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Zell Kravinsky

Zell Kravinsky
Zell Kravinsky was a teacher in Philadelphia who, in the early 1990s, borrowed some money and bought a few properties.
He wound up with a property portfolio worth tens of millions of dollars.

Slowly, over the years, Kravinsky gave his wealth away. It's thought that Kravinsky has given the vast majority of his fortune to public health charities, totalling nearly $45 million.

And that's not all. In 2003 Kravinsky also donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.

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I always wanted to to be a philanthropist and to give part of my body away to help others. Now at age 54, I am pleased to say I have done both.

I have had a successful real estate business. In 2003, I reached a point when I had provided for my kids and had access to liquid assets. So I gave away more than 50% of my assets to two dozens organizations in public health. I believe that if you have a charitable impulse you should act on it immediately. If you hold off and change your mind later that would be a crying shame. So many people could be cared for with small sums of money, especially in global public health. About 500,000 children a year become blind in poor countries for lack of small quantities of Vitamin A. Many children die from infections that Vitamin A would have prevented. One of the vehicles I set up with John Hopkins School of Public Health focuses on supplying that Vitamin A.

After giving away my money in 2004, I thought I would reward myself. Some people reward themselves with a candy bar when they have finished a study session. I treated myself to making a kidney donation. It was something I had always wanted to do.

I didn’t realize it was unusual to give a kidney, and even more so to donate one to a stranger. Still, giving a kidney seemed like a no-brainer to me. If you can save another person’s life without losing your own, why wouldn’t you do it?

I grew up in a very tiny house in Philadelphia. My father was a working man, a printer; my mother was a teacher. I still live relatively simply. I spent years teaching emotionally troubled inner city kids and also taught at the University of Pennsylvania where I earned doctorates in Rhetoric and Renaissance literature. Real estate investments I made at first in a small way eventually paid me a handsome return, and that made it possible for me to give millions away.

I live my life according to a simple moral principle: the greatest good for the greatest number of people, which I understand to mean that I should live on what I need and not more. As Gandhi said, “Live simply that others may simply live.”

But there are so many ways to give. A bus driver who always has smiles for his passengers is a philanthropist. Taking care of a sick relative for 20 years is philanthropy. You don’t have to give money or an organ. What you don’t need could be critical for others.


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