Here's where Katherine Lorenz got the idea of saving the world

Growing up in Texas, Katherine Lorenz saw nothing unusual in her father, Perry’s, penchant for maintaining his real estate office in down-at-heels East Austin and aiding local Latino residents or her mother, Sheridan’s, eagerness to spend money on those less fortunate. When Sheridan moved to Galveston to take care of her ailing mother, she regularly hosted 10 children who needed a nutritious breakfast, and purchased a coffee farm for a family gardener forced to return to his native Honduras. Sheridan also gained some notoriety for witnessing an act of alleged police brutality, and pursuing it.

So Lorenz, the 35-year-old president of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, now widely recognized as a power person in philanthropy, has had pretty decent role models without leaving her house. Her resume speaks of her own role-model status. Before being tapped to head the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, which is endowed with her grandfather's energy fortune, she served as Deputy Director for the Institute for Philanthropy, whose mission is to increase effective philanthropy in the UK and internationally.

After graduating with a degree in economics and Spanish from Davidson College, where she played varsity volleyball, Lorenz lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for nearly six years, where she co-founded Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, a non-profit organization working to advance food sovereignty in rural Oaxaca through the integration of amaranth into the diet. Before founding Puente, she spent two summers living in rural villages in Latin America with the volunteer program Amigos de las Américas. Lorenz is on many boards, which keeps her on the move away from homes in New York, Austin and Mexico.

Lorenz is on every list of “ones to watch,” “movers under 40,” “powerful women in philanthropy” you can find. She is poised and down to earth and seems to keep any ego deep in the pockets of her jeans. Results of her Myers-Briggs test concluded that Lorenz “lives in the world of ideas and strategic planning,” summing up her approach to philanthropy. “I look at philanthropy as ‘If you have a problem, why does that problem exist?’ and then I think of the tools I have to address that problem—money, time, energy, networking—in order to have the greatest impact,” she told me.

As the president of a family foundation, Lorenz has sought guidance from others, and cites Margaret “Peggy” Dulany, daughter of David Rockefeller as a role model and mentor of sorts. Lorenz and Dulany connected through the Global Philanthropists Circle, which claims 60 member families from 22 countries.

George Mitchell died last year, and the bulk of his fortune is going to the foundation. Lorenz intends to yield her presidency when the estate fully settles and the foundation grows to true behemoth size, close to $900 million, by 2018. She plans to help the foundation transition to outside leadership and perhaps remain as board chair, if the family desires. “But it won’t be my day job,” she says. Lorenz isn’t sure yet what that will be, but admits to being motivated by building organizations, like Puente, or taking one to a higher level, such as the Institute of Philanthropy, which now is part of The Philanthropy Workshop, of which she is chair. 

Her forte on the volleyball court was as a “digger,” the player who saves the ball before it touches ground and makes it possible for the point to continue. Saving is in her genes, it seems, and so is having impact—a formidable combination.

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