John and Laura Arnold

Business, Social Entrepreneurs, Philanthropists

Imagine having enough money to do whatever you wanted AND help others. What would you do? John and Laura Arnold found themselves in this position after John made millions working for Enron (the energy firm gave him an $8 million bonus when he was 37) and then briefly ran his own hedge fund (he retired when he was 38).

John and Laura decided it would be much more interesting to quit their jobs, start their own foundation, and figure out how to solve social problems in the United States. They created a foundation that is focused on improving the criminal-justice, education, and pension systems, and they have donated about $670-million to date.

Since they are young, they are able to use their money to fund long-term studies that help them decide how to spend the bulk of their fortune. They are in the process of creating a database of studies on education issues so all the information about what is working or not working in education reform is in one place. They have also put money towards studies of how to make pension programs more reliable and pilot programs aimed at keeping young men from returning to prison. Once they see what is working, they will fund similar programs.

The Arnolds have always been generous with their money – even before John was wealthy, he was asking his friends and co-workers to contribute money for the United Way.

When he first made a lot of money, John looked around for a program that was already doing a good job to improve the public school system. He found the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) met with the founder a few times, and gave him $30,000.

Two years later, John and his wife pledged $10 million to help the KIPP program. They gave another $10 million to help Washington city schools offer higher pay to the best teachers. The Arnolds have also pledged millions to other organizations that are changing the educational system in positive ways — $25 million to Teach for America, and $20 million to StudentsFirst.

Since they started donating at such a young age, the Arnolds will be able to see their money making a real difference in the world through the research and programs they are helping.

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