NoVo in the Media

Conscious partnership | An interview with Jennifer and Peter Buffett

01 January 2018
BY Leslee Goodman
PUBLISHED IN MOON Magazine

Peter and Jennifer Buffett are the founders of the NoVo Foundation, which they created in 2006 to “foster a transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership.”

That being a huge undertaking, the foundation has broken its work into investments in four key areas: supporting women and girls, particularly adolescent girls in the U.S. and Global South and ending violence against girls and women; investing in social and emotional learning (SEL) to give individuals the skills to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and deal with histories of trauma; supporting the transition to local, living economies that provide secure and fulfilling livelihoods for all people, work in harmony with natural systems, and support biological and cultural diversity; and finally, addressing centuries of oppression against Indigenous communities, and trusting the leadership of these communities to guide us toward a more just and balanced world.

Peter and Jennifer are both co-president and co-chair of the foundation, guiding NoVo’s vision, strategic mission, and program development. Peter is the youngest son of Berkshire-Hathaway founder and philanthropist Warren Buffett. A musician and composer, he composed the fire dance scene in the Oscar-winning film Dances with Wolves and the entire score for 500 Nations, the 8-hour miniseries produced by Kevin Costner for CBS. He also produced Spirit—The Seventh Fire, which combined Imax scale film and imagery, native dancers, and a live band to tell the story of one man’s journey toward reconnection with his heritage and the land. The piece was performed on the National Mall for the Smithsonian’s opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. 

In addition to guiding the foundation’s overall vision and program development, Jennifer is a passionate advocate for girls and women worldwide, promoting “whole-child” education practices, and supporting balanced, regenerative communities. She began her work in philanthropy in 1997 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, primarily as a funder of social service organizations, with a focus on early childhood education for at-risk children and families.

Jennifer and Peter were named to Barron’s list of top 25 most-effective philanthropists in 2009 and 2010. Because they work together in the field of conscious transformation, The MOON wanted to speak with them about the rewards and challenges of conscious partnership. They were kind enough to speak with me on two occasions by telephone. – Leslee Goodman

The MOON: How did the two of you meet?

Peter: We were both going through major transformations in our lives. Jennifer was on her way to a new life in a new state, while I was unknowingly on my way out of my old life and into a new one. We met by accident in a restaurant and have been together ever since—26 years ago on June 1, 2017.

Jennifer: We got married five years to the day after we met. I had been out to dinner in Milwaukee with a girlfriend with whom I had plans to relocate to the West Coast. My girlfriend and I were not in any way “looking” to engage with anyone other than ourselves. I’d recently ended a relationship and was about to reinvent myself in California. But you know the old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.”

Peter and I had a pretty much instantaneous heart connection. In retrospect, it was really a soul recognition that we had work to do together.

Peter: I’d been married to someone else for 10 years and helped to raise her children from four to 14 years old. I had been engrossed in that relationship, but it had just become clear, literally days before meeting Jennifer, that that relationship had sustained a break that was not going to be repaired. I’d come to that conclusion and then walked out the door with some friends to have dinner.

My friends and I were seated at a table next to Jen and her friend. I saw Jen and thought to myself, “This is someone I have to meet.” I was very shy in those days, but my friends weren’t. I knew that if I left the table, by the time I came back my friends would be talking to these two women. So that’s what I did; and that’s what happened. I really owe our relationship to my friends. If they hadn’t been outgoing, I’d never have met Jennifer.  [Laughter]

Read the rest of the interview here.