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From Venture Capitalist to Philanthropist
FIS Alumnus ‘77 Don Lothrop’s humanitarian work in Romania
After a dozen years in the Silicon Valley venture capital business, FIS Alumnus Don Lothrop decided he needed to find more meaning in life. At the time, he was working as a successful
businessman and had benefited richly from a combination of a good job in a growth industry, and a steeply rising stock market. This was, however, not the ‘Enlightened Capitalism’ that his FIS history teacher, Harold Judis, had taught him is the only sustainable economic system.
In 2003, Mr. Lothrop decided to step down from his position leading Delphi Ventures and began his search for something more. It was at a San Francisco dinner party where he heard about an underfunded orphanage in Romania. He sent $25,000 to the orphanage and shortly thereafter, made his first visit.
Over the next several years, Mr. Lothrop traveled back and forth to Romania, doing research, meeting with locals, and sharing what he learned with others. Based on his experiences there, he decided to form a group of partners to see how they could address Romanians’ needs in relation to education, a balanced press, and safe, clean communities in which to raise a family. Many of the CEO’s of businesses Mr. Lothrop had previously financed, decided to join his cause in Romania. The result was a three-tiered initiative comprising a democracy foundation, an independent media company, and a residential community.
“One of the greatest challenges in Romania today is education,” said Mr. Lothrop. “Romanians are not taught in school the way a functional democracy works and so I started a foundation called RomaniaOne to help educate Romanians on all sorts of matters related to civic awareness, transparency, and rule of law.”The goal of the foundation is to grow the culture and awareness of participatory democracy. “Change is slow, but the young people get it,” he said.
The independent media company, PressOne, grew out of this work. As his Romanian partners explained to him, “All this democracy work is useless unless we have an independent media to help highlight the dignity and joy of being
Romanian,” they said. PressOne now has Romanian journalists in four cities across the country, as well as in Canada, who cover a wide range of topics. In addition to the more than 2.5 million readers in Romania, PressOne also has an English-language site for the roughly 3.5 million Romanians living outside the country. Mr. Lothrop says, “It is a joy to see this creative, peaceful culture begin to flourish and cherish its identity.”
Colina Noua
An impressive residential community is being developed by a team of American and Romanian architects, engineers and land planners, and includes new energy-efficient houses, a school, playgrounds, an organic farm, new water and septic systems, sidewalks, bike paths, and paved roads. All of the elements are intentionally designed to build a sense of community and contribute to quality of life.
The partners have made significant progress already. According to Mr. Lothrop, his Romanian partners provide valuable know-how and are extremely talented. Together, they have acquired land, completed a detailed business plan to develop the infrastructure, and received approval to build the residential community. “We are committed to supporting our local partners in changing lives through creative design, thoughtful planning, quality engineering and the highest standards of integrity,” said Mr. Lothrop.
Mr. Lothrop’s worldview explains why he has devoted so much of his time, energy, and personal wealth to these endeavors. “We embrace our current systems of capitalism because they have a history of creating broad prosperity among populations,” he said. “These systems, however, are currently out of balance. Particularly because of technology, only a very few people are getting rich, rather than vast swaths of the population experiencing rising standards of living. Some people invest in companies that believe their only purpose is to make a profit and serve their shareholders, but what we need is private capital that improves people’s lives. I believe this is what my FIS history teacher, Harold Judis, meant by
‘Enlightened Capitalism.’
Asked if FIS played a role in the values he has today, Mr. Lothrop answered, “My values came
 22 FIS World June 2018

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