NoVo at 14. Continuing to learn.

Peter Buffett
3 min readMay 14, 2020

I wrote the below at the onset of the pandemic and felt that it might be helpful to post here.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Many years before the NoVo Foundation we knew our current culture was deeply out of balance and built on white supremacy, from the stories Peter’s grandfather told about witnessing the famous Omaha lynching in 1919, through his childhood watching his parents take an active role in civil rights in the 60’s, to working with indigenous cultures throughout North America for decades.

We originally thought that these injustices could be corrected within the legal system and more deeply embedded in the culture through creating conditions for girls and women to live fully into their inherent power. Only a girl will be the mother of every child. If she lives with agency and opportunity — and free from violence of all kinds — all children in the coming generations will be much better off.

When NoVo Foundation was created, we had already begun investing in these ideas. But the gift from Peter’s father in 2006 allowed us to reimagine how impactful our work might be.

Since that time, thousands of organizations and initiatives were funded in the dedicated belief that other foundations and individuals would join us. In more recent years, we’ve seen a phenomenal uptick in awareness regarding the power and pervasiveness of patriarchy. But still this area of philanthropic support is woefully underfunded.

It started to become much more clear to us that our aspiration to foster conditions for a balanced, loving world could not live inside a system built on hierarchy and violence. Through these fourteen years of resourcing well over 700 million dollars in an effort to liberate girls and women from this societal con-struct, we’ve learned that to fight this system is to join this system. The struggle is with a culture that thrives on power over, not power with.

The current global crises has proven what billions have always known, our culture is a perpetual motion machine of commerce through conquest and exploitation. As the economic system collapses, patriarchy’s inner workings have become apparent to everyone.

Because NoVo’s resources are not coming out of a corpus but instead a pledge of stock, what we’re able to accomplish in any given year is based entirely on market fluctuations. This has forced us to look at every grant as the world lives inside a dual reality of panic and possibility.

We view our resources as risk capital. But relying on the word “capital” in that definition belies the possibility. Capital implies growth, scale, time horizons, strategic expectations and rates of return. In turn, this creates competition, anxiety and a machine-time consciousness that permeates all life.

It’s been clear to us over the last 5 years that we must orient our limited capacity to work that will become seeds for a new world that is now more necessary than ever. We knew that this system could not continue… we knew that we were already in collapse and further shocks appeared imminent.

The time has come for NoVo to review every grant through the lens of the time that we find ourselves in.

We will no longer be siloed into initiative areas. The work of the Foundation will be looked at as a single body of work once again. We plan to honor our current committments of over 300 million dollars as these changes take place over the next 3 to 5 years. This is because we believe in the power of our partners’ work and believe that, specifically in these times, more funders will come to understand the necessity of the work NoVo has so strongly supported continuing into the future.

post script — We’re encouraged by Mackenzie Scott’s recent announcement.

We believe NoVo will be most catalytic in these times by resourcing a network of small communities everywhere that are incredibly diverse but rooted in acceptance, compassion and transformation.