May 26, 2008: 9:05 AM EDT
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Peter Buffett teams with Nike on $100M grant

Buffett will focus his philanthropic might on the plight of young women in developing countries.

By Matthew Boyle, writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- In the two years since Warren Buffett decided to give the bulk of his $53 billion fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and charities run by his three children, his youngest son Peter, 50, has said little about his philanthropic plans for his share - stock likely to be worth well over $1 billion - which has kept the nonprofit world buzzing.

Now, Fortune has learned that the NoVo Foundation, established in 1999, will team with sneaker giant Nike (NKE, Fortune 500) on a $100 million grant to improve the plight of adolescent girls in developing countries like Bangladesh, Zambia, and Liberia.

NoVo will contribute $45 million over three years, with the balance coming from the sneaker giant's nonprofit foundation, whose president, Nike VP Maria Eitel, first met Peter and Jennifer by chance in a hallway at the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative confab in New York, where NoVo (Latin for "I alter") is based.

At the time, the Buffetts were searching for a cause to focus their giving, and after speaking with Eitel - as well as luminaries like Stephen Lewis, former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, and Gloria Steinem - they settled on improving the plight of young women. In Bangladesh, for example, the money will help bootstrap small female-run businesses.

"When we got together we realized that we knew women and girls were going to be our prime target," says Peter Buffett. "It didn't take much convincing to make our decision."

"We wanted to focus on social justice, community building, and environmental issues," adds Jennifer. "But we realized that by focusing on adolescent girls, we could touch all of those."

Founded in 1994, partly in response to bad publicity the company was getting about Asian factories that made its athletic gear, the Nike Foundation has since 2005 focused on improving the lives of adolescent girls. "Girls are invisible, and the initiative is to get them on the agenda," says Eitel. "We thought it would be exciting if a major corporate foundation focused on the transformative role of women."

For the year ending May 2007, the Nike Foundation had assets of $14.5 million. This will be its largest investment to date. Peter and Jennifer Buffett will also join the foundation's advisory board, which includes Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Center for Research on Women.

The initiative also includes a Web site, girleffect.org, which goes live this week and offers ways for people to get involved in issues pertaining to young women.

Asked what reaction his famous father had to his philanthropic plans, Peter said he remained hands-off, as is his style. "When it came up during dinner in Omaha, he just said, 'That sounds great!' and then we went back to eating our steak," Buffett recalls.

Peter's move is similar to his father's when, instead of starting a new foundation in his own name, Warren partnered with an existing one.

"It goes back to my dad finding good managers to run businesses and letting them do it," says Peter. "As in other things in life, I realize that I am emulating my Dad's approach."

As Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA, Fortune 500) shareholders would attest, that's usually a wise move. To top of page

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