”

Does that sound like the kind of career that has synergies with Pittsburgh’s needs and aspirations? If so, who is going to provide a place for the continued development of Adam Iddriss in Pittsburgh? Clearly, both human and financial capital build great cities.

Douglas Heuck

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 25 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-​Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck’s work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case “Food Lion vs. ABC news.”

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