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Dick DeVos, the Philanthropic Family Rebel

Before venturing into philanthropy, Dick DeVos worked at Amway Corporation. He was just about to be named CEO when he began opposing a project that the family-owned business was about to undertake. The company intended to build a multi-purpose sport and conventional arena in downtown Grand Rapids.

However, DeVos did not like the idea of constructing a sports facility outside the central business district since it would not have a significant effect on improving the city’s beauty. He was worried that Grand Rapids would look like Detroit in 1970 when the Lions and Pistons exited the town.

To further his campaign against building the sports arena, DeVos established Grand Action to lobby support from other businesspeople who owned sports facilities and other conventional centers. According to DeVos, institutions such as the Grand Rapids City Market, the Michigan State University medical school, the DeVos Place Conventional Center, the DeVos Performance Hall, and the Van Andel Arena had significantly transformed Grand Rapids’ skyline into one of the fastest sprawling cities.

Getting Into Philanthropy

DeVos and his wife Betsy are famously known for advocating change in institutions and policies. The two are respected Republican Party donors and enjoy a significant political influence which has enabled them to push for changes in laws around labor and education. For instance, while DeVos was the driving force behind the 2012 law amendments that transformed Michigan into a right-to-work state, Betsy had a hand in the growth of charter schools.

Beyond politics, DeVos also runs the DeVos & Betsy Family Foundation, a non-profit organization. Between 1989 and 2015, the foundation donated over $138.7 million in support of health reforms, leadership seminars and workshops, arts and culture, church initiatives, education reform policies, private school scholarships, and humanitarian services.

In 2006, the DeVos & Betsy Foundation donated $12 million in support of the construction of a children’s hospital in their hometown and named it after DeVos mother, Helen DeVos. In education, DeVos established the Great Lakes Education Project, an organization that advocates for school choices.

DeVos helped Gerald R. Ford International Airport to achieve non-stop flight status by convincing AirTran management to make flights through their hometown’s airport. To further support the airport’s growth, he launched a non-profit aviation school with a capacity of 80 trainees. The school has since expanded to construct its own facility with a capacity of 600 trainees picked across seven counties. Just like other Michigan charter schools, the trainees are not required to pay any tuition fee and are even given a $7,500 annual stipend making admission very competitive.

DeVos’ experience at Gerald R. Ford Airport landed him a job in the Management National Council of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He was among the seven new board members appointed by the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. The board is composed of 13 members whose mandate is to advise FAA on matters around financial planning and spending, regulations, and policy making. Learn more:  http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/

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