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NBC's The Philanthropist is inspired by the true life of entrepreneur-turned-full-time philanthropist Bobby Sager.
Few people cut a more colorful, dynamic swath of impact across the globe than entrepreneur-turned-full-time philanthropist Bobby Sager.
In the words of Sting, Bobby's frequent travel mate since they met in a Brazilian bar years back, Bobby is "a big brash guy from Boston... an old Nepal hand, flamboyant eccentric, inexhaustible world traveler, and practical philanthropist."
It is a description well earned. A tough-minded businessman who made a fortune by following his passion, Sager has spent the last decade of his life traveling around the globe giving away his money and using his entrepreneurial and street smarts to make whatever difference he can -- in some of the worst areas on the planet. His is a life of extremes. On any given day you might find Bobby living in a tent in Karachi, sharing a toilet with 40 monks in the Himalayas, working alongside President Kagame in Rwanda, or discussing science education with the Dalai Lama in India.
Bobby's adventure began after graduating from college and turning a jewelry-making passion into a mini-fortune. He and his high school sweetheart Elaine decided they'd travel the world over and live off the profits. Their savings -- which they assumed would last indefinitely -- lasted about three years because, as he puts it, "The world was just too fun." He returned home to Boston and jumped back into the entrepreneur game, becoming president and partner of Gordon Brothers Group (GBG), a global advisory, acquisition and capital solutions company -- and the driving force behind their spectacular growth. The company expanded to over 20 offices in North America, Europe and Asia and acquired or started 12 other companies in just three years. The firm conducts over $40 billion of transactions and appraisals annually, making it one of the largest providers of these services in the world.
But Bobby hungered for something more and in 2000, he founded the Sager Family Traveling Foundation and Roadshow. He and his family hit the road, traveling to some of the poorest nations on earth, living in villages and cities in developing countries, practicing "eyeball-to-eyeball philanthropy" born of hands-on experience and on-the-ground understanding. Always looking for the most efficient and sustainable way to solve any issue, Bobby believed the best way to solve pressing issues was through catalyzing the efforts of other leaders, no matter where or who they were. The family traveled the globe, meeting those leaders and setting up projects to assist their efforts, whether in a mountain tent or jungle prison.
Additionally, he began recruiting other high-powered business leaders to use their considerable skills and Rolodexes in the service of something larger, through his involvement with the Young Presidents Organization, which counts among its members over 20,000 leaders in 100 countries.
Bobby began photographing the children he met in war-torn areas such as Afghanistan, Rwanda, Iraq, Pakistan, and Palestine -- coming to the realization that no matter who we are, there is a deep connectedness among all of us, that we're all living under what Sting has called "the same invisible sun, that gives its heat to everyone."
Bobby's images are remarkable. In one moment, a trio of boys on a bombed-out street in Afghanistan, their eyes haunted and wary. In the next frame, minutes later, they break into uncontrollable giggles, little boys at play, their joy elicited by Bobby's silly -- and wholeheartedly human -- behind-the-camera antics.
Ultimately those incredible images found a home on tour with Sting, set to the powerful chords and wrenching lyrics of his wistful ode to future peace, "Invisible Sun." Millions of people saw the children's faces projected on giant screens, writ large across the sky, at turns solemn and then exuberant, a hush falling over the crowds as they bore witness to the collective humanity expressed in Bobby's work.
In October of this year, those images will find themselves on an even wider stage with the launch of "The Power of the Invisible Sun," an exquisite book combining Bobby's photography interspersed with his personal philosophy of sustainability through "selfishness." As Bobby says in his book:
I'm not a do-gooder. I'm a doer who has figured out that hands-on, eyeball-to-eyeball making a difference is a way to live a very full life. By being on the ground, face to face with the people we are trying to help, my family and I get to live amazing life moments, learning, feeling, and accomplishing. That's what I mean by being selfish. The idea that people give to charity because they are supposed to isn't sustainable, and people who need help deserve real long-term commitment. Finding ways to serve your self-interest fuels that commitment.
Whether it is on the other side of the world or just around the corner, so much learning, living, and feeling flows out of the intense human connection that comes from being able to touch the people you are trying to help. As a result of serving my self-interest, I end up giving much more. Talk about win-win. Just do the math.
Bobby and Monks near Dharamsala, 2004. Working with His Holiness the Dalai Lama the Sager Family Foundation has created the first program in the history of Tibetan buddhism to teach western science to Tibetan monks.
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