I discovered my life’s special purpose by stumbling upon it. This journey led me to open my heart and wallet to help those less fortunate by founding the Inti Raymi Fund and Adrenaline Philanthropy.
In 1992, you would have found me in a suit and tie, wheeling and dealing with heavy hitting companies making huge financial real estate decisions. I studied real estate and finance at Southern Methodist University and used every bit of my education to earn an incredible living for myself and my family.
But as business prospered and my income went up, I started losing interest and enthusiasm in my work. I tried to distract myself, turning my attention to other interests such as my love for Pre-Colombian art. While on a trip to Peru exploring the origins of the artwork I loved, I saw a young couple with their baby, picnicking in the bus fumes on a blanket laid out on the dirt. They were happy! In that moment it dawned on me — there's zero correlation between money and happiness.
I was no longer comfortable staying in five star hotels. I started making friends with shop owners, food vendors, weavers, bead-makers and families from the villages. My wife Elizabeth and I had often travelled with our five children to predominantly underdeveloped countries and together we felt and still feel there are too many people in the world with essential needs not being met. We realized we had more than enough and decided to share, but we didn’t know what that would look like.
With the blessing of my understanding family, I took a year off to explore, travel the world, and do some more soul searching. I continued to follow my passion for Pre-Colombian art, to find out more about the people who had created these sacred beautiful pieces, and to learn why entire civilizations had vanished. As a form of respect, I began covering my body in tattoos depicting the art-forms. I’ve always been a bit of a thrill seeker and I began the exciting and arduous adventure of finding these lost tribes…and found myself along the way. I hacked my way through the jungles of the Patagonian region of southern Argentina on a quest to find the last living member of the Selk’nam tribe. I was alarmed with how these communities were disappearing throughout the world. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with many of the wonderful people I met along the way, who patiently and kindly guided me to these sites. This manifestation changed my life completely. The ancestors of these ancient sacred artists were the helpers, guides, and friends I was traveling with and provided the answers to my personal journey. Somewhere along the way, I was given the nickname Chimu, the name of a highly advanced Peruvian tribe conquered by the Incas in the 15th century.
I returned home to Austin, Texas and shared my excitement with my family. Around the dinner table, we decided to set up the Inti Raymi Fund, named after a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the Incan God Inti. We set a goal to complete a project in all of the world's approximately 200 countries. We joined International Funders for Indigenous Peoples, Amnesty International, and the United Nations ECOSOC Civil Society Network. We fund projects we hear about from these three groups, the UN Conferences I attend, from stories we hear on the news, and some I stumble upon during my travels.
Our grant-making philosophy is based on two touchstones — Article 3 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNDRIP, which says, "Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development," and my personal fervent belief that far too much traditional international aid never reaches the intended audience.
Approximately every 90 days I lead an Inti Raymi Fund expedition to 2-3 countries over a three to six week period where we invest $25,000 in a project in each country. Usually, our projects require 3-7 days to identify and get started; however, some instinctive projects are as quick as two days with others involving extensive research, lasting three weeks. We physically visit, photograph & GPS tag each community location, as many are remote and have no means of communication. My family and I fund all of the projects and support all of the overhead so 100% of any monies donated by others can go directly to the community project of the donor’s choice. Wells Fargo Bank did a piece on us that helps tell the story better than I can.
The first time we meet the members of a community we’ve decided to support, we ask “What do you need?” and “How can we help?” Early on I determined that I can’t figure out what the community needs, but they can!
This dialogue, which usually lasts several days, with representatives from everyone in the community - young and old, female and male, with an emphasis on listening to the elderly women of community, - allows them to determine what will be best for their community. Often, this open dialogue is of greater value than even the eventual project, because it’s respectful and rebuilds the community members’ self-confidence in themselves and each other.
Once everyone has determined what they want to do with $25,000, I lay it out in cash in front of the entire community. I deal in cash because I would guess that about 10 percent of international aid makes it to the people on the ground who need it most. I'm a control freak and I want to ensure all the money goes to the community. When I lay out the money, I explain to them, “This money is a gift and it’s yours to spend as you decide, as a community. The minute I walk away from this table, this is not my money. This is everyone's money. This is your future; it belongs to the elderly, to the women and children, and all of you within your community. If anyone steals the money, you're not stealing it from me or some Western charity; you are stealing from each other.” Then I walk away and surprisingly, out of character, I don’t check to see how they spent the money. I truly believe that once this paradigm shift occurs, there is real ownership of the project and a stronger sense of community. Our belief is philanthropy should not be about a westerner coming in and doing something “better”, its about sharing, respect & dignity.
As I said, our goal is to complete a project in every country in the world. One day I’ll be in the Arctic region, helping a Norwegian tribe that follows migrating reindeer herds, and another day I’m rubbing elbows with armed militias in war-torn Somalia. Our projects to date include funding a tremendous variety of programs from: a human rights program for the Jumma people in Bangladesh, an LGBTQ film festival in Russia, legal support for the Massai people of the Serengeti parks against illegal livestock relocation in Tanzania, programs supporting the Albino people in Kenya, and supporting a fair trade association for a Palestinian, Israeli, Bedouin & Gypsy embroidery organization.
To date we have completed 36 projects in 33 countries. At this projected rate of 10 projects per year, it will take another 17 years to reach our goal. This May I’ll be climbing Mt. Everest to raise $250,000 for any ngos anyone cares to give to in order to increase awareness about the benefits of charitable giving, and as a personal goal to reach all 7 of the world’s highest summits.
My questions to others: When you know you have more than enough, what will you do with the “more than enough"? What would you be willing to sacrifice, to help those you see in the news?