Shamina Singh, President of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth Join Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Shamina Singh, President of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Shamina Singh © Mastercardcenter.org

Denver: Try to imagine your life if you are completely locked out of the financial system. No banking or checking account, no credit or debit card, no record of transactions or credit score, no access to loans or other financial instruments. And many of the records that help prove that you… are you…well, they would have never existed. There are 2 billion such people in that very predicament around the world. The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth didn’t think that was right, while also seeing them as potential customers. They decided to do something about it. And here to tell us what that was and is, is their President, Shamina Singh. Good evening, Shamina, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

 

Shamina Singh: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.

Denver: What is the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth?  And what’s your main focus?

Shamina: The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth is a relatively new organization that was built to use the assets of MasterCard – technology, money, people, network, expertise – to really look at a very important problem of our time– and that’s income inequality– through the lens of financial inclusion.

Denver: What you’re doing here really plays into your theory of change, which is connecting people to networks. Explain that to us.

Shamina: It’s really interesting. It’s very simple if you start to think about it, but it’s not something I thought about every day. But the truth is that there are these informal and formal networks that drive the modern economy. They’re either social networks like Facebook, like SnapChat, things like that. There are physical networks like water, electricity, Internet.  And then there are these virtual networks like your banking account if you’re transacting online. You’re buying and selling online – commerce. Letters of recommendation and referral. These things that connect you up into possibility, and to what we call productivity, that allow you to maximize your own talents and resources. So if you think about these networks, there are a lot of barriers to these networks. There are a lot of enablers to these networks, and there are a lot of barriers.

So, what the Center is really trying to do is look at these networks in a very scientific way, but also a very real, methodical way to say, “How do we figure out how to break down the barriers to the various networks that stop people from reaching their economic potential?” Or more focused, “How do we help business and entrepreneurs, in particular, reach their full potential as business owners?”

Denver: Interesting. Before we get too deep into the work of the Center, MasterCard is a bit of an enigma to many people. Some people think it’s a credit card company; other people think it’s a bank. Perhaps it’s neither. What is MasterCard?

Shamina: I think it’s a great question to level set for everybody. It’s interesting because I’m somebody who comes out of the public sector. So I spent my whole life working for labor unions, for grassroots activist organizations, for the government. So if you would have told me…I don’t even know 10 or 15 years ago… that I’d be working for a company that basically connects buyers and sellers through technology. I wouldn’t have predicted it in a hundred years.

But again, if you think about the power of that technology, and that’s really what MasterCard is. It’s the rails that connect buyers and sellers who can’t see each other. So for example, if you shop online at any platform company… or Etsy… or whatever, and you swipe that card or you tap that phone or whatever, that information, usually, if you’re using a MasterCard, goes on that network, and they will transfer the information that says, “You’re Denver, I’m Shamina, you have money in your account, you want to get money from his account to purchase a product, let’s go ahead, make this transaction happen.” And it happens in less than a blink of an eye. So, that’s some serious technology, and it’s in 212 places around the world, connecting billions of people with millions of banks and opportunities to buy and sell.

Denver: Speaking of billions of people, as we said, there are 2 billion people who are currently locked out of any form of financial system. What are some of the barriers they face that prevent them from being included?

Shamina: I’ll give you a really personal example. And just to put perspective on 2 billion, by the way, so think about 7 billion people in the world, 2 billion completely cut off, but probably 4 billion who are off and on, inside the formal and the informal economy. That’s important because for me personally, I’m a first generation – my parents are from India.  And when my mother was born, she was born without formal identification. So it’s a little known fact that not every country in the world provides a piece of paper that says, “I’m Shamina Singh, this is where I’m born, this is who I say I am.”

When you don’t have that recognition from a government or from some sort of third party entity, it’s really hard to do things like go to college, go to school, get a bank account, get connected up into a network that gives you access beyond your own geographical space. So that’s what financial exclusion is really about. It’s about the inability and the problems that come when you’re confined geographically to where you live, and you can’t really transact beyond yourself or beyond the person next to you because all you have is a currency – a piece of paper, cash, whatever. So if you’re not included in a financial economy, you’re really living in a world that is very confined.

So that’s what financial exclusion is really about. It’s about the inability and the problems that come when you’re confined geographically to where you live, and you can’t really transact beyond yourself or beyond the person next to you because all you have is a currency – a piece of paper, cash, whatever. So if you’re not included in a financial economy, you’re really living in a world that is very confined.

Denver: Yes. I think in the case of your mom, they use a rope to keep track of her age.

Shamina: Yes. You’ve done your research. Oh, my gosh. Yes. So at that time, for girls in the village, they would tie a knot …around the time you’re born and every year… to try to keep track. But if you think about it– Think about my mother. Just staying with that example for a second.. and this idea for networks.

She was born in a village in India. Didn’t have a birth certificate. Grew up in the village and grew up in Delhi. Married my father. They had an arranged marriage… and which was also very productive because I have four sisters, so that was a good thing. But moving from the village to the city, moving from the city, my father moved to the United States to complete his education.  He moved from an area of, at the time, lower productivity, to an area of higher productivity to reach more maximum levels. He brought my mother over with the children and brought us to a place that allowed us to reach even more of our potential.

So it’s really a human example of how networks drive the modern economy. And the closer you are to networks that allow you to achieve your potential or your gifts or your talents, the more successful you’ll be.

The closer you are to networks that allow you to achieve your potential or your gifts or your talents, the more successful you’ll be.

Denver: Well, a good example of that. Does technology play a role in financial inclusion… getting more people included?  And if so, how?

Shamina: Technology is a massive enabler of financial inclusion. I mean, I’ll tell you, and you know this probably from all of your shows and everything you do that this is an enormous time of change. But it’s an enormous time for opportunity. So there is this enormous convergence of technology with things like data, with things like artificial intelligence, but also this enormous need, this enormous amount of human suffering that’s still happening around the world. We have all the tools at our disposal to solve these problems, or at least address the challenges. So what makes me very interested in this work, and to get back to your question about technology, is that we have an enormous enabler of human potential called technology that exists today, that’s constantly changing.

Technology is a massive enabler of financial inclusion…We have an enormous enabler of human potential called technology that exists today, that’s constantly changing.

Denver: Let’s say I’m illiterate. How can technology help me become part of the financial system?

Shamina: If you can’t read, and frankly, this is something we’ve come across in a lot of our work, you have voice recognition sometimes. In some of our projects, especially with government social subsidy programs, a lot of times, we will allow the registration for the program to include a voice recognition… so that if you want to draw down your benefit, or if you want to make a banking transaction, you can simply dial the number on your phone and say, “Hi, I’m Shamina Singh,” voice ID, and then the money comes straight into your account, and then you can start to transact using either your phone or a card or whatever it is that’s easy for you.

Denver: Very cool. A topic that I know interests you deeply is the cost of cash, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Took me awhile to get my arms around that. What is the cost of cash?

Shamina: I know. Did you ever think that there are costs to cash? Here’s what’s interesting about cash. Cash has no friends. Unless there’s some reason why you want to transact in a way that is without identification or without trace. So in that community, cash has a lot of friends.

Denver: In the sketchy community.

Shamina: Well, potentially. The cost of cash, if you think about it—And we’ve actually done studies to show that from a country perspective, it can cost a country anywhere from 0.05% of their GDP all the way to 2% of GDP, depending on how much time, energy, effort, is spent driving cash somewhere, having people guard the cash, transacting in cash in a way that means, depending on where you are, you have to have an enormous amount of security around that cash. Then you have to bundle up the cash at the end of the day, put it in a bag, or do whatever you’re going to do, and then hope that nobody sees you going to your bank to make that late-night deposit into the late-night deposit box. That’s just one example.

…we wanted to really focus on financial inclusion because at the end of the day, not only do we want to make sure people are connected up into the formal economy, but we want to make sure that MasterCard as a business entity isn’t so focused on the top 1% of the world and then they leave everybody else behind.

Denver: Sure. Standing online. All those things. A lot of time involved.

Shamina: A lot of time involved. If you think about maybe for countries who may get their benefits or may get their paychecks and things like that in more physical form, people spend days waiting in line to get their check or their voucher.  And especially with this refugee crisis, you can only imagine how much time people are spending… and how dangerous it is to get your refugee aid or your humanitarian aid in the form of money. Maybe you’re living in a camp and so you’re surrounded by people who are in a very tough predicament. So there are enormous physical costs to cash and economic costs of cash, and what we found is that 85% of transactions in the world today are still done in cash. Only 15% are actually digital. So if you think of a company like MasterCard, that’s an enormous amount of actual running room in terms of the business proposition, which is also the other reason why we wanted to really focus on financial inclusion because at the end of the day, not only do we want to make sure people are connected up into the formal economy, but we want to make sure that MasterCard as a business entity isn’t so focused on the top 1% of the world and then they leave everybody else behind.

Denver: So your competition really is not Visa, it’s cash.

Shamina: Well, I don’t know about that. But if you think about the enormous business opportunity, it’s a world where you really want people to go digital.

Denver: Well, at MasterCard Center, you set a goal to get 500 million more people included in the financial system by 2020. That is one ambitious goal. What exactly will you do to see that will happen?

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Eric Kessler, the Founder and Senior Managing Director of Arabella Advisors Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Eric Kessler, the Founder and Senior Managing Director of Arabella Advisors, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Eric Kessler

Denver: There are not many harder decisions than to start an organization, see it grow and prosper, and then, while still remaining involved with it, decide to hire a CEO to run it so you can pursue something else that has captivated you. But that is more or less the story of my next guest. He is Eric Kessler, the Founder, and now Senior Managing Director of the Good Food Practice at Arabella Advisors. Good evening, Eric, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

 

Eric Kessler: Thank you so much.

Denver: Tell us about Arabella Advisors, how you got it started, and the mission and work of the organization.

Eric: I started Arabella Advisors out of a personal experience with philanthropy. I came from a very philanthropic family and recognized early on how hard it is to be good at giving money away. Through the frustrations that I faced as a young philanthropist, I decided to build a firm that provided a set of support services to some of the nation’s most significant philanthropists – families, individuals, big corporate foundations, and large institutional foundations. And we as a firm wake up every day to help philanthropists have the greatest impact possible with our resources.

I think that the next decade of philanthropy is going to be all about partnerships between donors.  It’s going to be about different vehicles for getting things done; it’s going to be about market-based solutions.  And thankfully, it’s going to be about a massive influx of resources into the social sector.

Denver: Looking at the future of philanthropy for a moment, are you observing anything now that might provide a window on where philanthropy is headed over the next 5 to 10 years?

Eric: Well, if we look at where it’s been, it’s pretty remarkable the transition that we’ve already made in the last 10 years. When I started Arabella 12 years ago, the words ‘impact investing’ didn’t exist. The Gates Foundation was a small family foundation. Warren Buffett hadn’t really entered the scene as a philanthropist. And the last decade has really seen a huge transformation in philanthropy.

Now what we’re seeing is younger generations getting involved, the blurring of the lines between for-profit and nonprofit, donors thinking about new and creative structures for their philanthropy. It’s not all about setting up a foundation. There are different finance vehicles and different ways to have impact. And so, I think that the next decade of philanthropy is going to be all about partnerships between donors. It’s going to be about different vehicles for getting things done; it’s going to be about market-based solutions. And thankfully, it’s going to be about a massive influx of resources into the social sector.

Denver: Sounds exciting. So as I mentioned, you stepped away from leading the organization and decided to look at Good Food. What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Eric: Well, I stepped away as part of the original plan with the firm, which was, I knew that after 10 years, having no prior experience as a consultant or running a business for that matter, I would have gotten it as far as I could. So I decided early on that at the 10-year mark, my partner and I should really relinquish day-to-day management to somebody who had a different skill set and different perspective and fresh ideas.

That coincided with my growing interest in the food sector, so I had the opportunity to move out of that chair and into a new one that I created, allowing me to work with our clients that care most about our food system. That, for me, came from several years of work with some of the biggest foundations focused in that area, and a real fascination with the notion that our food system is really at the root of so many problems in our society – from immigration issues to human rights issues, to economic development and jobs, to women’s health, to community development and economic development. So, yes, I care about food, but I also care about the impact that our food system has on all of these other deep-rooted challenges in our society.

I had the opportunity to work with a number of clients over the years. It came time for this transition, and I had asked myself:  Am I going to go sailing?  Or am I going to dive into food full time? and I—

Denver: Decided to do both.

Eric: I’m doing both as it turns out. But principally food.

Our food system is deeply broken in many ways. If you look at the entire good food supply chain, from how food is grown and produced, to how it’s picked and delivered and  purchased and consumed, there are serious issues at every step of the way.

Denver: Right. Well, there’s increasingly more and more talk, Eric, about systems change. How you can no longer optimize one part and then optimize another. You first must understand how they relate to one another and how the system works before you can make effective change. So let me ask you: Is our food system broken, and if so, how is it broken?

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Mental Health America

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: This evening, we’re going to take a trip down to 500 Montgomery Street in Alexandria, Virginia, and to the headquarters of Mental Health America. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo, followed by some of the members of the MHA staff.

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Paul: Mental Health America’s more than 100 years old but we’ve been functioning for the last several years like a start-up. We value highly our employees. I believe that some of the most creative enterprise, they can emerge from nonprofit, emerge from the brains of young and interested individuals who are working toward the betterment of society. For us, that’s people with mental health concerns and as a result to the work we’re doing, we think we’ve changed the way people think about mental health. From a public safety issue to a public health issue where we need to engage not at times of crisis but far before stage 4 to promote prevention, early identification and intervention, integrated health behavioral help and other services with recovery as the goal.

Valerie Sterns: What is the “wow” at MHA for me is flexibility: work-life balance. MHA affords you growth opportunities, support, even support when the outcome is not the desired outcome. MHA cares about not only my talent, but me as a whole person. We have a flexible work schedule. We can work two days from home. And that was incentive for me because I have a husband and two sons and it’s really hard for me to get time for myself. Across from the office is a wellness room, so if I need to take a nap and relax, take some time out for myself, I am afforded that opportunity. So certainly flexibility is certainly a great incentive to work at MHA.

B94DE93F-8C8F-45CD-9670-88771094EECCKelly Davis: One of my favorite parts about working at MHA is really the open style of communication and lack of really enforced kind of power roles that exist. I think especially, traditionally in the nonprofit sector and in kind of government work. Because here, we are always making jokes with each other. We share a lot of memes online. We have a lot of inside jokes. Our CEO made his own meme. And we can shoot jokes back and forth. I mean when you work in nonprofit especially, a lot of the problems you’re working on are really serious and it can be hard to keep up with that stamina of working in such intense work. But when you have an environment that’s so open and can keep the playfulness, it’s easier for passion to stay alive. I would also say that the openness and the lack of intense structure mean that everybody’s ideas are important. So I’ve been here for two years and I can just walk into our CEO’s office and say, “Hey, this is a thing I think it’s important. And this is why I think it’s important. Can I do something like this?” And he gives me feedback. I’m 24 and when I talk to other people my age, that’s really, really rare. So I love MHA.

Siobhan Carpenter: I went in there the week before the conference and said, “You know, Paul, I think my service dog could use some extra trainings and things I’d like to work on with him to help him support me better. Can I use my personal development budget for that?” He said, “Make sense to me.” And we started training so we are now in our fourth week and he’s being promoted to level 2 this week. So just really, really great things that I’m really, really grateful for.

B4133A33-18BB-495D-A540-4AAE57233378Michael: Everyone that comes to our office is always wowed to its appearance and its openness. We have windows. We’re on the 8th floor and we can even see the Washington Monument and the dome on the Jackson Memorial. We see the airplanes flying in over the Potomac River. On the other side, we can look over one of our four balconies that are wi-fi capable and fully-furnished. We can look over and see United Way building and the MGM Casino and Hotel. It’s just a fabulous place. I think Sacha mentioned that it’s like being at home. And when we moved in, a lot of staff took the liberty to stay after hours and enjoy the snacks that we provide. It is always well-stocked. One of my responsibilities is to make sure that all staff had everything that they need to do their job effectively and efficiently.

Jennifer: So coming in, I get really wound up and worked up about things that… most of them are out of my control. And I think one of the most important things that a lot of the people who have been here for a while have told me is “It can wait.” That was a huge thing that really changed a lot of the ways that I worked around here.

We have an instant messaging system in the office called Slack, so there’s general threads where the entire staff is in or just individual threads and in the general threads, we also recognize people for the things that they’ve done well. So I think that’s been a really great way to keep people positive because when you’re facing such a colossal issue especially in the nonprofit world, it can get really tiring and very hard really fast. I think it’s called burnout. Well, a lot of people talk about burnout professionally where they just work 60 hours or 80 hours a week and you just get tired, but I think in the nonprofit world a lot of that burnout comes from being frustrated with things that you feel like you can’t fix and things that you care so much about. And that just little positive things bring you back up.

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Sachin: One of the things I like about the way that we communicate now is that when we moved over to Slack, we were able to start looking at some of the statistics around how many fewer e-mail we ended up sending between each other and the office. I get a weekly rundown of how much we’re using Slack and it is frankly a little absurd how easy it’s made communication. Between the 24 of us, we send something around 3000 messages over Slack to each other every week. And on the other hand, our inter-office communication over e-mail has gone down by about 40% but what I really like about this is there are things that you just frankly send over a platform like that that you wouldn’t bother sending an email over.

Siobhan: There’s something about the culture of MHA and I’ve had a friend and we were doing lunch and she came by and I said, “Hold on, I need to finish up an email. You can just come walk around the office with me real quick. I’ll give you a quick tour before we go out to lunch.” She just walked around and she just was so amazed at how everything was just neat and organized, but open, inviting and modern. And the bell! She loved the bell — our Mental Health Bell — cast from the shackles of those who were in institutions, in psychiatric facilities years ago. And it just captures the essence I think of MHA and what we’re about. And the liberties that we have here.

Denver: I want to extend my thanks to those who participated in the segment – Valerie Sterns, Kelly Davis, Michael King, Jennifer Cheang, Sachin Doshi, and Siobhan Carpenter. If you want to hear this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of Mental Health America, all you need to do is go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of GiveDirectly

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: This evening, we’re headed over to Irving Place of Manhattan to visit the New York offices of GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly aims to reshape international giving by sending money directly to people living in extreme poverty. And when Fast Company recently named their 10 most innovative nonprofits, GiveDirectly popped up as number two on that list. So, I thought we would go over there to find out what makes them tick.

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Piali: At GiveDirectly, we are pretty ruthlessly focused on the execution and high-quality execution at that, and really creating clear accountability around the metrics that we think are going to shift the needle in terms of the changes that we want to affect in the sector. And so a lot of the times, what that really comes down to is  actual dollars put in the hands of poor households that we’re enrolling in our program and not KPIs that are incidental to that but really that core metric of getting money to very poor people.  We’re looking at ways to embed that more explicitly in terms of how we think about compensation and performance and bonuses for people so that we can really get everybody marching to that tune. I think that’s really a core part of how we think about success and good culture at GiveDirectly.

Max: Like in our world that prioritizes data, we have, for instance, internal dashboards via Segovia and Tableau and other software that basically shows how well we’re doing against various specific metrics and they’re like coded different colors and you can very clearly see how the team is performing against certain metrics. We also have this dashboard in our office, for instance, that shows how many recipients, how much money we’ve raised, what that converts to in terms of how many recipients we’ve served, and so these constant reminders of both performing against metrics and then also using data to determine whether or not we’re succeeding.

Matt: It’s been really interesting for me and my time here at GiveDirectly to employ a different set of values to my work and to think about a hypersensitivity to transparency and to complete respect for our recipients, so that really what I need to do here is just tell it like it is, tell the truth in as direct and simple of a way as possible at all times. There’s no spin, there’s no hyperbole, there’s no exaggeration of how exciting our programs are. We really have a deep cultural value of honesty and transparency and just telling people what the real story on the ground is.

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Caroline: Working at GiveDirectly basically over the last nine months have been quite an experience for me. This is something that has been quite uplifting for me because when you come into an organization as a staff, one thing that you look for is not too [keen], but a challenge that is worth your time, something that challenges your brain, something that challenges your career path and pushes you to work harder each day. It is exactly what I’ve got here at GiveDirectly.

Piali: We’ve made it kind of an explicit value and principle to not be the kind of culture that gets bogged down in excessive e-mails and meetings. I think we view those as purely instrumental tools to getting to good decisions and moving things forward. So we’re pretty strict and default to asking the question of “Do we need to gather these five people together or can we throw something in the Google Doc or exchange an email in way that can get through a decision much more quickly?” I think folks that have joined the team from bigger companies or from different environments are often kind of heartened initially to see that because of that, decisions get made quite quickly and I think that’s been critical to our ability to grow fast and iterate on the product in a way that we have.

Matt: For me, the biggest driver of our culture is actually our hiring strategy and it’s something that we spend a lot of time thinking about and iterating on. We have a general policy here to kind of skew more towards people with more of a generalist background, people who are highly intelligent, have proven that they can produce really strong work in a variety of different context throughout their career but don’t necessarily come from the nonprofit sector and don’t necessarily have a 10- or 20- or 30 years of deep domain expertise in the specific functional realm that we’re looking to hire for. We tend to hire people who are a little more generalist, who we then trust that they kind of figure it out.

Joe: It’s a sort of technical, analytical process of taking in all the data we take on recipients and saying “who should we follow up with again to make sure we got it right?” This was a real PowerPoint deck we’ve seen in a call recently and I just started sending it to candidates and saying “I want to talk about this when we have a chance to talk.” We’d go there and I’d of give a little bit of an explanation and we talk through does it make sense, how would you approach this problem, where do you think Well (the person who made the presentation) is making a mistake or not. And I found both of those to give you a good sense of how they approach problems and how they think.

Max: I think the culture is intellectual and casual and very open. In the way that Matt was describing like here are the types of people that generally GiveDirectly hires and that stay at GiveDirectly, that naturally produces this sort of generalist…everyone is interested in what other people are doing in like a probing, sort of curious way. I think that’s really cool. I think it’s very friendly. People are very supportive of other people.

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Joe: The other thing I’d add on culture is there’s a sort of intensity to it. We care a lot about quality in basically every facet of what we’re doing and the bar for a good email to donors or a good interaction with recipients or even a sort of a good decision on just about anything I think is really high that we value a certain level of strong reasoning, a certain level of quality in how we write about GiveDirectly or quality in what our finances look like, and I think that pervades every different part of the organization.

Denver: I want to thank Paul Niehaus, the President of GiveDirectly, for allowing us to visit their offices, and to those who participated – Max Chapnick, Matt Johnson, Caroline Teti, Piali Mukhopadhyay, and Joe Houston. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com to hear this again, and while you’re there, we’ll have a link to my full interview with the President of GiveDirectly, Paul Niehaus.

The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Devex

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: It was only a couple of months ago that Raj Kumar, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, came to the AM 970 Studios, so I thought I will return the favor and visit the offices of Devex, which I did on my last trip to Washington. We’ll start the segment with Raj telling us about Devex, and then we will hear from some of the members of the staff of what it is like to work there.

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Raj: We’re a lot like the Bloomberg of the global development field… meaning we’re this media platform; we’ve got all different ways that journalists and analysts around the world could get information about what’s going on in global development to the people who are actually doing that work. So our audience are people who work at the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or the UN System or lots of NGOs, charities– small and big– all over the world.

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Carine: The staff is really young in comparison to other development organizations, or other media companies even, and I think this is a place where ideas are really valued both by the staff and also by the senior management. So if you have an idea for something, whether it’s like totally bananas and crazy or actually just something to improve the way that we’re doing things, you can take that idea to anyone in the team and people are willing to help even make that come to life.

Margaret: And so what we did was we implemented this thing called “Small Improvements,” and we do reviews every two months and it makes it a lot easier. And instead of calling them reviews and thinking of them as these big reviews, we talk about it as coaching. And I think that’s really integral to Devex’s culture. It’s this idea that we’re all coaching each other, and the teams are coaching their team leads and the team leads are coaching their teams. Everyone is allowed to give feedback to whomever they want and the teams are specifically guided to give feedback to each other in a coaching way. And I think a really good way to think about our culture and one thing that makes us unique is that we’re a high-performing team.

IMG_1978Colleen: One of the “Wow” moments for me working at Devex–and a lot of us here have come from other companies–is related to these reviews. And even at the time when we were doing them semi-annually, one of the questions that always gets asked is “What do you want to do within your profile that’s outside of what your job description is?” And I think that it’s a unique and special thing to be asked what more do you want to do, maybe not necessarily specifically within your role, but what are you interested in.

 

Nina: We don’t make a practice of extending office to people we’re not 100% confident in. So in summation, it is definitely at the core of our hiring process to consider if someone is going to add to the Devex culture, especially as we’re growing.

Carine: Every Friday at Devex, you will find “Frine,” which is Friday plus wine put together. We created our own word called Frine. And I think that’s one of the pillars of Devex culture and being able to every Friday afternoon–for some of the different offices, it’s a little bit later–but we take time to  just kind of put our computers away.

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Allison: Another way we use Slack is by posting on our new business channel, so anytime someone has a new business win, you can share it with everyone and everyone reacts with emojis and it’s really exciting to sort of get that praise. And it also helps just with other teams so other teams can know what new business is going on across team. So I think that that’s another thing that I find really valuable because I’m a words-of-affirmation person. I need a lot of praise. It’s my love language. And so I think that I absolutely feel supported because I have that from my colleagues and I really value their opinion.

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Colleen: Another perk that I think is pretty unique to Devex, and it’s relatively new, but it’s something called the YAY! days. So twice a year–and you’re meant to use them in the first half of the year, and then your second one in the second half–you have a day where it’s not a sick day, it’s not a vacation day, it’s just a day where you take off and you do something really fun, and the only requirement is that you take a picture of yourself doing it and you post to everybody in Slack.

Nina: So that’s a big part of it, the Devexplain. I explain how we operate as a flat organization, what that means, how that will kind of come to bear in their time at Devex and how they can navigate certain situations. A lot of people are coming from organizations that are more bureaucratic, so telling them, “This how it’s different. These are the words we use.” We don’t use the word manager, we use team lead. We sway away from even the word company because we serve a sector that is about social impact, so we like to think of ourselves more of an organization or a social enterprise. So really imparting to them the language that we use, our values, our culture, and really spelling it out so that there’s just no ambiguity. They understand that this is the culture, and we’re really setting them up to succeed here and what that looks like.

IMG_1979Margaret: I will say that all the things that we’ve mentioned are because our leadership across the board thinks that it’s important to be constantly changing and evolving. And while the focus is always helping the people who are doing good work do it even better, we are constantly looking at ourselves and evaluating the data that we’re—we collect data on ourselves, on how people connect to the mission, on how people are feeling. We’re data driven. We really are. And so, when leadership looks at the data, when anyone looks at the data and says, “What about this idea? What if we add wellness walks because people are feeling like they don’t have enough—they’re not pushing themselves to work out? So what if we just all get out of the office?” or “What if we really try to focus on getting diversity in this area?” Anytime that people look at the data and have ideas, they’re taken seriously.

Denver: I want to thank Margaret Richardson for organizing this and to all those who participated: Margaret Richardson, Allison Punch, Colleen Casey, Nina Takahashi, and Carine Umuhumuza. Podcast, transcript, and pictures of the participants and the Devex offices can all be found at denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

Dan Cardinali, President and CEO of Independent Sector, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dan Cardinali, President and CEO of Independent Sector, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Denver: It is always so interesting to hear from the leaders of nonprofit organizations about the work they do around a particular issue and the lives that are being transformed as a result. But it is also essential to take a step back now and again to understand the dynamics of the sector in which this work is going on and the issues that impact all of these organizations. We cannot find a better person to do that with than my next guest. He is Dan Cardinali, the President and CEO of the Independent Sector. Good evening, Dan, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Dan Cardinali: Denver, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Denver: Give our listeners some of the history of the Independent Sector and of the organization’s mission and goals.

Dan: Independent Sector was founded 37 years ago by a social entrepreneur, John Gardner, who was really a public intellectual. He had been in the for-profit, nonprofit, academia, a chronic social entrepreneur who founded many organizations. He realized that there was this very important role for the founding of the Independent Sector to be an organization that brought philanthropy and nonprofits together into a vital meeting ground where it was non-transactional. It was about understanding where the world was and how civil society can come together and solve problems, build culture, preserve the natural environment, and then to translate that activity into good public policy… So the sector could be a real force for good, but partnering with government and with business in transforming the world.

Denver: Most people, I don’t think, fully appreciate the scope and breadth of this sector in the United States. Why don’t you describe it to us?

Dan: Sure. The name goes — you hear social sector, you hear charitable sector, you hear nonprofit, they’re all basically the same. There are about 1.6 million nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in the United States. They range from the zoos to museums, to the food banks, to churches, to synagogues, to all sorts of wonderful think tanks that produce incredibly important ideas. These 1.6 million organizations make up the nonprofit sector.

I don’t think most folks know that 1 in 10 Americans are actually employed by the social sector. If you think about the 63 million volunteers every year this country has, 1 in 4 Americans is actively involved in this sector. So we generate about $ ½  trillion dollars of economic activity, and if you look at that volunteer time alone, it’s worth almost $200 billion of value. So it is in a robust, dynamic part of American life and American economy.

Nonprofits, small as they may be, provide a really important opportunity for citizens to continually engage with each other, solve problems, and improve the community.

Denver: You just mentioned there are about 1.6 million nonprofits, and I think we have about 320 million people in the country right now – so doing some quick math, that’s about one nonprofit for every 200 people. Do you think the sector would benefit, be more efficient and effective, with a little bit of consolidation?

Dan: I think that is kind of a nonprofit-by-nonprofit reflective question. One thing that you can see is, efficiency does matter when you’re using and stewarding resources on behalf of community. So in so far as you can create efficiencies, and if consolidation enables you to do that, that’s terrific. An organization I used to work with– Communities in Schools– we saw some consolidation over the years when you had a number of very small rural affiliates unable to get the kind of critical mass that an economy of scale by consolidation promoted. And they were able to hire even better staff, build the kinds of technology systems that enabled them to be much more analytical, and then therefore, better services to kids.

However, there’s something in America that’s incredibly important. This notion of association– Individual citizens making decisions about coming together and solving problems or promoting culture or preserving the environment.

Nonprofits, small as they may be, provide a really important opportunity for citizens to continually engage with each other, solve problems, and improve the community. So you want to be careful with a blanket statement, like, “We need to consolidate!” as much as: “What are we trying to get accomplished?  And how do we get an organizational structure strong enough to help us really achieve that vision?”

Denver: So taking the entirety of this vast and multi-faceted and fascinating sector, what is the unique role that the Independent Sector plays and the distinct contribution that you make, Dan?

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Adarsh Alphons, Founder and Executive Director of ProjectArt Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Adarsh Alphons, Founder and Executive Director of ProjectArt and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Denver: You get to hear from the CEOs of some of the best known and well-established non-profit organizations in the country most every single week. But there are some newer and lesser known ones that are beginning to have a profound impact and are reimagining the sector in fresh and creative ways. One of those would be ProjectArt. With us this evening is their Founder and Executive Director, Adarsh Alphons. Good evening, Adarsh, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Adarsh Alphons: Happy to be here, Denver. Thanks for having me.

Denver: Tell us about ProjectArt and the mission and goals of the organization.

Adarsh: ProjectArt seeks to unleash the creative power in libraries nationwide by putting art classes in them and offering studio space to emerging artists.

Denver: You may be the only person that I’ve had on this show, Adarsh, who was, or at least admits to, having been expelled from school at the ripe old age of 7. What in the world were you doing?

Adarsh: It began with a very unfortunate situation of– I didn’t realize that I was going to be sitting here and mentioning– telling this and sharing this with everyone else we have listening, but I was kicked out of school when I was 7 years old because I drew in every class. It’s something that I resorted to because I had a tendency to draw, and I wasn’t understanding what was going on in class. I wasn’t coping, and that drawing was my way of  finding my headspace.  And I got kicked out of school because I wasn’t doing anything but that.

I grew up in India, and this is in Delhi, and the environment was such that didn’t necessarily support arts. But I knew drawing gave me the free space and the liberty through which to find myself and to learn. You know doodling is a way of learning, they found recently.

Denver: Yes. It’s good for the brain, as a matter of fact, I hear. It actually increases blood flow to the parts of the brain which is where rewards are… and things of that sort. But you went to another school, and that is where everything changed for you.

Adarsh: Yes. So having been kicked out of the school, my parents took me to a different school where I got into trouble again. I was taken to the principal. Basically, this would be the last stop before I was kicked out again. The principal said, “Well, you know, Adarsh, look, clearly you like to draw… I have no idea what you’re drawing, but that’s okay. Also, study. Do your drawing, but also study. Draw as much as you want, but make sure you learn something too. I felt validated. I felt I had a license to be myself. Here I was… a kid who had trouble learning and coping, and now, from someone who was authoritative in the school, the principal, I had a license to be myself. My grades went up. I started to draw a lot, and I took to drawing. I took to finishing my subjects on time. Yes, I had radical improvement of grades.

There I was a few weeks later, giving this drawing in person to Nelson Mandela, who has now since passed, so the opportunity will not come again. But I also realized — and I was 10 years old at that time — I realized if I had stopped drawing, I would never have had a chance to meet someone so cool and so great. At that moment, it was just beyond fathoming what it was. It’s like meeting Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It’s insane.

Denver: Wow, so art really saved your life in many ways, and this culminated for you with a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Tell us how that came about.

Adarsh: At 7, I was kicked out of school. This was early ‘90s. In ‘94, Mandela became President of South Africa. It was a big moment globally, so I remember. And in ’95, he was visiting India, so I did these drawings of him based on television interviews and magazine covers just on a piece of paper, showed it to Dad.  Dad said, “Show it to your principal since she’s a fan of your work.” So I said, “Okay.” So I took it to Madam Simmon… that’s her name. And she said, “Oh, Adarsh, guess what! Actually, next month, Mandela is visiting Delhi, and we have some kids from school going to greet him at a hotel, and you should come along with us because we have the best athlete here; we have the best academic student. What we don’t have is someone that is a creative, and we have to show the breadth of what we bring to the next generation. Creativity is a part of it.” So I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

There I was a few weeks later, giving this drawing in person to Nelson Mandela, who has now since passed, so the opportunity will not come again. But I also realized — and I was 10 years old at that time — I realized if I had stopped drawing, I would never have had a chance to meet someone so cool and so great. At that moment, it was just beyond fathoming what it was. It’s like meeting Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It’s insane.

Denver: It’s beyond me right now, as a matter of fact, even as you’re talking about it. Well, knowing how arts can transform a life because it transformed yours — you come to America, and you take a look at the art scenes in the public schools of this country. Let’s start with New York City. How available are the arts across the system?

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of United Way Worldwide

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: And for this evening’s Better Than Most, you will be going down to Alexandria, Virginia in the headquarters of United Way Worldwide. The United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. The United Way is 130 years old and there are 1,800 local United Ways in 40 countries. And often older organizations and bigger organizations have more difficulty adapting to changing times. But as you’re about to hear, the United Way is more than meeting that challenge. 

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Lori: So we actually have four behaviors that represent our culture here at United Way: one is extend your reach and it’s about creating communities because we solve problems together with other people, not alone; Forge trust, again, in order to do the work that we do, we need to have trust which is about integrity, it’s about character and commitment; Find common ground, which is about inclusion and having representation for all different perspectives; and the last is believe because it is about the mission and what we do. So those are the four culture behaviors that represent United Way.

Donna: One of the things that I feel is a “wow!” about United Way are the people. I’ve been in the DC area for 11 years and I would say that everywhere I’ve worked, it’s always felt like people do not care about the people around them it was just about getting the work done. I’ve never worked somewhere where everywhere you go, people stop and they talk to you. They want to know more about you. They want to know your story. They want to know what brought you here. But also, everybody is just really in tune with the mission and they really care about what they do. I think that shows, too, with how long people stay here. Every other year, we actually host the 30 Year Awards.

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Jon: I want to talk about the avenues that employees have here to express our voice, to share ideas about how we improve the workplace as a whole. We have a great opportunity in our staff council. So our staff council is made up of staff from all levels, from all departments and it gives us a great chance to again express our ideas, what we want to see improve in the culture, and it’s a body that our executive management team recognizes and responds to.

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Jennifer: United Way Worldwide pays up to 75% health insurance for all employees and their dependents. We have 100% coverage for short-term disability up to a max of six months. It’s just an incredible benefits package that really stresses work-life balance. We don’t want people taking their vacation time being sick hence the short-term disability. I think every time I sit down with a new employee and while we’re going through the onboarding process, they really are amazed at what a good package it is and they haven’t had packages like that elsewhere. Being a nonprofit, it’s just mainly…Brian Gallagher has always stressed “don’t cut the benefits” and I think he realizes how important it is to employees and we really haven’t had to cut a lot and I think being able to continue these good benefits and stressing the work-life balance over the last years that I’ve been here, it shows when it’s important to the EMT, to our CEO, it really trickles down and I think the staff feels it as well.

Alex: One of the things that I thought was unique to our organization is all of the new employees besides getting announced at the next quarterly staff meeting and any celebration on their teams, things like that, is also the lunch with the executive management team. It’s not that their doors are closed or anything but it’s nice to take a moment in time and be intentional about creating that connection. So regardless of your staffing level, you’re sitting next to executive management team and the CEO and getting just to know each other on a personal level and the work that you do, and I thought that was really helpful back when I was a new employee. But then also a question is asked during that lunch whether you came because of employer of choice or a mission of choice, and when we did it almost everyone there was because of the mission. And that’s unique to United Way. The mission itself but also the fact that it just collects so many people to advance it.

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Marveen: The other thing I’ll say is that about two years ago, I had a very serious accident where I couldn’t walk for six months. And the outpouring of gifts, of cards, of coming over with casseroles and cookies and cleaning my kitchen…I even had someone that would come over and take my trash out once a week because I couldn’t get down the steps. It’s that kind of caring that is phenomenal. Recently, we had a team member that suffered a health crisis and it rocked our building because we care, and I’ll even use the world love, love this gentleman so much that we just needed to see his healing and we have done everything we can to make sure that he’s progressed and it’s good that he’ll be coming back real soon.

Jon: So one uniquely United Way thing that all of our staff should be familiar with is Rudy. So Rudy is a reindeer statue that makes an appearance every holiday and from what I understand, Rudy has been around actually for decades and this statue will appear on each floor for a week or two during the holidays. It’s bedazzled, it’s got Christmas lights on it, and it survived building renovations, it survived…it’s just been around for a long time. So we know during the holidays, Rudy the Reindeer is going to make an appearance.

Megan: I think one final thing that I would want everyone to know about United Way is that although we have a rich 130-year history, we are not sort of this old, soggy organization that I think we often get perceived as. We are innovating. We are moving fast. There is a lot of energy here. So we are breaking down silos in lots of different ways.

There’s a lot of disruption in our world today and United Way needs to and is adapting to that change and that’s exciting and it makes United Way an exciting place to work.

Lori: So we’re recognizing and our CEO recognize that it’s time for us to really transform our organization with the disruption that we’re seeing in the marketplace and the way that the world is becoming more digitized and globalized, and so that’s part of the goal, is to say let’s not lose any of the great things that are in our culture but let’s turn the light up and add some pieces that help us to transform and move quickly.

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Denver: I’d like to thank Southerlyn Reisig for organizing my visit and for all those who participated: Lori Malcom, Megan Walker, Jennifer Chavez, Alexander Fike, Donna Platon, Jon Swann and Marveen Hart. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we will have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants as well as the headquarter offices of United Way Worldwide. 

 


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

 

 

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Bridgespan Group

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

Denver: One of the very best nonprofit organizations in the world just so happens to have one of the very best corporate cultures. It is the Bridgespan Group which helps mission-driven organizations and philanthropists to advance their learning and accelerate their impact. Their Boston headquarters is in Copley Square and I visited there recently to hear from the staff about some of the unique and exceptional aspects of their work culture. 

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Derek: When we engage with our clients, we engage in what are called case teams. So there is typically a partner that will manage the main client, and then there’s a manager on the case, and then there are a number of consultants or associate consultants. And the case team will also be supported by operations teams and marketing and knowledge and different pieces as well. But in that core case team, really the essence is that you’re able to split up the work that you’re doing and give people ownership over different pieces of that work. And that case team will typically extend over the course of six or eight months of the engagement, and then you’ll go your separate ways and then maybe come back together when you’re on another case with another client.

Jen: I mean I really believe since day one that our leadership team walks the talk. You see it from the compassion and kindness and generosity even in terms of just giving people credit for the work that they do. So you’ll see at company meetings, Jeff or one of our leaders will stand up and talk about an important meeting that they were at and he’ll give credit to the junior person in the room if they’re there. Or when he comes back and he’s telling a story about the great work that someone perceived that Bridgespan did for them, he gives the credit to the team and he’ll name the people in the room. And I think that really sets a standard and I think people feel really good about that.

Mandy: I also have found it to be an incredible opportunity for personal growth. So I didn’t know much at all about the world of consulting before I entered it, and it just has turned out to be a great fit in terms of stretching me and pushing me to play different roles that I’ve played here at Bridgespan to interact with different organizations, different kinds of leaders; to be stretched but in a way that we’re being supported and coached, so I’m not being thrown out to dry by I am being pushed to see what I can do, to see what I can achieve.

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Sridhar: That change, that dynamism, I think, creates an organizational culture, where to some degree, there’s this sense of dissatisfaction with the way the world is and trying to do everything you can to change it. So the famous Robert Kennedy metaphor, “ripples of hope,” echoes around this place, that everyone sees their work as being those ripples of hope. And they want to see those ripples be bigger and bigger over time. And so there is this sense of dissatisfaction of continually pushing to the sense of how can we do this better, how can we make an even greater impact than what we did before? That is both challenging, that is dynamic, that is at times stressful, but also incredibly motivating, incredibly enabling and empowering, and ultimately is the reason why we do the work.

Rayshawn: I think another thing that really resonates for me is the mission of the work we do. I know that whether I am working however many hours in that week, it’s going to be for a client that I care about, it’s going to be with people that I care deeply about, and it’s going to be pushing towards a mission that I feel deeply aligns with my personal mission. As Mandy mentioned, being able to align with work that is really focused on breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty is really exciting and not something you get to do everywhere.

Mandy: One of the ways that we think about growth at Bridgespan is about the formal training we give. We also provide a lot of informal training on-the-job training in the context of our case teams, in the context of peer colleagues or mentors. But the formal training is something that is really unique in that we’ve been able to take, in my mind, the best of two worlds. So we are able to benefit from the excellent training that Bain & Company, which sort of incubated us in our early days and is still a very close partner. They enable us to send our staff to their trainings, their consultant trainings. So essentially, our staff are able to access sort of world-class training, very tailored to the consulting skill set and common challenges. And we have a complimentary suite of Bridgespan training, so the areas in which the tool kit is different or where we diverge from how Bain does their work, we’re able to provide that. But that combination is just an incredible value from my own personal experience, from seeing, at this point, hundreds of people over the years go through Bain training. It’s a real asset and one of the ways in which we help people grow.

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Rayshawn: We’ve also got a phenomenal annual review process where people are receiving input from their direct supervisors. People are also receiving input from their direct reports, and all of that comes together. I’m an associate consultant and what happens is all of the partners and managers actually get together in a big room, which is a fish bowl, so  you know when they’re all in there, and they talk about, “Here’s what this person is doing well. Here’s what this person needs to continue working on.” Then you’ve got a consensus reviewer who pulls all of that together and delivers the message to you. So, not only do you have a lot of people thinking about this really intently, but you’ve got somebody that’s able to say, “Here are the key messages you need to hear,” which makes it so much easier than focusing on “here’s what I need to do to improve.”

Jen: There’s a variety of ways of being involved at Bridgespan, and we have what we call Extra 10% Committees and you can join as many as you want. Generally, people join one or two. But it’s extra 10% because it’s really like you get your job done and then you come join this committee and pitch in to the culture. But I’m on one that’s called “The Way We Work,” and a lot of that has to do with how we work in this open design space and making sure that all seating is equally desirable and accessible, speaking into the whole non-hierarchical atmosphere we strive to have here.

Sridhar: And so I think we’ve made conscious organizational investments to increase the amount of communication, increase the amount of collaboration in part because our theory of the way the work happens is that it does not happen by an individual themselves. It happens with all of us as teams. It happens as an organization. And so that culturally is important to who we are. It’s culturally important. I think to folks who succeed here, succeed within that kind of construct. They’re able to be collaborative. They’re able to work well with their colleagues, to share, to learn. We’ve got about 30 whiteboards on wheels that get wheeled around left, right and center. Things get drawn and erased all the time. That sense of creating something through a collaborative environment is quite important.

Mandy: I’m proud of the way in which Bridgespan strives to be an inclusive organization. So over 50% of our partner group is women. That’s unusual to look at any senior partner group at a professional services entity and see that. We’ve scored 100 on the HRC corporate equality index since we’ve been participating, which is on the order of 10 years or so we’ve been doing that. We have well-established group has for folks who are part-time, who need to spend some time with family, need that flexibility at some point on an ongoing basis in their careers. And we’re deeply focused on building our diversity along racial and socio-economic lines, both in terms of certainly the demographics of our staff, bringing diversity of thought and experience, but also increasingly on how we think about that diversity in our work.

Rayshawn:  One of the things I’ve really appreciated about Bridgespan is that we have been completely transparent about the fact that we’re on a journey here. We don’t think that we are the best in the field when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what we are willing to say is that we are working really hard at this and we’re willing to be uncomfortable with the fact that it’s going to be hard to get there. And being uncomfortable in that way is a hard thing to do and it takes not only folks raising their hand and saying, “I want to work on this,” but it also takes people in senior leadership actually modeling the way and being able to say, “This is something we care deeply about.

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Liz London who has been a real good friend of the show for organizing my visit and to those who participated, Jen Driggs, Derek Brine, Mandy Taft-Pearman, Rayshawn Whitford and Sridhar Prasad. You can listen to the podcast, read a copy of the transcript, and see pictures of the participants on the Bridgespan offices simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Echoing Green

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Denver: One of my favorite guests on the Business of Giving is Cheryl Dorsey, the President of Echoing Green. So I was excited when she said, “Come on over and give us a look.” So I took off for 7th Avenue and 35th Street to speak to some of the members of the Echoing Green Team. We’ll start with Cheryl telling us about the organization.1FCFD89A-8C11-4944-BE5D-42618961EF11

Cheryl: We were founded in1987 by the senior leadership of a private equity firm called General Atlantic, who were true pioneers in the space of social entrepreneurship. And the mission of Echoing Green is simple and wonderful: It is to unleash next generation talent to solve the world’s greatest problems.

Stacy: Talking about the culture at Echoing Green — I am one of the newer members of the Echoing Green family — one of the things that stood out for me is the layout of our office. It was designed to resemble a beehive. And that was an amazing thing for me to think about and that bees, they come and they go and they interact with each other… And they’re all working towards a common goal and that’s very similar to what happens here. Even though we have our designated pods and sections in our office, it’s designed in such a way that we flow in and out of our conversations.

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We flow in and out of our daily work lives, so we learn about not only the work and things that we’re doing from day to day, but we learn about our personal lives: our families, situations that we may be going through and how we can support and help each other. And that’s one of the things that is very endearing to me in working at Echoing Green.

Lindsay: One of the things that I have kind of always been in pursuit of is the opportunity to be around people I can learn from and who are kind of eager to exchange ideas, exchange good places to go for lunch, a hug, what have you but kind of all in service of us working again towards… We have something in common. We are really excited about helping to support energetic talent who’s really committed for the long haul to achieving long-term social change. So, I think that’s like waking up everyday and working with people who are constantly thinking about how to do that better is really exciting.

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Corie: One of the things that jumps out for me about working at Echoing Green is this ritual or custom that we have called the Be Bold Award. And on a bi-weekly basis, the whole staff gets together in one of our conference rooms here for a staff meeting where we’re all reporting out on our work and discussing big topics for the organization and then at the end of each of those meetings, someone receives the Be Bold Award. Whoever receives it, passes it onto someone else at the next meeting and that award is really all about recognizing five core values that we’ve identified among our staff at the organization which are: Thinking Big, Community, Always Learning, Resourcefulness and Being Present. I just think that award is such a nice reminder every two weeks of sort of how we want to show up in the workplace and a great way to kind of recognize our co-workers whether we work closely with them or not for something that we’ve noticed.

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Cheryl:  And it was interesting to me probably always wearing my fellow hat first as a staff person trying to think about how do you think about the programming and the community that’s required to build this world class, this best in class fellowship program and what happens when you pay attention to that at the expense of your corporate culture and that I would say, that got us to be sort of leaders in the field but as an institution having to take pause and say, we’re not going to be around to serve anybody unless we really figure out who we are, the values we stand for and how do we invest in our people and our talent first. The women sitting around this table and the rest of my colleagues had really been instrumental in saying “If we’re going to move forward, we’ve got to think about that.” So I think the lesson to learn from people out there trying to build their own institution is really how valuable culture building is and it’s not a static activity

6F951139-D019-49E4-9972-33C25E300A1BLindsay: People start task forces that are meant to address a specific programmatic initiative and they have recognized that they need input from a variety of teams and rather than kind of do that in an ad hoc way kind of trying to formalize it either for a discrete period of time maybe it turns into kind of an ongoing effort. One of those is the Search and Selection Task Force of which I think for probably the last three years or so that has met formally and that is a way for people on the communications team and the fellowship team and the knowledge team to really get together with some regularity and think about not just the specifics of the process for this go-around, but even like what kinds of system changes we might wanna make for the future that can make all of our lives better.

Corie: We are seated one block away from Penn Station and because we’re often kind of the first funders of these fellows, they’re really early stage. Some of them don’t even have their own office space and if they do, are often looking for meeting rooms and things like that. So really any day of the week here, you might see an Echoing Green fellow walking in and out, getting a chance to catch up with them on what’s new on their work. And that’s really just kind of a constant source of inspiration and a constant sort of visual reminder of why we’re doing the work that we’re doing which is really fun.

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Stacy: Echoing Green not only encourages its fellows and its employees but we have an expansive community of both former employees and alumni fellows who are engaged with us. There are employees that have left Echoing Green but they still remain in contact not only with people that are still here but they still follow our community and participate very deeply in our community. And that is something that I think is very important and I think is also an acknowledgment of the work that Cheryl has done in keeping us all engaged, in keeping us all feeling like we’re part of the family like even if you leave, you can always come home. There’s always a cube for you. There’s always a seat for you here. And that’s something that really just speaks to who we are at Echoing Green.

Denver: I want to extend my thanks to those who participated in this piece. In addition to Cheryl, there was Stacy Lewis, Lindsay Booker, and Corie Lieberman. You can listen to this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of their beehive office and the participants by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and we’ll have a link there to my full interview with Cheryl Dorsey.

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