Peter Buffett and the Novo Foundation: Empowering Impoverished Girls Across the World

photo courtesy of novo foundation

Peter Buffett is a name you may not recognize.  To many girls in impoverished and third-world countries however, his name means hope.  He and his wife, Jennifer, co-founded and are co-presidents of the Novo Foundation in 2006 to help women and girls empower themselves.  Among helping women and girls empower themselves, the Novo Foundation teaches many other valuable lessons including managing emotions, ending domestic violence, promoting small businesses, and bringing awareness to Native Americans.  Their main focus, however, focuses on empowering women and girls.

 “Committed, passionate, and humble,” is how Peter Buffett, one of the Novo Foundation’s founders, describes his foundation.  “We’re humble because we’re great listeners and learners,” he said.  The Novo Foundation is aimed to aid the end of many social justice issues, from the empowerment of women and girls to bringing awareness of violence on Native American reservations.

He doesn’t like to say the word “empowerment” about girls because “They already have power.”  The foundation works by listening to the women and girls most affected, and then by providing money to help organizations that are closely-affiliated with the issue.

Working on adolescent rights is a huge issue for Peter Buffett.  “A lot of these girls don’t realize their rights, and some are deprived of their rights,” he says.  Many girls, especially in third-world countries, are married off by 11 or 12. “These girls have the right to be an adolescent,” he says, “but many of these girls go from being a child to an adult.”  Girls, sometimes as young as 5 or 6, are deprived of their adolescence and childhood and forced to run a household or have children. 

Another issue for him is the violence towards women and girls on Native American reserves.  One in three women living in a Native American reserve will be sexually assaulted, according to a tribal trafficking website.  Seventy percent of these assaults will be unreported.  Murder is the third-leading cause of death in these reserves according to Winnovating, a collaborative blog on women’s rights.  Working to end the violence will be a challenge, but it can be done.

“The word ‘safe space’ has a negative connotation nowadays,” said Buffett.  One initiative the Novo Foundation has is the creation of “safe spaces.”  These spaces are put in place to help girls come together and discuss their problems in an open, meaningful, and constructive way.  “The foundation wants girls to know they are being heard, and that they are safe to discuss their problems,” he said, “and we also want them to trust us.”

By being “good listeners” and “good learners”, the Novo Foundation is slowly changing the culture of exploitation of women and domination of men to a culture of partnership and collaboration.  The foundation is breaking the structures that perpetuate inequality and educating people on how the structure of the way we live can be fixed to promote equality.  “We want to take the abstraction out of our lives and find interventions that make sense,” he says.

But challenges are always present, from not enough funding to initiatives that backfire.  Ads and billboards perpetuate the objectifying of women.  “Our culture makes us believe there’s no other way to do or be something,” said Buffett.  The hardest problem is, however, finding people who believe that change is possible and finding companies that are aware of the problem, even if by solving the issue they are left without a job.

Listening seems to be the answer to many problems girls in schools face today.  When friends lash out at you, Buffett advises you to challenge them and learn why they are acting that way by looking through different “lenses”.  Because of Ursuline’s motto, Serviam, and Ursuline’s diverse global outreach, it is easy to bring awareness to the foundation and everything it encompasses by seeing where it affected you and your fellow Ursuline sisters in life and spreading the story in the community.  “Life is short enough already,” he says, “so help the future generation.”

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