Oklahoma Voices
11:15 am
Mon June 16, 2014

Two Of Oklahoma’s Major Philanthropies Stay Grounded Through Local Focus

Listen to Kurt Gwartney's conversation with Ken Levit and Bob Ross.

A 2012 study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Oklahoma 11th in terms of generosity, with a typical Oklahoma household putting about 5.6 percent of its discretionary income toward charitable giving. 

Those donations were fueled by Oklahoma City, whose residents ranked as the 7th most-generous among the top 50 most-populous metropolitan areas. 

George Kaiser Family Foundation Executive Director Ken Levit
Credit Provided

Ken Levit is the Executive Director of the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation. He says what makes philanthropy unique in Oklahoma is that many of the large foundations focus on state issues, rather than national or regional problems.

“I don't know quite what's in the water here that makes our billionaires, our wealthy folks, want to solve Oklahoma problems, but it's a good result,” Levit says. “I hope for all those future billionaires out there invest their money back in Oklahoma."

Bob Ross is the President and CEO of Oklahoma City’s Inasmuch Foundation, started by the late Edith Kinney Gaylord in 1982. She was known as “the quiet philanthropist” for her legacy of anonymous donations. Ross attributes the local focus of charity to Oklahoma being a relatively young state that can get things done in ways that other states with larger populations with different histories couldn’t.

“From our standpoint, we have limited resources, both in the private sector and the public sector,” Ross says. “So we first feel like we need to solve our problems before we take off trying to solve nationwide or even world problems."

The two foundations on each end of the Turner Turnpike share common concerns. The George Kaiser Family Foundation has been a leader in establishing high-quality, universal pre-Kindergarten for children in Northeast Oklahoma.

"We're convinced that the evidence shows that you get the best possible return by intervening early, helping kids with their vocabulary and their social emotional skills," Levit says. "It can be an expensive investment, but it's a lot more expensive not to do it."

Like the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Ross says Inasmuch also heavily invests in students and teachers.

“We are focused on helping traditional public education, as well as reforming education, and that has to do with things like charters, Teach for America,” Ross says. We also are very interested in early education. We were the main philanthropy backing Educare coming to Oklahoma City."

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