From Africa to L.A.

Personal passion: Ben Goldhirsh

Ben Goldhirsh is a director of the Goldhirsh Foundation, which funds rising social entrepreneurs as well as innovative scientific research. He is the owner and founder of Reason Pictures and Good Magazine. The goal of these companies is to create media products existing at the intersection of entertainment and relevance.

“The Goldhirsh Foundation was started by my father. The original charter was to pursue innovative cancer research,” says Goldhirsh. “My father had brain cancer, and my mother had passed away from stomach cancer. There was a very functional objective: ‘Let’s see if we can help my father out.’ He was further along with a terminal illness than made that feasible.

“After my father had passed, he left us with a charter that worked towards finding innovative research regarding stomach and brain cancer. All the money that was put into the foundation came from, or a majority of it came from, the sale of Inc. Magazine, the magazine my father started about entrepreneurship.

“The same sort of logic behind the entrepreneur is that of the guy who isn’t supported by the venture capitalist or the banks — the guy or the woman who, against all odds, works hard and succeeds. That was the theme of (my father’s) life. He felt that in the philanthropic sector he could find researchers in a similar position: those who may not qualify for national grants, who weren’t part of the medical superstructure that gets kissed into all the deals.

“But brain cancer research isn’t like Steve Jobs in his garage, building the Apple computer. You need research and infrastructure. We employed a scientific advisory board to help us figure out the grants.

“My fundamental objective is giving away this money as efficiently as possible and optimizing the value of these dollars. We give away about $7 million annually. We began conversations about whether we wanted the foundation going entirely towards cancer research, and we made a decision that, no, we didn’t. We wanted to balance our portfolio. I feel that cancer research is a very risky investment.

“One of our investments is the Millennium Project. They’ve raised enough money to execute or implement their strategy in 78 villages — a five-year plan of about $1.5 million per village. It is meant to really set these individual villages on a trajectory that is self-sustaining. The majority of it is in 10 different sections in Africa.

“We’re also dedicating a lot of energy to Los Angeles. I’ve been out here almost three years, and I really want to invest in this community. It’s a town that expresses these lofty, progressive ideals, and yet right under our nose, five miles away, we’ve got one of the worst urban shit shows in America. People go through that area and they don’t necessarily engage in that area. It’s a transient community.

“I also think that people aren’t seeing the investment opportunities. When they do see those opportunities, they’re going to get excited about it, and they’re going to engage in their community. Hopefully the Goldhirsh Foundation can help with that.”

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