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George Kaiser and Ken Levit Address Tulsa’s Unique Challenges

George Kaiser is a proud Oklahoman, having lived in the Sooner State “for more than two-thirds” of its history. The son of a German Jewish couple who fled Nazi Germany, Kaiser was welcomed graciously into the Tulsa community that he continues to call home. Eventually Kaiser made his mark financially by transforming a small Tulsa oil company into an energy and investments empire. He is now focused on using his wealth to strengthen the state and city that have given so much to him and his family. 
 
But a local focus is not just personal for George Kaiser, it’s also strategic. Kaiser and the Executive Director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Ken Levit, believe community giving can enable philanthropists to identify problems and the right people better to implement solutions. 
 
George Kaiser is focused on addressing Tulsa’s unique challenges. “Tulsa was the largest city in the United States without a community foundation,” he mentions, so he coordinated the efforts of the city’s largest philanthropists to create the Tulsa Community Foundation. Furthermore, Ken Levit recalls when Kaiser convened experts to “help us identify four or five deep problems that afflict our community that other communities that are like us are not afflicted with.” This triggered Kaiser’s investment in reducing recidivism among women convicts and building a School of Community Medical.  
 
“Philanthropy does not [on its own] have the resources to deal with intractable problems like public education and health care,” Kaiser explains. “But it can come up with creative solutions.” 
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It seems to me that the founding documents and the governing principle of America is equal opportunity. It's the social contract... So, if our founding principle is equal opportunity then I think we have a moral obligation to pursue it.

Private philanthropy can't possibly substitute for parental guidance and cannot substitute for governmental sponsorship when you're dealing with extraordinarily complex, expensive problems. But what private philanthropy can do is be a little bit more entrepreneurial, inquisitive, experimental and, drive a direction...that will help the public sector determine what is appropriate to fund and what is not appropriate to fund. Philanthropy does not have the resources to deal with intractable problems like public education and health care. But it can come up with creative solutions.

We wanted to put our focus at the point at which we could make a change not just in the symptoms of poverty, but in the causes of poverty and therefore have an inter-generational impact. That lead me pretty easily to early childhood education, especially birth to three.

I am a strong believer in letting the opportunity drive the funding and not to set an arbitrary distribution time period and then either be in a panic of finding good opportunities to spend the money on or falling short in resources for those opportunities you have identified. So, I am still agnostic on the question of whether the foundation would be well advised to spend the money in my lifetime, shortly thereafter or remain to the point where it's leadership and purposes are no longer consequential.