Q: So how do you choose what areas to focus on?
A: I am a generalist, so I know a little about a lot, largely because we get involved with so many things. The key is finding these niches where there is a great need, but there is not a lot of attention or resources focused. We then go out and hire experts to research the subject.
Q: So how do you approach the experts?
A: Typically, we would ask them, "If you were the Hilton Foundation and had all this money what would you do?" It's a great way to tap into their knowledge on the subject. They come up with these priorities and we present some to the board. Then the board can select one with the greatest potential and the best fit with our mission.
Q: Do you have an example?
A: When we started to work on children's blindness, we selected Perkins School (for the Blind), where Helen Keller went, because they stood out and had a very strong track record but were largely regional. We felt based on their track record they were well positioned to expand internationally.
Q: What other causes does the foundation support?
A: One of our areas of concern is the mentally ill homeless, and we have worked with a group called Corporation for Supportive Housing to that end. It's not providing just the homeless with a home or an apartment; it needs to be linked with services to support the person.
Q: Why is homelessness of particular concern to you?
A: I think that in a country that has as much wealth as the United States, it's a disgrace for us as Americans to accept so many people living on the street. If you've ever traveled to Europe or Australia or Japan, there are many other developed countries where you will not see many homeless. You might see a few but nothing even remotely approaching what you've got here. I find it totally unacceptable, and when you learn that you can provide housing with services for the same cost as if you did nothing, it just makes you think: Why not?
Q: What about some specific local initiatives.
A: In Los Angeles, we have provided $8 million, mostly through the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and are working with many other local foundations like the Weingart Foundation, which works with community clinics, mostly health-related services.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.