Sep 2, 2020
Through the Prism: David Einhorn
Why did you start Einhorn Collaborative?
I’ve always been interested in helping people get along better with each other. It seems to me that so many of the world’s problems come from a lack of understanding and personal connection. Early in my career, I saw the negative effects of a work environment that discourages cooperation and camaraderie. As I think about today’s challenges – whether it’s big social problems that affect millions of people or smaller conflicts that arise between loved ones, colleagues, and even strangers – I’ve come to believe that a critical ingredient to solving these problems is a much greater level of human understanding. If we could help people across different backgrounds and perspectives engage openly and respectfully, empathize, and seek to understand the other person’s point of view, we would then discover our common ground and mutual understanding. With that, we would be well on our way to address problems big and small. That’s what the foundation seeks to do.
What have you learned from your work in philanthropy?
I am proud of the work we’ve been able to support over the last decade. And yet, in order to have a greater impact toward our mission—especially in a country that’s becoming more polarized and divided by the day—we have to take an even more collaborative approach. That means we need to be more intentional about who we listen to and work with, even when we disagree. It is too easy to surround yourself with people who just nod their heads in agreement. That is not how you get to better answers. I’ve learned this in my work as an investor, but also in our work in philanthropy. We have to push ourselves to find ways to engage with individuals and institutions from different vantage points and backgrounds—especially across the ideological spectrum. Just as we aspire to live in a country that embraces our differences, where people work together across divides to find common ground to advance solutions, we’ve learned how important it is to practice and model these very ideals in our own efforts every day.
What is something people might not know about you?
As I was finishing up my undergraduate degree, I thought: “wouldn’t it be great to get a PhD in economics.” So I applied to a few doctoral programs. The problem was that my excitement about getting a PhD in economics was not met with excitement from any admissions committee. All of the programs I applied to rejected me. At the time, of course this was discouraging. But in hindsight, I should probably thank them!
What is something that inspires you?
Each and every one of our grantee partners and collaborations. Be sure to check out their work – I’m positive you will be inspired too.
What is an early memory of the power of human connection?
My family moved from New Jersey to Milwaukee when I was 7. We moved at the beginning of the summer, and the first thing I did was attend day camp. On the first day, I met Justin Gendlin. We immediately became best friends. He told me his phone number, and his mother was shocked when I remembered it, so I could ask for a play date. Over the years, we competed in all kinds of sports and games. However, academically and professionally, we were very different. Justin was my one friend who never competed with me and never begrudged my success. Instead, he cheered me on all the way. As our lives became separated by distance and circumstance, we remained close and in close contact. I could share anything with him. He passed away about a decade ago after a series of brain seizures. I miss him dearly and think of him often.
Your new foundation is called Einhorn Collaborative. Why are you elevating collaboration, human connection, and collaborative problem solving at this time?
Most problems are not black and white. In many disagreements, both parties are usually partially right. Few people think that they are the bad guys. Sometimes, it just takes having a positive interaction and personal experience to bridge the difference. Agreeing to disagree is often a fine result.
I have experienced this myself. My parents have a very different political orientation from me. And yet, we can talk about politics and can often find places where we can agree. Now, in some senses this is much easier than engaging with strangers, but in other senses it is much more difficult. After all, when the politics stops, Thanksgiving and birthdays need to be celebrated.
However, in order to find solutions to problems that we’re collectively facing as a country, we need to push ourselves beyond the framework of us-them and win-lose. That will only continue to fuel the divisiveness and zero-sum thinking. We all know that the answers lie somewhere in between. That’s why we need collaboration.
We need more opportunities to get to know one another as human beings. We each have a story, and all of us have experienced love, loss, disappointment, regret, joy, and possibility. That's what helps us see the humanity of the other person. From there, we can reach out and engage. We can find common ground. We can develop relationships with people we disagree with without losing sight of their own humanity in the process. That is how we find our shared path forward and develop solutions that we can take action on together. That’s collaboration.
What values guide your work across both your business and your philanthropy?
Kindness, respect, and integrity. These inform our principles of practice at Einhorn Collaborative.
You are a big believer in consuming a wide range of opinions and sources to inform your worldview. How do you do that and get beyond a bubble of sources?
I’m insatiably curious. If I don’t understand a particular perspective or point of view, I seek it out. I learned the value of learning both sides through high school debate, where in one hour you had to argue one side and the next hour you had to argue the other.
Given current events (global pandemic, racial equity uprising, a polarizing national election, a period of economic volatility), how are you thinking about your philanthropy and what is required at this moment vs. the long term?
The problems we are facing today as a polarized and divided society didn’t just present themselves in the year 2020. They have been here throughout. The pandemic, racial uprising, and pending election are holding up a megaphone. However, the work ahead needs to take the long view. Though it sometimes feels we are taking two steps forward followed by one step back, we are making progress. But, there is so much more to do. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities in the short term that we’re taking advantage of, to put us on the right path. But overall, I recognize that in order to advance the culture of our country today, we need to have a long-term perspective.
What advice do you have for individuals who are starting their own philanthropic journey?
Get started. The best way to learn is by doing. There are so many opportunities to get involved that need philanthropic support. Find one or two you love and just jump in. The water is warm.
What can people do to support this work?
Many of our strategies have opportunities for others to join in as collaborators. Check out “The Work” page on our website to see if there’s something of interest. Also, anyone on the Einhorn Collaborative team would love to explore areas of interest and how you might get involved to support the work. That is exactly why we have created opportunities for collaboration!
What’s giving you joy right now? What are you hopeful about?
The silver lining of the pandemic is a lot more time at home with my kids. Without a commute on either end of the day, and having all three of them with me under one roof, I got a whole lot of joy from extra time for game playing and daytime walks around the neighborhood. I’ve also lived in the same spot for almost two decades but I didn’t really know enough of my neighbors. Because we are all walking the streets, we now see one another much more often. I am really enjoying the opportunity to informally connect – of course, at a distance – in ways that I hadn’t before.
If we are successful in meeting this moment, paint a picture of the future we might build together?
Honestly, the idea of meeting this moment isn’t new. Across every generation, our ability to work together in common purpose has fueled our greatest achievements and safeguarded our progress in times of challenge and disruption. By taking the time to listen, learn, and understand each other first, we can see our humanity in a new light. We can write the next chapter of our human story together. If you feel inspired by the possibilities before us and motivated to join in, then we’re already well on our way to building the future we all want.
To learn more about the new Einhorn Collaborative, what we’re committed to, what we’re wondering about, and how you can join us in building a culture of connection and belonging in America, sign up for our upcoming webinar and community dialogue on October 22, 2020, 4-5:30pm ET. RSVP here.