By Danielle Beurteaux
As so often happens with new parents, Cliff Asness got to thinking about what kind of world he wanted his children to live in after the arrival six years ago of his first set of twins. That world, Asness decided, was one where people helped others who were not as fortunate as they were. "You realize how lucky your kids are," he says.
Asness and wife Laurel wanted their children to see their parents' commitment—emotional and financial—to making a difference. "We wanted to raise our kids in an environment where there's a culture of doing things like this," he says. That was when close friend and board member Professor Kenneth French introduced Asness to the International Rescue Committee.
The International Rescue Committee has a long and storied history as a human rights organization. It was founded in 1933 as the American branch of the European-based International Relief Association and headed by Albert Einstein to help those suffering under fascism in Europe. Now the organization is active in more than 40 countries around the world, including some of the most dangerous and destitute, and has 22 refugee resettlement offices across the United States, where they help those who have fled their homes build a life here. "Find whatever is going on in the world that's the most terrible and most horrible for people," says Asness, "and you'll probably find the IRC there."
Asness, 43, is the managing and founding principal of AQR Capital Management, a $24 billion Greenwich, Conn., asset management firm with $9.1 billion in hedge funds. He says he did a lot of research before joining the IRC in 2007 as one of the Overseers, a separate body that advises the board on policy, fundraising and advocacy issues. Asness became a board member in 2009. Even though he was looking into giving away money instead of making it, Asness wanted to ensure that his gifts would have the most impact. "I still want to do it as efficiently as possible," he says.
George Rupp, IRC's president and chief executive, says Asness has been generous with his time and money. He was one of the few donors who sat down with Rupp and developed an action plan. "He's a very astute analyst and strategic planner," says Rupp. "He's very helpful in our deliberations and understanding of how a particular detail or program fits into the larger picture of the IRC."
Asness is impressed by the IRC's businesslike approach to running its organization. "I think they're exceptionally, ridiculously efficient," he says. With an annual operating budget of $300 million to deal with the worst emergency situations in the world, both money and time are of the essence. The goal is to be on the ground within 72 hours of an emergency. "Those are the times it matters most," says Asness.
Case in point: An IRC emergency team leader headed to Haiti the day after the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12, and the rest of the emergency response team—including medical and environmental health, shelter, and women's and children's welfare specialists—quickly followed. Asness, a comic book fan, calls these "superteams." "We're bringing as much expertise as we're bringing resources," says Asness. "We're the people who know how to handle these situations." AR