“Act on your passion” is philanthropist Laura Lauder’s overriding message for women.
“Many people are afraid that others aren’t going to be supportive of what they’re interested in doing,” she told the AJP, “but actually if you act on your passion then others will see you as a model” and match your enthusiasm with their own.
Lauder will be the guest speaker at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy annual meeting and welcome on Thursday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. at the Westward Look Resort. Her topic is “How Women Drive Strategic Jewish Philanthropy: A High-Impact Approach.”
Today, Lauder is a successful venture capitalist and a driving force behind numerous philanthropic foundations, but in the early 1980s, she was an assistant buyer at Macy’s California, dreaming of earning more than $13,000 per year as an overworked, underappreciated peon. Catching the software bug, she joined an IBM mainframe software company in San Francisco, where she showed men that women can learn to be computer geeks too. She was working for an Israeli software startup when she met Gary Lauder, a grandson of cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder, in 1991. In 1992, they created Lauder Partners, a venture capital firm specializing in high technology investments. They married in 1994.
Lauder serves on many nonprofit boards in the Jewish and general communities, including the Socrates Program of the Aspen Institute, a global leadership development initiative she and her husband co-founded in 1996; and DeLeT, Day school Leadership through Teaching, which she founded in 2000. Delet is the Hebrew word for “door,” she explains, and this program for Jewish day school teachers, which has been called a “Jewish Teach for America,” opens the door to a profession in teaching. “We have 200 teachers all over the country,” she says, noting that the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation co-funds the project.
Also the vice chair of San Francisco’s $1.6 billion Jewish Community Endowment Fund, Lauder was selected as one of 10 “Women to Watch” by Jewish Woman magazine in 2004 and named the San Francisco Federation’s Volunteer of the Year in 2011.
Jewish values, Lauder says, provide the framework for all of her philanthropic endeavors. And paramount among those values, she says, is education, which is the focus of every enterprise she supports. “Education is the key to why the Jewish people have survived for 5,000 years and it’s the key to every child maximizing their own potential,” she says.