Robin Hood’s 30th to Star J-Lo (and M-Wo) in Battle With Poverty

(Bloomberg) -- Titans of finance who’ve pulled out all the stops for their own birthday parties will do it again Monday night for a New York City anti-poverty campaign they helped build.

The Robin Hood Foundation will mark its 30th anniversary with music from Jennifer Lopez and comedy from Michelle Wolf, whose political roast late last month drew howls of outrage and delight, depending. On Monday, Wolf could skewer co-chairs Oprah Winfrey and Ray Dalio or even Paul Tudor Jones, the hedge fund manager who co-founded the group in 1988, seeking to do something good with the money he made in the crash of 1987.

Robin Hood’s 30th to Star J-Lo (and M-Wo) in Battle With Poverty

“We didn’t know the first thing about fighting poverty when we started, but we did it anyway,” Jones said in an email. “Our hearts were in the right place, and our heads soon followed, because we attacked it like the business problems where we had experience.”

The organization’s basic formula: Take from the rich and give to the poor, use metrics to track impact, provide assistance to make programs better and find ways to replicate what works. The board has always paid all operational costs so donations can go directly to food pantries, schools, job training and the like. Last year Robin Hood spent almost $117 million on programs.

“In the ’90s we helped cut teenage pregnancy by more than half,” Jones said of the group’s work in the city. “We’ve provided 150 million meals and helped educate more than two million students.”

Robin Hood’s 30th to Star J-Lo (and M-Wo) in Battle With Poverty

Certainly there have been successes. But Robin Hood at 30 has hard realities to face. The city’s poverty rate hasn’t changed much over the decades. One in three babies is born into poverty, and one in five New Yorkers earns less than $20,000 a year, according to Robin Hood’s website. Meanwhile, the total income of the top 10 percent of the city’s residents increased by $28.6 billion between 2006 and 2014.

Robin Hood’s 30th to Star J-Lo (and M-Wo) in Battle With Poverty

Robin Hood’s CEO of almost a year, Wes Moore, is taking on the challenges. The Robin Hood of the future will stress advocacy and policy, acknowledging that philanthropy alone isn’t enough. Robin Hood is also working to give a voice to people of color and low-income communities.

Acknowledging the poor at a benefit that attracts some of the richest people in the world can be a delicate business, perhaps nowhere more so than at the Robin Hood gala, which draws about 4,000 guests and raises huge sums. The totals can vary a lot from year to year, with special pledges, matches and other forms of giving. Last year’s event raised $54.5 million. The record was $101 million in 2015.

Bill Gates, the second-richest person in the world (after Jeff Bezos), is honorary co-chair with his wife, Melinda Gates. Their foundation this month committed $158 million to fight U.S. poverty. With Winfrey and Dalio, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat and CEO Marc Benioff are co-chairs.

Moore downplayed the evening as a gathering of the wealthy, describing it instead as a night when “incredible leaders of diverse backgrounds will come together under the Robin Hood banner to rise to meet the urgent needs of people still trapped in poverty.”

Jones’s take: “We’ve really only just begun.”

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