How much do you need to be worth to have generational wealth? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
At age 79, American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin designated £1,000 to each of two trust funds, one designated "Boston" (his birthplace), the other "Philadelphia" (his adopted home). The idea was simple: provide loans for young married tradespeople during their apprenticeship years, as such individuals were, in Franklin's estimation, the bedrock of a good citizenry.
But there was a twist: Not a dime was to be touched for 100 years.
And even after that, the balance was not to be made fully available until another century had passed. So what happened?
The magic of compound interest.
Over the past two centuries, those small trusts have generated not merely thousands but millions, and out of those gains provided mortgages and grants to tradespeople, vocational training for returning veterans -- even the endowment for the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. The BFIT was, for one, the site of the first national conference call. On May 15, 1916, a phone call set up by Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson linked San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
What does this teach us about Franklin's vision?
1. Vision starts with principle.
Franklin did not believe elected officials should be paid for their work. The money put into these trust funds equaled his compensation as governor of Pennsylvania. It was the people's money, principle said, so he could do nothing but give it back.
2. Vision has patience.
Twenty decades. Personally, I curse Reed Hastings and all his kin if Netflix says "Streaming..." for 20 seconds. Ben knew better.
3. Vision makes strategic choices.
The trust named a type of person and a type of need that could benefit society by a multiple of Franklin's investment into them. Have we today devalued the contribution of tradespeople and small business, to our detriment? Do we consider not just who could use help, but when?
4. Vision shows humility.
Franklin said, "Considering the accidents to which all human affairs and projects are subject in such a length of time, I have perhaps too much flattered myself with a vain fancy that these dispositions will be continued without interruption and have the effects proposed."
5. Vision is contagious.
When in 1904 Boston's funds were deployed to establish the Franklin Institute of Technology, the notion was so contagious that Andrew Carnegie himself matched the amount and drummed up a land donation. Also signed on were the Dean of Harvard Medical School, Grover Cleveland's Secretary of War, President of General Motors, and President of MIT -- not to mention renowned artist Charles Mills.
The key lesson here: Generational wealth is not determined by the value of your financial assets. It's determined by the value of your vision.
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