Grant Oliphant, President of Heinz Endowments, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Grant Oliphant, President of Heinz Endowments, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Grant Oliphant

Grant Oliphant

Denver: My next guest is one of the more thoughtful voices in the philanthropic sector, speaking out on issues of public importance and concern where so many others have failed to do so. And he puts those words into practice in his laboratory… which just so happens to be the Greater Pittsburgh community. He is Grant Oliphant, the President of the Heinz Endowments. Good evening, Grant, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Grant: Denver, thank you so much for having me.

Denver: The Heinz Endowments, as the name suggests, is more than just one. Tell us about that and your current mission and focus.

Grant: It’s actually one foundation today, but it started out as two, started by separate members of the Heinz family. The money, as the name suggests, came from the ketchup fortune. That empire began in Pittsburgh a hundred years ago and produced $1.5 billion today in philanthropic resources that the family has put to use primarily for the benefit of Pittsburgh. It’s a global family though, so they really would like it to be used in a way that benefits people in other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

Denver: And speaking of that family, there’s now a new generation of leadership.

Grant: We are navigating a generational transition. Many family foundations struggle with that; ours has been, I think, pleasantly exemplary. This is a family that has had a consistent set of values down through the generations. Henry J. Heinz who founded the company was one of the people who fought for the Pure Food Act and wanted to do the right thing by employees, and wanted to do the right thing by consumers.

Denver: Ahead of his time.

Grant: Way ahead of his time. Actually, it’s becoming timely again because of what we’re facing now. But the family has carried those values down through the generations, so it’s remarkably smooth.

When we look at the future of economic growth, what we’re seeing is that actually many of the opportunities for future economic activity lie in the environmental realm.

Denver: Well, when you assumed the helm at Heinz a few years ago, you refocused your efforts around social justice – and by that, I mean embracing fairness and equity. And you do this through three different portals: sustainability, creativity, and learning. So let’s look at each of those, starting with sustainability, Grant.  And that’s more than just the environment, correct?

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Phil Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Phil Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Givng on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Phil Henderson

Denver: It was 100 years ago that John Emory Andrus created the Surdna Foundation to make access to opportunity available to one and all.  And that tradition has continued now for five successive generations. On this occasion of their centennial anniversary, it is a great pleasure to have with us this evening the President of the Surdna Foundation, Philip Henderson. Good evening, Phil, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Phil: Great to be with you!

Denver: So, tell us about John Andrus, how this all got started back in 1917, and some of the key milestones of the Surdna Foundation over the course of the last hundred years.

Phil:  Well, it’s exciting to think that we’re at 100 years, but John Andrus is someone that most people have never heard of before. But he was a self-made millionaire back in the late 1800s… into the early 1900s, and he did a couple of different things. One is that he developed an elixir called “peptonoids,” precursor to Pepto-Bismol, made a bunch of money from that.  He developed a lot of natural resources and then decided in 1917 to leave effectively half of his fortune to charity through the Surdna Foundation– which was the inversion of his name “Andrus” – Surdna. And the first thing that the foundation did was to build an orphanage in honor of his wife who had been an orphan.  Then it built a nursing home across the street. Both are still functioning up in Hastings-on-Hudson, just north of Yonkers, on Broadway.

Denver: Well, let’s briefly examine the kind of programs that the Surdna Foundation supports, and they really fall into three main categories. The first is the Sustainable Environments Program.  What you’re doing here is taking a fresh look at our crumbling and old infrastructure. Tell us about this “new generation infrastructure” initiative that you have.

Phil: So we’ve always approached our environmental work from the point of view of how people experience the environment. So, we have not been so interested in wetlands or saving trees in the forest, but really understanding how people and the environment interact. And so that led us to really  think about the built environment around people– particularly in our urban areas where that infrastructure, as you say, has been crumbling– really needs a rethink, a reinvention.  So we’re actually thinking about how we’re building our cities, how we’re building our urban areas for the future. And so we’re using less energy, allowing people to have more walkable lives, allowing people to experience their communities in a different way.

Denver: Water management… and things like that.

Phil: Water management, where they get their food, how energy is produced – all of these things… really thinking toward the future.

Denver: The other thing you’re doing is you’re trying to create Strong Local Communities, and this is probably guided by, more than anything else, your commitment to social justice and equity.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of The Children’s Aid Society

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


Transcript

Phoebe: Traditionally, we were pretty siloed. We’ve reorganized ourselves, as I said, to be thinking about this continuum to make sure that all of our staff understand their roles; what role they’re playing.  I have referred to it as “differentiated responsibility but a shared accountability”. Whether you are a nurse in our clinic addressing a young person’s chronic asthma, you know that that’s going to get that child get back to school and be successful in school. If you are a case manager meeting a child who has just been removed from a very violent and traumatic situation, we want you not only thinking about safety and permanency for that child but their over-all well-being. How do we make sure that they’re being successful in school despite everything that’s going on? How can we bring all of our powers to bear to help this young child?

Phoebe

Denver Frederick and Phoebe Boyer

Jenny: Children’s Aid Society is an organization that’s over 160 years. We are committed to ensuring that there are no boundaries to the aspirations of young people. Each person here is committed to helping the young people to learn, to grow, and to lead independent, successful lives. And we do that by being connected to these young children every step of the way through childhood up to college age because we know that having a college education will ensure that they’re successful, and I am so proud to be a part of Children’s Aid.

Keyla: The greatest sense of purpose that I get from working here at Children’s Aid is really having an impact on children and families, but most importantly is having the experiences of actually meeting those children and families, having a parent say, “Thank you so much. I’m able to enroll my child in after school now,” or “It’s really made a difference. My child is now socializing with more children.” So, I think that really that doesn’t compare to anything else and I hold that very dear to my heart.

On a more personal note, I think with the theme of really being family-oriented and supportive, as a new mom, I think that it’s critical. I’ve felt that as much as I give myself to the children we serve, that I have the same amount of support for my son through supervisors and colleagues and I think that’s definitely something that is important to me. I feel supported, folks are always making sure that I’m OK. So, that work and life balance is definitely something that I cherish.

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Antonio: Along with the lines of professional development that Robyn noted, something that I think has been a very real attempt at Children’s Aid to refine and practice on professional development is what it looks like when someone is on-board and in the fold of work. And so I think within each varied division, there are separate tracks of leadership and pathways that provide people opportunities to learn, to get certified, to get additional training, both in the work that they do and then also to get scholarships or support to more education for the work that they can continue to do. I’ve been lucky enough to research and be a part of a lot of different professional development workshops through Children’s Aid partnership with Columbia, NYU, the Aspen Institute and a host of other agencies.

Casper: For me, one of the biggest, I guess, joy for me is developing staff, creating opportunities for them, just giving them a chance to grow like it was done for me. I started straight out of college here in the agency and worked my way up. So for me, to open doors and train and develop staff to move on and give them that motivation to do better and find other avenues, that’s very, very important to me, just having staff being able to take it to the next level. So creating those opportunities for the staff is like really the biggest joy for me, to see them grow and develop.

Robyn: Jenny mentioned the I Create Awards and that’s just not something that she just made up. It is really the cornerstone of our values, of the organization. Our staff is introduced to the I Create values at orientation, and we develop a lot of our goals and organizational goals and personal goals in which we do our work and people know that from the time that they’re here and are evaluated on that in terms of their performance.

Dedicated, compassionate, not always fun because we do some very, very serious work. But I think the people that are here really gather and coalesce around the mission of the agency, and that’s what makes us come to work every day.

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Matt Forti, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the One Acre Fund, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Matt Forti, Co-founder and Managing Director of the One Acre Fund, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Matt Forti

Denver: For those who follow nonprofits and social enterprises closely, there are a number of organizations that carry with them a stellar reputation and embody what the future of this sector should and hopefully will look like. Yet, they remain largely unknown to the general public, especially here in America. One such organization is the One Acre Fund. And here to tell us about it this evening is their Co-founder and Managing Director, Matt Forti. Good evening, Matt, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Matt: Thanks so much, Denver! It’s great to be here.

Denver: Tell us: who is the One Acre Fund?  And how did you get started on this journey?

Matt: One Acre Fund is a nonprofit social enterprise, and our client is a poor farmer that farms roughly an acre of land in a remote area of Africa. We got started about 10 years ago because when we visited Africa, you go into the rural areas; the whole landscape is dotted with farmers. Their profession is to grow food, and yet, they can’t grow enough to feed their families all-year round. Agriculture has become so much more productive everywhere else in the world over the past few decades. We said, “Why not Africa? What’s driving this? Can we do something about it?” And we pulled together a pilot and a model, and the rest is history.

In the areas where we work, 1 in 10 children will die before the age of 5. Hunger is the primary underlying reason for those deaths. And then, even if you’re lucky enough to survive, you’re going to have a 1 in 3 chance of being physically and mentally stunted.

Denver: Before we get into your actual work, what is the impact, the human toll on a child growing up in extreme poverty and extreme hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Matt: Hunger has just absolutely devastating consequences. In the areas where we work, 1 in 10 children will die before the age of 5. Hunger is the primary underlying reason for those deaths. And then, even if you’re lucky enough to survive, you’re going to have a 1 in 3 chance of being physically and mentally stunted. I mean, literally, your brain doesn’t develop to its full capacity. And so what you have is children that don’t go to school ready to learn, and their full potential is never going to be reached.

Denver: Well, global poverty, as tragic as it is, is really just an inevitable part of the human condition. It will always be with us, and I think that’s a conventional wisdom shared by so, so many people. But that would not include you or One Acre Fund. You believe it is solvable and can be done within your lifetime. What do you base that on?

Matt: Absolutely! One of the most daunting, but exciting facts about poverty is it is primarily a rural phenomenon, and 70% of the world’s poor are farmers. So, this single profession has more poor people combined than every other profession out there. And so, if we can make this single profession more productive, we have a huge lever to try to get the next generation of families out of poverty. And so, One Acre Fund believes that essentially, if you can pull together the right mix of things that makes agriculture more productive, families will be able to invest and get themselves out over a period of time.

Denver: Well, let’s walk through that if we could. You have a very clean and clear business model. It has four pieces to it. Why don’t we begin with Farm Inputs. What are they?

Matt: Farm Inputs are things that you put into the ground to make your crops more productive. So, first, we start with seeds. Hybrid seeds are naturally cross-pollinated. They’re much more effective than saving your seed from the last harvest. Also plant nutrients,–things like compost and animal manure, as well as small amounts of fertilizer– can have a dramatic difference on the growth of your plants. So these are the technologies that have been used in the U.S., for instance, since the ‘30s or ‘40s; they just haven’t been distributed effectively in Africa. And that’s where the model starts.

Denver: The second part of the model is Finance. Now, how do you go about finance with people who are living in extreme poverty?

Matt: Finance is absolutely critical. There are no credit scores in the rural parts of Africa for us to use. But what we find is that if you can finance a productive asset loan…so, instead of giving cash, you actually give the inputs. That’s the loan. And you know that the inputs are going to be used productively.  That’s going to give you a high confidence that those inputs are going to turn into cash that can be repaid down the road. So, that’s exactly what we do.

Denver: And the third piece is the Education part. What kind of training do you provide these farmers?

Matt: The training is critical. It’s really basic techniques. There are really five or six techniques that drive 80% of the productivity of agriculture. It’s really proper spacing of seeds. It’s planting in rows instead of scatter shot. It’s micro-dosing tiny amounts of fertilizer, and a few other things. Basically, what we find is that if farmers can do these six basic things well, then the input loan that they’ve received is going to be productive.

Denver: And the final piece of it…not to be overlooked, is Distribution.

Matt: Yes. Absolutely. A big part of the problem is that the closest place to access seeds for instance might be 30 kilometers away—you may as well be on the moon if you’re in rural Africa, if you think of all the hills and such. So we distribute all of this within walking distance of every farm family we serve.  And the training is provided in the farmer’s field. It’s actually provided by farmers themselves that are in our program that we’ll hire and train up. And when you put it all together, you have a very impactful model.

Denver: Yes. You’re the Amazon of rural farmers, arguably.

Matt: Yes! We do like to say that.

Denver: And you don’t overlook the distribution to the extent that you actually give something called the “D-Prize.”

Matt: Yes! One of the side projects of our founder… which really came out of the recognition that with One Acre Fund, again, the technologies to improve have existed for generations. It’s really about: How do we get these proven models into the hands of the people that need them?  Agriculture is one thing. But in clean energy, for instance, solar lights can be very impactful for a family from a health and education standpoint, and also from avoided kerosene expenditures and batteries and candles. This is something that pays back for a farm family within 8 to 12 months. Bed nets that prevent malaria…So, across all of the different aspects of what it takes to be successful in rural Africa and elsewhere, we know what it is.  And now it’s just about getting it into the hands of the people that need it.

Denver:  Absolutely! Well, although One Acre Fund is a nonprofit organization, and you’re committed to improving lives, Matt, you operate very much like a regular business.  And that stems from your belief in market-based solutions to poverty. Explain what those are, and why you think that is a correct approach to addressing extreme poverty.

Matt: Yes. That’s absolutely right. I think the recognition that we had very early on is: if we treat our farmers not as beneficiaries, but as clients – as paying customers – that all of a sudden, everyone’s incentives are going to be aligned.

One Acre Fund knows that if we don’t deliver high-quality services, farmers aren’t going to repay. And if farmers don’t repay, we’re not going to be able to operate in the next season. And so, what you see all the time in our areas of work is, for instance: repayment– which happens during the course of the farming season week by week, bit by bit– if our repayment is suffering in an area, that’s probably because we’re not delivering the trainings effectively.  Or we didn’t provide the seeds on time. And so we can immediately focus attention on that area.

It basically just makes sure that farmers have a voice in the services that they’re receiving. It also, of course, means we’re much more scalable. We’re not dependent 100% on donations. About half of our revenue this year will be from the very clients we’re trying to benefit, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’ve been able to grow from 40 to 450,000 families in just 10 years.

we’re trying to alleviate hunger, but the long-term goal is intergenerationally. We’re trying to get families to be able to educate their children, and those children to be able to pull the whole family out of poverty.

Denver: That’s quite impressive! Let’s talk about your clients for a minute. Who are they? What are their lives like? Share with us a story of one of them, if you would.

Matt: I’d be happy to. A typical One Acre Fund farmer is a woman. She toils in her fields for probably about six to eight hours a day. She’s also probably responsible for child care… for her children. And she and her family suffer what’s known as the “hunger season.” It’s basically a period of time after the main harvest has run out where the family is skipping meals, regularly substituting high-quality meals with low-quality ones. And this is what creates the cycle we talked about earlier. Well, farmers have this amazing asset. They typically do have enough land to basically grow enough food all-year round.

One of the stories I’d like to share is of a farmer named Teresa Wanyama. She is a widow. She has eight children that she supports. She actually was one of the first 38 farmers in our program in 2006. When we celebrated our 10th anniversary last year, we went back to that first village, and we tried to document: what was the path that Teresa took in our program over that 10 year period of time?  And what we found was three things.

First, it was alleviating the hunger, and that meant the main crop she was growing – maize – needed to be much more productive. She went from growing two bags of maize– which is about enough food for maybe four months of the year– to growing 15 bags of maize.  So, significant improvement. The second thing was nutrition, so really helping to introduce diverse crops like collard greens that provide additional vitamins for her children to keep them healthy.

And then the third thing– and this is very common in our program– is to provide more expensive assets. One of those is trees. Trees are an amazing product. They’re great for the soils. They don’t take up a lot of land. They grow vertically. And if you can keep trees in the ground and harvest them five, six years after you plant them, you could make $5, $10 for something that may have cost just a few pennies to put in the ground.

What we found is that Theresa had last year harvested about 40 of her original trees. She sold them for about $600. That’s a huge windfall in rural Kenya. And with that, she was sending her eight kids to school. Four of them are in secondary school; another four are already in university. And again, that’s unheard of. So when you talk about: we’re trying to alleviate hunger, but the long-term goal is intergenerationally. We’re trying to get families to be able to educate their children, and those children to be able to pull the whole family out of poverty.

Denver: That’s a great story, and it’s hard to believe you have 450,000 of those. What countries do they encompass?

Matt: We work in six countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. Kenya and Rwanda were our first two countries; about 80% of our farmers are there. We work also in Burundi, which is the hungriest country in the world, Tanzania, and then Uganda and Malawi. We launched those countries last year.

We don’t want to do this work to just reach a lot of people. We want to have a very deep quality and measurable amount of impact.

…nothing is sacred at One Acre Fund. If it’s not working, we’ll go back in and figure out how to improve it.  And that’s the central part of what makes us successful, I think.

Denver: You have emphasized measurement and evaluation on everything you do, right from the very get-go. And that as much as anything, I think, defines the culture of the One Acre Fund. Tell us how you’ve gone about doing this, and how it has helped shape the culture of the organization.

Matt: I think the most important thing is, as we’ve said from day one, we don’t want to do this work to just reach a lot of people. We want to have a very deep quality and measurable amount of impact. Secondly, that we don’t just want to measure to provide data to donors and outside parties. We really want to do it, first and foremost, to make sure what we’re doing is working and figure out how to improve our program.

And as a result, every year, every crop, every country, we are going out there and physically weighing the yields of One Acre Fund families, as well as neighboring families that aren’t in the program but possess similar characteristics and similar propensities for farming. And so we know exactly how much extra yield is coming out of the ground because of the One Acre Fund program, and we know where it’s working and where it’s not. We’ve had many examples of failures, particularly in the early years – crops that weren’t growing to the extent that they should have. And nothing is sacred at One Acre Fund. If it’s not working, we’ll go back in and figure out how to improve it.  And that’s the central part of what makes us successful, I think.

Denver: And you also believe that organizations should have the internal capacity to do their own evaluation and testing, and not just rely on outside vendors.  Correct?

Matt: That’s exactly right! I think you can fall into the trap of thinking: “Measurement is so sophisticated. It can only be done by a PhD,” and that’s not the case. Most measurement really is about the weekly process indicators – Did the farmer come to training that week? Is the farmer spacing their seeds properly? – and really being able to use that data immediately to change course, improve what you’re doing. And that kind of measurement can be done absolutely internally.

Denver: Yes.  And in fact, I think this data is really being collected by your front line workers, and they’re going to be the ones who are going to use it.  So, it’s more meaningful when they’ve actually collected it.

Matt: Absolutely! You go to Africa, one of the things I love doing is visiting meetings of our field officers– these front line staff– every week. And there’s a big chalkboard with tons of rows and columns and the words “KPI” at the top – “key performance indicator.”  So you’re talking about people with a primary school education who are tracking these indicators, comparing between different districts.  And that’s exciting. It’s people using business principles to try to make a difference in their communities.

Denver: And I’ve been impressed on how thoughtful you’ve been in going about this. For instance, as you scaled up the organization and entered new countries in Africa, your impact per client– for every dollar that has been spent– has actually fallen in some cases, while the amount of social good you have done has increased. Explain that to us.

Matt: It’s interesting. The main way that we measure impact is thinking about how much extra yield and profit One Acre Fund is generating. Well, one of the exciting things for an overall social good– but less good for the impact that we’re measuring– is the fact that One Acre Fund’s trainings are now spilling over into the communities where we work. Even if you’re not enrolled in One Acre Fund, you’re seeing that your neighbor’s yields are going up; you’re asking them, “How did you do that?” They’re actually teaching these techniques to their neighbors. And so what’s great, what we’re seeing is the entire community is being lifted up. Our impact looks a little bit less, but the total impact we’re generating in the community has gone up.

Denver: You know, Matt, every book on social entrepreneurship or social enterprise talks about the need to scale an organization to have great impact. But One Acre Fund has actually done that, and at breathtaking pace over the past 10 years. Tell us about your growth as an organization and some of the lessons from it that you can share with us.

Matt: We have grown really, really dramatically as I mentioned– 40 to 450,000 families in 10 years. I’d say three things. One is: it starts with: What is the size of the problem you’re trying to address? There are 50 million smallholder farm families in Africa. Ninety-three percent of them fit the characteristics of who we like to serve – two acres roughly, or less, of land, staple crops predominantly. Most other organizations focus on that tiny sliver– 7%– that might be already well-organized into some kind of a value chain. So, it’s going after where the biggest problem is.

I would say secondly, is the visibility of our impact. So we talked about this before. But crops are growing to twice to the height they normally do in our program.  So the neighbors are asking how that happened. Our growth is very organic. We have a group that experiences the program together– of about 7 to 12 farmers. Those groups will then split up, and each of those farmers in the next year will register their own new group. So it’s a very organic way to grow. You put down in an area, and then it grows like a spoke.

I would say the third thing is to—as we talked about earlier—really to treat the farmers as clients and not as beneficiaries. I mean, that’s just really critical. With paying customers, we’re able to spend less per donor dollar than most other organizations to deliver our services. That’s allowed us to grow new countries much more quickly, for instance.

Denver: Yes, and you give them the dignity.

Matt: Absolutely!

Denver: Well, as you look to your future growth, you’re looking to expand by diversifying some of your programs in interesting ways. What are some of those plans, Matt?

Matt: Absolutely! I think one of the common struggles that nonprofits have is, on the one hand: if you focus on one thing, you can get really good at it, but you might not be addressing all of the needs of the people you’re trying to benefit. On the other hand, if you try to go in on day one and do everything well, you probably won’t do anything particularly well. So I think we’ve taken this nice middle ground. We’ve really focused on agriculture in these early years, but it’s opened up the ability now. We have the trust of the clients we work with. We have this very unique distribution channel that doesn’t exist into these very remote villages. We’re looking to do new things.

A big one a few years ago, as I mentioned earlier, solar energy. Solar lights are very powerful, quick product payback. So that’s one thing that we’re doing. We talked a little bit about nutrition. This year, we’re doing our first-ever trial of providing services to pregnant mothers, really providing them training on things like exclusive breastfeeding, nutritional supplements that children need to grow healthy. So that’s a new area for us. But we’re open to lots of different things so long as it can be trained by the same people; it can go through our distribution channel, and be financed.

Denver: Crop insurance is one of those things, right?

Matt: Yes. Unfortunately, this past year, there was a terrible drought in much of Eastern and Southern Africa. Crop insurance historically has been for rich people, but if you think about it, rich people are  not the kind of people that need insurance. They can cover their risks. It’s the poor people that need it. We’re now East Africa’s largest insurer of crops, and we want to keep improving that product so that farmers are covered for their harvest.

Denver: I want to speak to you a little bit more, Matt, about your corporate culture, and especially the investment that you have made in developing and training your people. Tell us about it.

Matt: I think some people equate nonprofits with just good hearted people out there delivering services. But we really want to borrow from the best of the business world, which is really about good professional development and training. No matter what level you’re at at One Acre Fund, you’re probably going to be spending at our organization 30% of your time in some kind of a formal training program. It’s a leadership accelerant program.

We have examples of front line staff who, as I’ve said, have a primary education. In year one, they might be working with 200 farmers. By year three or four, they might be in charge of a whole district of a few thousand farmers. And they’re getting technical management leadership skills from us. We’re trying to make up for the lack of education that happens in rural Africa. And that’s really critical because it’s much harder to attract… with the salaries we pay… very well-educated African national staff who may be recruited by the large multi-national companies. We’re taking this abundant labor force, kind of making up for the lack of education.  And then all of a sudden, these are the leaders of Africa’s next generation.

Denver: And as the managing director of One Acre Fund, you’re based here in the United States.  But really, the preponderance of your staff is in Africa, close to your clients. Would that be correct?

Matt: Absolutely. I’m an anomaly. We have only 40 staff in the U.S. Ninety-eight percent of our staff are not only in Africa, but in rural Africa. Our headquarters are in these rural communities. And that’s really important, being close to the client. The people who are making decisions about our programs are living a few hundred meters away from the clients that we serve.

Denver:  People often speak of Africa as if it were a country, as opposed to a continent made up of 54 countries. But with that said, tell us what you see as the promise, as well as the perils, for Africa over the next 10 years or so.

Matt: Africa is at an incredibly exciting juncture. It’s the one continent in the world where GDP growth is regularly in the higher single digits than most countries. You generally lack the terrorism problems that exist in other parts of the world. You have a human capital gap that can really be filled.

The challenges are predominantly political. Unfortunately, it’s pretty regular to not see peaceful transfers of power. And then climate!  Climate is going to disproportionately affect, particularly farmers, but many industries in Africa. And that’s one thing. When you invest in farming, you’re not only improving the productivity of existing land, you’re also introducing the incentive to clear cut the remaining savannah.  Africa has got about 70% of the remaining forest and natural land that exist in the world. And so those are the two twin problems we’re trying to address… and I think Africa needs to focus on.

We have pushed ourselves to make our model literally as scalable as humanly possible. I think setting that bold vision, organizing everyone around that vision, and making sure that everyone is putting the farmer first, that’s really, at the end of the day, what’s gotten us there.

Denver: Well, the One Acre Fund is a great success story. I know you have a lot left to do, and it’s a story still being told. But if you have to put your finger on the one thing that would be the most important reason for your success, what would that be? And what would be the one thing that causes you the greatest level of concern right now?

Matt: Really setting a bold vision, I think, at the end of the day, really organizing an entire group of people around the vision of putting the farmer first, and really saying that if you’re working on a problem that’s 50 million in scale, it’s just not acceptable enough to reach a few thousand, a few even tens of thousands. We have pushed ourselves to make our model literally as scalable as humanly possible. And I think setting that bold vision, organizing everyone around that vision, and making sure that everyone is putting the farmer first, that’s really, at the end of the day, what’s gotten us there.

Denver: Yes. You got 450,000. I know you have a goal of a million by 2020, correct?

Matt: Yes. I think the biggest fear we have is:  How are people going to perceive global aid, foreign aid, over the next few years, and not just the U.S. but also in countries in Europe? It’s very common for individuals– citizens of the U.S., for instance– to believe that we divert 10% of our budget to foreign aid. We’re spending less than 0.1% of our budget on foreign aid. And there are programs that are out there working, and it’s not just One Acre Fund. And I want to make sure that people know that investments that are being made on behalf of all of us here– of taxpayers– are really making a big difference in the world.

Denver: Well, I want to thank you, Matt Forti, the Managing Director of One Acre Fund for covering so much ground in a relatively short period of time. For those interested in learning more about One Acre Fund, or who may want to help support your work, your website is?

Matt: Oneacrefund.org. Please go there; visit us. Also talent is the number one resource that we’re always looking to grow.  So if you’re interested in volunteering or working at One Acre Fund, you’ll also find a lot of information on our website about that.

Denver: Great! Well, it was a real pleasure, Matt, to have you on the program.

Matt: Thank you, Denver!

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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 and at facebook.com/business of giving.

 

Tara Russell, Founder and CEO of Fathom Travel, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Tara Russell, Founder and CEO of Fathom Travel, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

tara-russell

Tara Russell

 

Denver: There has been a growing interest in “voluntourism” in recent years, whereby vacationers seek to have a social impact when they travel.  And perhaps no one has done this any better than Fathom Travel, which is part of Carnival Corp. And here with us now to explain how it works and what the impact has been is their Founder and CEO, Tara Russell. Good evening, Tara, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Tara: Hi there, Denver! It’s good to be with you. Thanks so much for having me!

 

We’re a different kind of a travel company. We believe that travel is something that uniquely connects, unites, and inspires people already, and so we’ve essentially built robust programming and robust experiences that really heighten that and allow people to unleash their greatest potential.

Denver: Tell us a little bit about Fathom Travel and exactly what you do.

Tara: So Fathom Travel really got started on this journey with the idea of “How do we take people who love the idea of travel, but want to go a little bit deeper, want to potentially grow themselves, connect to a bigger story, and really make a meaningful difference in the world?” So, we’re a different kind of a travel company. We believe that travel is something that uniquely connects, unites, and inspires people already, and so we’ve essentially built robust programming and robust experiences that really heighten that and allow people to unleash their greatest potential.

And yet what travel does for any of us is: travel reminds us that as human beings, we essentially have this shared “ubuntu,” as Desmond Tutu would call it.  But we have this humanity that’s intertwined with the lives of others.

Denver: Oh, that sounds wonderful. Well, I’m going to have you walk us through one of these experiences. And I know that you go to both the Dominican Republic and to Cuba, and you’re going to some other places. But let’s talk a little bit about this voyage. It’s about a week long, and it takes two days of travel each way to the Dominican Republic. What goes on during the time passengers are taking the trip down to the Dominican Republic?

Tara: So our Fathom Dominican Republic sailings are seven days in length. They spend about a day and a half between Miami and the Dominican Republic at sea, and then we have part of four days on the ground in the Dominican Republic, before sailing back another day and a half to return to Miami. So, the Fathom experience is built holistically. Our onboard experience is quite different than what people might imagine in a traditional cruise. Our onboard experience includes workshops like Ashoka’s “Unleashing the Changemaker Within You.” It includes things like Stanford’s “Storytelling Workshop.” It includes things like “Design Your Life” and Curiosity Atlas workshops. We have “Superpower Parties” and help people unleash their own personal gifts, passions, talents, abilities in fun and creative ways.

We have really impactful content and experiences that are really fun, but quite different than what someone might imagine. We don’t have a casino on our ships. We don’t have some of what traditional cruisers might be used to, but we do have a lot of the other benefits.  You get to have this unique neighborhood within this village-feel on this small ship. We have a very small ship that we’ve repurposed. However, part of building this experience was essentially building “software experiences,” so to speak, that we could really take anywhere in the world.

So when you get to the Dominican Republic on that sailing, you can do anything you want. You can adventure and explore at a 27 Waterfall Adventure.  Or you can go and learn more about making organic chocolate and come alongside a group of Dominican women in a cooperative that we’ve partnered with, and you can assist and support their chocolate cooperative. You can also learn to make recycled paper and how the Dominicans are repurposing waste and the ways that we’re serving and supporting that social enterprise. You can come alongside some of the environmental efforts and be part of the reforestation and planting efforts that we take part in. You can learn to make clay water filters and bring access to clean water to Dominican families, as there are about two million people on the island of only about 10 million to 11 million people total that still don’t have access to clean water.

So everything about the Fathom experience is what we call a “participatory experience.” We essentially invite our travelers to not just to be a spectator, but to get in the game. And so we believe there is this emerging trend and hunger for more than just seeing what’s happening in a place. Our travelers want a role on the team, and so we have made that really easy and convenient and safe and fun. A big part of it is education and  exposure to different ways of thinking, different ways of living, and really to new friends and new partners all over the world.

So I think we’re living in a time, Denver, where the world seems to be quite heavily divided, even in our own country. And yet what travel does for any of us is: travel reminds us that as human beings, we essentially have this shared “ubuntu,” as Desmond Tutu would call it.  But we have this humanity that’s intertwined with the lives of others. And I think what’s powerful about the Fathom experience is that people have a very visceral reaction, and that feeling is very, very strong when they have the Fathom experiences because we help really weave the stories of the lives of our travelers to… whether we’re in the Dominican Republic… we weave them to a Dominican. If we’re in Cuba, it’s weaving those traveler stories to the stories of the Cuban people.

Denver: And you eliminate so many obstacles for people. Because I know so many people who want to help, who want to have a volunteer experience overseas, but it is so hard to get started. They don’t know where to begin, and you pretty much just clear those things out of the way and allow people in a very hands-on and meaningful way to get involved in this fashion.

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Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Kenneth RothDenver: Most every citizen around the world is concerned about human rights and shudders at the thought of another person’s rights being violated. And that is why we should all be grateful that there is an organization solely dedicated to this – always vigilant, 24/7, 365 days a year, all around the world– exposing human rights abuses like torture, violence against women, and child exploitation. It is Human Rights Watch, and it is a great pleasure to have with us this evening their Executive Director, Kenneth Roth. Good evening, Ken, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Kenneth: Thanks for having me! My pleasure to be here.

Denver: Before we get into the work of the organization, tell our listeners specifically what are human rights? Their genesis?  And source documents upon which they are based?

Kenneth: That’s a good question. In fact, they’re quite familiar to many Americans in that many of the rights are things you find in the Constitution. The right to free expression and free association; the right not to be mistreated or tortured; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be discriminated against – those are all in the Constitution. But also, human rights include other things that are not in the US Constitution like: the right to access to healthcare, the right to education, the right to employment. All of these are contained in a series of international treaties. The first founding document was something known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is actually not a treaty. It was a declaration.

Denver: Of 1948, right?

Kenneth: Precisely. But that gave rise in 1966 to the two founding treaties. One is called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the other: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  And thereafter, there were other specialized treaties on women’s rights and children’s rights and the like. But these treaties are widely ratified, often by a hundred plus governments around the world.  The US is a party to some of them, but not all of them.

Denver: Give us a bit more about the evolution of the modern day human rights movement. And I know you’re exactly the guy to ask because when you were at Yale Law School– late ‘70s to around 1980– they offered only one human rights course, and you dutifully signed up for it every semester… only to see it canceled because of a lack of interest.  And there were certainly no jobs in the field when you got out. So, tell us how this field has evolved and grown over the past 35 years or so.

Kenneth: You’re right. It didn’t start off very auspiciously for me. But it began really with Amnesty International in terms of the big international organizations in 1961. But even Amnesty was pretty tiny by the time I graduated from law school. And Human Rights Watch at that stage, in 1980, had two employees. It had started just a couple of years before. But what we’ve seen is Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both have grown incredibly over the years and have been joined by many smaller groups around the world. And so, if you’d go to almost any country today, there is a local human rights organization or more that are our close partners in monitoring and defending human rights practice.

…we put public pressure on governments. And foremost, we shame governments, because in today’s world, most governments find it shameful to violate human rights. Almost everybody pretends that they respect human rights; they then fall short. And if we can highlight that discrepancy between pretense and practice, that embarrassing gap forces the government over time to change.

Denver: Well, your organization has an exemplary reputation for being “factually accurate.” In fact, some people might say you’re a little obsessive about all that. So with that said, Ken, how do you go about your work? How do you decide what countries to go into? How do you gather your information? And then, how do you make a determination whether something is a human rights violation or not?

Kenneth: We are meticulous with the fact finding, and we have to be because it’s the key to our credibility. But Human Rights Watch works today in about 90 countries around the world, basically every place where there are serious human rights violations. And in each place, we begin by conducting a very detailed investigation on the ground. We have what we call “researchers” who could be lawyers; they could be journalists; they could be academics, and many, many different nationalities. We have 77 nationalities on staff. They often live in the country, or if that’s not possible, they live nearby.

And their job is to go and talk to the victims of human rights abuse, talk to the eyewitnesses, talk to the government.  So they get all sides and put together as complete and accurate a picture as they can of what actually happened. We will then analyze that fact situation under international human rights law to see “Were human rights violated or not?” If they were, we publish our findings. And that publication becomes the source of an effort to pressure governments to change.

Human Rights Watch doesn’t go to court. We operate in many countries where, frankly, the court systems are broken. They don’t restrain governments. So instead, we put public pressure on governments. And foremost, we shame governments, because in today’s world, most governments find it shameful to violate human rights. Almost everybody pretends that they respect human rights; they then fall short. And if we can highlight that discrepancy between pretense and practice, that embarrassing gap forces the government over time to change.

We also work with various powerful governments who care about human rights. And so, we will go to the U.S. government or the European Union or various governments around the world and say, “Would you help us put pressure on government “so and so” until they change their human rights practices?” “Would you condition your military aid until they stop executing people?”  “Would you make sure that they don’t get the next state visit until they release their political prisoners?” You figure out: What does the target government want, and you try to pressure them until they change.

Denver: Looking at both sides of this now– both gathering the information and then trying to pressure the governments at the other end of it– how has technology or social media changed the nature of how you go about that work?

Kenneth: In the old days, you would hear about a problem in a distant country, and you might start off by writing a letter – remember those things? – and put them in the post.  And two months later, you might get a response. Perhaps you could afford an international phone call, but they were outrageously expensive, so you didn’t do that very often. (more…)

Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Ellie Hollander

Denver: Most Americans are familiar with Meals on Wheels and hold it in very high regard, but not nearly as many understand all that they do and the vital role that they play in communities across America. We have with us this evening just the person to help us better appreciate how critically important they are to the health and well-being of so many. She is Ellie Hollander, the President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. Good evening, Ellie, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Ellie: Thank you so much, Denver! It’s a pleasure to be here.

Denver: Why don’t you start by giving us a bit of the history of Meals on Wheels and the mission of the organization?

Ellie: Meals on Wheels actually has existed for decades. The stories tell us that it started actually in Great Britain when nurses were putting meals to be delivered to people of service in baby carriages and were wheeling them across lines. So the concept existed a long time ago. But in the United States, our first history was about 1954 when a small group of Philadelphia citizens began to support their local senior neighbors… to extend their independence and health as they aged by providing meals.  

We envision an America in which all seniors live more nourished lives with independence and dignity. At the end of the day, we all would probably love to have the choice of living out our lives in our own homes for as long as we choose. Meals on Wheels enables that to happen.

Denver: And what’s the mission of the organization?

Ellie: Well, today, we envision an America in which all seniors live more nourished lives with independence and dignity. At the end of the day, Denver, we all would probably love to have the choice of living out our lives in our own homes for as long as we choose. Meals on Wheels enables that to happen.

Denver: Well, in looking at seniors who are hungry and who are homebound…that’s a pretty big issue. How big is it? And how difficult is it for them to navigate this system of ours?

Ellie: Well, today, about one in six seniors struggles with hunger, which is a pretty daunting number, and we know that the senior population is slated to double by 2050. So, what we try to do is have community-based Meals on Wheels programs to be able to provide nutritious meals… and more than just a meal. We actually enter the home and have that important sense of companionship and socialization and a safety check while we’re in the home. And there are 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs across the country that are doing this on a daily basis.

Denver: Give us an idea of how that operation works, Ellie. What’s a typical meal? What’s the average cost? The number of meals you deliver every day?  And how they get delivered?

Ellie: We are a diverse grassroots organization, so there really is a variety of ways that meals are prepared and delivered. If you look in the aggregate, we deliver about one million meals a day. Yes, it’s very impressive, but it’s not enough;  we’ll talk about that in a minute – the need is greater than what we’re able to provide. But these meals are delivered in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country. In many cases, it’s a hot, recently prepared meal that meets one-third of the daily nutrition requirements that we need as we get older.  And for many, it represents one-half of their entire food intake in a given day. So sometimes these meals are warmed and prepared, and sometimes they’re cold or frozen so that the seniors can decide themselves when they want to have the meal.

Denver: Well, we know the importance of a nutritious, high-impact meal that you serve every day, and I think the understanding of most people ends just about there. But as you touched upon before, you do so much more. Perhaps that case is best crystalized in your “More than a Meal” campaign. Speak a little bit more about what you do in addition to just providing a good, healthy meal.

Ellie: We consider the meal as the “entrée” into the home, if you will—no pun intended. We talked about one in six seniors struggles with hunger today, but one in four seniors live alone in isolation, and that number is also going to grow. So having that individual – whether it’s a Meals on Wheels staff, person, or a volunteer – knocking at the door, entering, having permission to cross the threshold into the home is very important to a number of seniors who may only see that  one individual in a given day. So it’s really about that socialization and knowing that there’s someone that cares about you… that’s coming in to check on you.

Often, our Meals on Wheels programs can do additional things while they’re in the home. So they can do a safety check. They may come back with the ability to do some home repairs; could be minor, could be major home repairs. We also can talk a little bit about the fact that many of our clients have pets. So there’s an additional added benefit to Meals on Wheels– coming in to not only provide this nutritious meal and companionship and that safety check.  But we also can do other things for that client while we’re there.

We view ourselves as a critical partner to health care to help improve health outcomes, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.

Denver: Oh, that’s very sweet. And you’ve really become the eyes and ears of the health care system in so many different ways. You’re a big believer in evidence-based results and are always building the business case. And to that end, you’ve worked with the AARP Foundation and Brown University. Give us an idea of the evidence and of some of the cost savings that result from this program.

Ellie: We actually believe that we are part of the health care solution, and that this is not new. We have this existing infrastructure that I mentioned – 5,000 programs– in virtually many, if not all, communities across America. And what we’re able to do is: by just providing a simple meal,  companionship, a safety check, we’re able to help seniors stay out of much more expensive health care settings. Many seniors can avoid unnecessary visits to the emergency room, hospitalizations. They can more rapidly recover from surgery or illness when they are discharged from the hospital. And also, we can avoid premature placement in a nursing home—all of which, as you know, Denver, are very expensive—and help reduce taxpayer dollars, Medicare and Medicaid expenses. So we view ourselves as a critical partner to health care to help improve health outcomes, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.

Seniors are at greater fall risk, particularly when they are malnourished or dehydrated…we know that falls cost this country $31 billion a year, and we know from our study with the AARP Foundation and Brown University that those receiving Meals on Wheels on daily delivery report fewer falls and less fear of falling.

Denver: That’s just great. I think I’ve heard you say that $7 a day — the cost of a meal– is a lot cheaper than $1,300 a day, which would be the cost of hospitalization. I noticed that Brown University, in their study, they said if each state increases the number of older people receiving these meals by just 1%, we would save $100 million. That’s fantastic!

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Karl Zinsmeister, Author of The Almanac of American Philanthropy, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Karl Zinsmeister, Vice President of Publications at Philanthropy Roundtable,  and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver:  If you stop and take a moment to think about endeavors that have been woefully underappreciated in terms of what they have meant in building and shaping America, philanthropy would most certainly be on that list. Karl Zinsmeister, who oversees publication at the Philanthropy Roundtable, has taken upon himself to address this with two recent books to help us better appreciate the pivotal role that private resources have played in solving public problems. Those books are The Almanac of American Philanthropy and What Comes Next? : How private giving can rescue America in an era of political frustration. And he is with us now. Good evening, Karl, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Karl: It’s great to be on your show, Denver!

Denver: Before we delve into the history of philanthropy and some of the fascinating stories you tell of philanthropists, first provide us with some context about the nonprofit sector itself, its significance and breadth, and what it really means to the American economy.

karl-zKarl: Boy, it’s such a huge secret, Denver, as you implied in your intro. People don’t realize that we give away $373 billion every single year in voluntary cash donations, and the value of voluntary time and labor that we put in is about that much more; so you can roughly double that. And just to give you a little perspective, that’s about twice the size of the so-called military industrial complex that people use as a kind of a metaphor for a big serious part of the American economy– big industry. It’s such a huge part of our economy.  And even more than that, Denver, it’s a huge part of our culture. Philanthropy ends up being kind of our risk capital… or our venture capital. It’s the thing that we pour into new problems, to sticky problems, to difficult problems because it’s much more flexible. It’s much more nimble. It’s much more inventive. It’s much more willing to make mistakes and to correct  course and to redirect itself than almost any kind of funding available–either governmental or corporate. So philanthropy has historically played just a giant role in fixing some of our really dreadful national issues and lots of little things as well.

Denver: Well, I want to talk to you about some of those… and some of the people who made it happen. In your book, The Almanac of American Philanthropy, all 1,342 pages of it, you really do tell, Karl, some fascinating stories of American philanthropists. There was a fellow who made his fame and fortune through Tabasco sauce, which is still sold in stores today. Who was he?  And where did his philanthropic interests lie?

Karl: That’s a great place to start. You know, people can’t imagine that a product like Tabasco sauce could actually accumulate enough money to change the world, but it did. And in this case, it’s a really delightful guy. I just kept finding these kinds of people the more I dug into philanthropy, Denver. There are thousands of them. This guy is named Ned McIlheny, and he’s a Southern boy, grew up in Louisiana bayous, and he’s just one of those kind of Forrest Gump-type personalities, had adventure after adventure after adventure. And at some point, he became very much of an outdoorsman and loved  nature.  And one of the stories I tell about him in the Almanac was that he realized that a bird he just loved– a fellow native of the bayous in Louisiana called the Snowy Egret– was disappearing. And what had happened, it was the egret’s feathers had become just a fashion craze for women’s hats. They were being hunted to death, and nobody was doing anything about it. And rather than dial 911, or call his congressman, or say somebody should do something about this, McIlheny went into direct action himself. The first thing he did was: he literally went out and beat the bushes on the island that his family owns down in Louisiana– still owns– and it took two full days for him to find two nests. That’s how rare these birds had become. And he finally found two nests, and he scooped up eight little baby fledglings from these nests and brought them back and raised them in a protected area on his own property. And over a period of about 10 years, he increased this flock to about 90,000  to 100,000 birds as a kind of  seed capital. And at the same time, he was working on this microscale, he was also talking to his fellow philanthropist friends like Olivia Sage and John Rockefeller, and he was saying, “You know?  A lot of these swampy lands along the Louisiana coast that people think is just wasteland? That’s really important to birds!  We should preserve that. You should buy that up and just hang on to it as kind of conservation land.” And he convinced them to do that. And with this kind of double-pronged approach, and this combination of his money and his energy and his ideas and his enthusiasm, he was really instrumental in bringing the Snowy Egret back from extinction.  This is the kind of personality we’re dealing with, Denver.

The American spiritual is just one of our original art forms, but it existed entirely  in an oral form. It had never been written down. And you forget that those kinds of things can disappear. It only takes one broken link generation in the chain, and it’s gone. So when he figured this out, McIlheny again just decided:  “I’m going to do something about it. I’m not going to wait for somebody else.”

And then I just love the fact that the second story I tell about McIlheny:  that’s also about extinction, but it’s a totally different kind of extinction… So I mentioned he’s a Southern boy. He grew up in the South, and he just loved Negro spirituals. They were part of his life, and he adored them. And he noticed, when he was getting to be an older man in his 60s, he just wasn’t hearing them anymore. People didn’t sing them on the porches like they used to. People couldn’t remember the words when he asked them to join him, and he became worried about this.

Now, you have to remember, this music, which is obviously deep Americana…. The American spiritual is just one of our original art forms, but it existed entirely  in an oral form. It had never been written down. And you forget that those kinds of things can disappear. It only takes one broken link generation in the chain, and it’s gone. So when he figured this out, McIlheny again just decided:  “I’m going to do something about it. I’m not going to wait for somebody else.”

First, philanthropy, as you know well, tends to be personal. So the first thing he did, he ran  around his neighborhood to figure out:  who remembers any of these songs? And he found these two delightful elderly women, both in their 90s, in his neighborhood, who remembered hundreds of spirituals– both the songs and the lyrics. And he then hired a musicologist,  and the two men sat down with these two ladies, and they just asked them to sing their hearts out. And while they did that, they scrupulously wrote as fast as they could,  to record all the melodies and the harmonies and the lyrics; and they got these down. Anyway, McIlheny published these as a book.  I’m trying to remember, I think there were like 125 spirituals in this book. And I went to some trouble when I was working on the Almanac to figure out how many of those spirituals had been recorded any other place and would’ve survived anyway. And it’s only like five or six that were written down anywhere else. And by the way, one of the spirituals that was saved by McIlheny in this way was the one that Martin Luther King Jr.  quoted in his very famous address– when he talked about: “Free at last, free at last; Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” That was one of the McIlheny spirituals.

Denver: Thanks to Ned. Well, another great guy you talk about is Alfred Loomis. Actually, his great grandson is Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, and he’s disrupted a couple of industries. But boy, what Alfred Loomis did was even more interesting and significant in many ways. Tell us about him.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Office of The Nature Conservancy

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


 

Transcript

Denver: And for this edition of Better Than Most, you’ll be traveling to Arlington, Virginia and the corporate headquarters of The Nature Conservancy, the largest nonprofit environmental group in the world.

We will begin with their President and CEO, Mark Tercek, and then hear from several of the dedicated members of the TNC team.

Mark: So we have 4,000 people on our team. We have 1,500 or so volunteer leaders we call trustees. Everywhere we work, we’ve got boots on the ground. In other words, therefore, we’re not just telling other people what to do. We’re trying to do it ourselves. Now, whenever we do these things on the ground, we’re doing it in partnership with others too, often local organizations, local people, but it kind of keeps you humble, keeps you focused. We don’t get carried away with crazy ideas. I think it’s a very good formula for us.

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Denver Frederick and Mark Tercek

Rosita: Another thing I love about this organization especially as a woman of color who works here is that the organization is constantly self-critical and trying to be better, and part of the team of that I work on is actually focused exclusively on how can we make this organization better in terms of a place where all employees feel valued and can actually thrive. And it’s a testament to that self-criticism that as an organization we don’t rest on our laurels and it’s always “how can we be better and smarter and more impactful?”

Gondan: I started off as a conservation staff and then after five years, I moved to development, and then went back to conservation and now, here, I’m in development, in changing countries at the world office. So at TNC, as long as you know what to do and you proved that you can do the work and that you can do it while you’re having fun, really lets you do whatever you want to do that fits with our mission and our core work.

John Bender: It is that ability to reinvent yourself that has been one of the greatest strengths I think of the organization. And part of that reinvention has been our recognition over many years of the desire and the need for a more diverse workforce. And we have a more inclusive workforce and we’ve taken a number of runs at it over my career here at the organization, but we finally, I think, have a lot of heft from the whole organization behind it, and that has made a big difference. I think that going forward, you’ll see many more different faces siting in the cubes, both here at WO and then around the offices, the business units outside of the US.

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Jon Fisher: And if you’re in a conservation organization, you kind of know the outcome before you do the science. So talking to colleagues at other organizations—I won’t name any—but the scientists’ job is to prove what you want the message to be. At the Conservancy, of course, we’re doing science to meet the mission, but when we have an inconvenient result, we still publish it. And so as somebody who has honest – one of our core values is integrity beyond reproach – and that’s something that I just really think is so important, especially at a time when trust in scientists is declining.

Johnny: I work in the legal department for The Nature Conservancy, and I tap dance to work. I tap dance to work because I love the people.

Professional development is really important to me and my supervisor has been really helpful. He empowers me to be the best person I can be, not only for myself but for the Conservancy, because a better me is a better conservancy. A great example, I support folks in Brazil. I told my boss, “I speak Portuguese but I think I could be better at it.” So he said, “You need a strength in that skill set, let’s send you to Brazil.” So I spent a month in the Rio de Janeiro office, both working and in a language immersion program. And it was an incredible experience because I got to work in a different culture, see the mission from a different perspective, learn Portuguese, and also work from the beach on occasion, which is a part of the mission.

Tom: Because the mission is what brings people here, but the people are what make you stay. I think I had more folks walk in to my office in the first week I was here at the Conservancy than in the first year I was at my last private sector job. And all of them were coming in largely with the message that said, “Hey. Welcome to the team. Welcome to the party. How can we help you be more successful? How can we help you help the mission and help us all be the kind of organization we want to be.” I’ve been around the block a few times like a couple of other folks in this room, and that really is something rare and it’s something that’s very special about this place.

John Bender: We have some guidance, we’re getting tons of input, but we’ve got leadership who are actually making what I think are some really interesting decisions and are really putting us on a path to some pretty heavy goals but also some really exciting work, and that is one of the things that I find so rejuvenating.

Jon Fisher: And I’ve come to realize that a lot of people don’t eat lunch together. I think it’s partly, aside from being introverts, a lot of people, we just have this almost panicked devotion to the mission. And so I think a lot of times, people are like, “I can’t take time for lunch. I can’t take time for coffee. I got to get back to saving the planet.” And so like I said, it took me a while to kind of get through that but it’s also kind of endearing in a way that it’s not that people don’t want to hang out with you. It’s that they’re all really caring about the same thing you’re caring about.

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Tom Casey and Geraldine Henrich-Koenis for setting up my visit and to those who participated in addition to Tom: Gondan Renosari, Johnny Cabrera, Rosita Scarborough, John Bender, and John Fisher. If you’d like to listen to this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of TNC, go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, you can hear my full interview with Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Generations United

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


Transcript

Denver: This week, I traveled to our nation’s capital to visit the offices of Generations United and to see how a smaller nonprofit organization went about creating a healthy work culture.

We’ll start with their Executive Director, Donna Butts, who will tell you about the goals of the organization, and then hear from some of the people who work there.

Donna: Well, Generations United has been around for 30 years now. We were founded by the leading children, youth and aging organizations at a time when people were really trying to pit the generations against each other. Our mission is really to develop solutions that involve the strengths of each generation and connect the generations, so we promote intergenerational practices, programs, and public policies.

img_0341Adam: One thing that I really like about working for a smaller organization is that it gives the staff here an opportunity to kind of be a jack of all trades. I think everybody here feels empowered to say that, “Oh, I’m really interested in doing this” or “this thing interests me,” whether it’s web design for social media or just things that maybe wouldn’t traditionally fall under their job titles. Everybody here, I think, feels empowered to step up and say that, and to kind of pursue maybe other avenues outside of just what their normal job title wouldn’t tell.

Alan: And it’s pretty much like wherever your interests are and if the interest align with GU’s mission, stuff like that, there’s really no problem in pursuing that. Generations United has made it easy to do that. You just have to speak what you’re interested in and the folks who are here who are either connected in some way or another with the opportunities that you want to take advantage of, they’ll help make that possible for you.

Jaia: I think we like to think of ourselves as fast, friendly, flexible, and fun. And I think a lot of that has to do with our size, but when we have an idea or we want to take action on something, there’s not a large bureaucratic process that you need to go through.

Emily: I also want to speak to how much I appreciate the balance between being in a really hardworking office. I think here, being on a small team, there’s this expectation that you are pulling your weight. And there’s not really room to not hold yourself accountable let alone one another accountable for doing your part to contribute to all the things that need to get done, but on top of that or I guess on the reverse of that, we’re a fun office, too. So we’re a hardworking office that also has just a general sense of humor and lightheartedness.

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Jaia: So if we have a young worker that we think is doing too much multi-tasking and on their phone while they’re doing this other thing, but what about that is a strength and how can we tap into that strength? Or we have this older worker—I’m totally playing into the stereotype here—who is struggling to pick up on the technology but is so skilled at telling a story, how do we tap into that strength and help connect the younger and old to maybe be mentoring each other in some way? But not focusing on how we have to change this young worker, change this older worker to fit a particular mold, so really focusing in on the strength. But we have to keep ourselves in check. I’ve found myself and other staff playing into this young worker-old worker kind of conversations, so you have to be real about it, I think, and be honest.

Alan: So we were doing our strategic meeting and the whole time the staff was doing this, they were planning a baby shower for my wife and I in the backroom. And to this day—my wife, I’m surprised she doesn’t get tired of me talking about it—but that was like “wow.” They went all out, like they have all these signs and stuff up.

Emily: I just want to give Donna credit as a leader. She really models the way and I think she sets the tone for the office. She models that balance of hard work and commitment to also being a fun workplace. She goes out of her way to get to know each of us individually and makes sure that in our own roles, that we’re fulfilled and know that we’re a valuable part of the organization and play to our strengths. So I just want to give her credit because I think she’s a huge part about the strength of our organization and how much we’re able to do.

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Denver: I want to thank Alan King who organized my visit and the others who participated as well: Adam Hlava, Jaia Lent, and Emily Patrick. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for a transcript of this podcast, pictures of the staff, and the offices of Generations United.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.