Our Story

Mulago is a private foundation designed and built to carry on the life work of Rainer Arnhold.

Rainer's passion was the prospect of a better life for children in poverty, and so the Foundation's work is focused on solutions that meet the basic needs of the poorest families. After Rainer's untimely death in 1993, his brother Henry Arnhold established the Foundation in its current form.

Our obsession is impact; we provide unrestricted money to organizations that have a scalable solution and a demonstrable ability to deliver. Our Fellows programs are built to support social entrepreneurs, and our portfolio is a mix of start-ups and organizations further along the curve to scale. We're agnostic as to whether those organizations are for-or-non-profit – what we care about is which structure offers the best route to impact at scale. We continue to fund organizations as long as they show real progress toward lasting change at scale.

The Foundation has a big mandate and a small staff, so we do not accept proposals. We tap a deep network to find the organizations that are a good fit. Given our very specific funding criteria, that has proven the most efficient process for all concerned. Really.

Rainer Arnhold

Rainer Arnhold was a physician, philanthropist, and inveterate traveler.

He devoted his considerable efforts and energy to the well-being of the most vulnerable. Rainer was born into a respected family of bankers in Dresden, Germany. To escape Nazi persecution, the family moved to Switzerland in 1937, and he attended school for several years in Zurich. After a circuitous passage through Portugal and Brazil, Rainer arrived in America in 1941. In 1943 he joined the U.S. Army. A skilled rider, he was recruited into the cavalry and served in Burma and India until 1946.

After the war, Rainer went to medical school in San Francisco. After pediatric training in New York and Sweden, he set up practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Soon after, he established the pattern that was to hold for the rest of his life: a steady practice of hands-on pediatrics and clinical teaching punctuated by long and regular leaves of absence to work in the developing world.

Rainer's efforts were part of a heroic era in public health, a time when the response to waves of global crises led to the emergence of key solutions. In the chaotic refugee camps of Biafra, Somalia, and Pakistan, and on the Good Ship Hope, Rainer made important contributions to systematic approaches to child survival, and specifically to methods of detecting and treating malnutrition. Leveraging his hard-won knowledge, he taught medical students and health professionals in Peru, Bolivia, Uganda, Cameroon—and the inner city of San Francisco.

Rainer didn't see his work as hardship or sacrifice—there was nothing he'd rather do. He had a cast-iron constitution, and an insatiable curiosity about places and cultures. He carried all he needed in a small backpack, rode local buses, and was quite happy staying in dirt-floored huts. Self-deprecating and a born skeptic, he could be maddeningly modest about his own achievements, and he treated even the most humble village health worker as a respected colleague. Rainer's sympathies were always with the underdog, his concern for those most vulnerable—his work was simply an extension of his most basic impulses.

After many years of work in settings of chaos and crisis, Rainer began to focus on a secure and livable future for the world's children. While he never abandoned efforts to help those swept up by forces beyond their control, he developed an expanded view of health and well-being for children. Conservation and education were particular interests, and his teaching, volunteer efforts and financial support emphasized the need for holistic and sustainable solutions.

On the day of his death in 1993, Rainer was doing what he loved best, hiking to a village in the Bolivian Andes with a group of medical students and local health workers. His was a life lived well, of service given gladly; a life that created innumerable ripples of change in the lives of those he taught, cared for, worked with and supported. The Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program commemorates his life and continues his work by giving those who follow in his steps the tools and resources to create lasting change.

Henry Arnhold

Henry Arnhold was a banker, philanthropist, and patron of the arts.

Henry was Rainer’s older brother. It was because of him that Mulago became an effective vehicle to carry forward Rainer’s life’s work. As sole executor, he chose to devote Rainer’s estate to the foundation, and he continued to build the endowment and lead the evolution of the foundation until his death in 2018.

Henry, like all his siblings, left their ancestral home in Dresden amidst growing persecution of Jews in Germany. Visiting a school friend in Norway, he was trapped when Germany invaded. After his arrest by the Gestapo, he made a remarkable escape to Sweden, and eventually found his way to the US. Like Rainer, he joined the US Army, where he ended up in an intelligence unit interrogating captured Nazi officers.

Over time, Henry took on the lead role in rebuilding the Arnhold family’s fortunes in the US. He became an icon in the world of banking, celebrated for his acumen, eye for opportunity, judgement, and generosity. His philanthropy was wide-ranging, thoughtful, and effective. Nowhere was his thoughtful and creative approach to philanthropy more evident than in his work with Mulago, work best captured in the message we sent to those who’d become part of the Mulago network over the years:

“For the past 23 years, Henry was the board chair and guiding light of Mulago. We could not have asked for better. The arc of his life – eldest son of a distinguished family, refugee, businessman, banker, philanthropist – left him with a nuanced and compassionate worldview, an abiding generosity, and a deep store of practical experience. All of these were indispensable to us as we looked for the best way to fulfill Rainer’s hopes and dreams.

The way that Henry went about investing in businesses became central to the way that Mulago went about investing philanthropy in impact. Henry was engaged in the creation of value in the world, and he approached it with a profound integrity, an intellectual rigor, a healthy skepticism, and more than a little humor. We came to understand how we could take Henry’s approach to investing and apply it directly to the work of the Mulago Foundation. With impact as the analog of profit, we could become investors in a better world, with all the risk, rigor, accountability, and joy that would imply.

And it was Henry’s idea to launch the Rainer Arnhold Fellows, the program that became the heart and soul of the foundation. It gave him great joy to create ways for doers and thinkers to come together in common cause, and he invested much of his resources and himself to give people like me, the fellows, and so many others the chance to achieve their potential. In myriad ways, Henry’s example shaped what we do at Mulago. Of the many, many things we learned from Henry, a few spring most readily to mind:

  • Funding only achieves its potential when it drives connection and collaboration.
  • Investments – be they in business or philanthropy – must create lasting value.
  • A certain skepticism about one’s own impact and influence avoids dumb mistakes and keeps hubris at bay.
  • Relationships are paramount, and character is even more important than ideas.
  • A passion for – and joy in – the work is a necessary, if not always sufficient, ingredient for success over the long haul.
  • Most things are better said with a twinkle in your eye.

Henry, like his brother Rainer, cared deeply about conservation and the fate of the earth, and he was a key supporter of Conservation International for decades. As we – the Mulago team – explored how best to improve the lives of the poor, we came to understand how critical it is to protect the ecosystems that undergird the fight against poverty. A couple of years ago we launched Henry Arnhold Fellows program to tap, in the service of conservation, the spirit and methods of the program named for his brother. We’re glad that Henry got to see it. It is one of his most profound gifts to us that the progress and promise of the Rainer and Henry Fellows provide a persuasive case for optimism in stormy times.

Rainer created the Mulago Foundation to support the efforts of others who shared his vision. Henry presided over its evolution into what it is today. Rainer and Henry, while close, lived very different lives; we like to think that Mulago became something that they built together. That the work was mostly sequential doesn't really matter. It took both of their efforts for it to happen. It's up to the rest of us to realize its potential.