Month: September 2016

Brad Smith, President and CEO of Foundation Center, Joins Denver Frederick

In this interview, Brad Smith, the President and CEO of Foundation Center, describes the next frontier of philanthropy: managing information, and producing and sharing knowledge.  The Foundation Center is a global data platform for philanthropy, equipping donors with the knowledge they need to be strategic in their giving & providing transparency to the philanthropic sector.

The following is a conversation between Bradford K. Smith, President and CEO of Foundation Center, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

bradford-k-smith_personfullDenver: The rate of change is increasing in every field of endeavor, including philanthropy. And in order to be a true leader in the field, a person can’t be 100% consumed with just the well-being and state of their own organization; one also must leave some space and time to contemplate what all these changes mean for the entire sector. One individual that fits that description perfectly is my next guest… He is Bradford K. Smith, the President and CEO of the Foundation Center. Good evening, Brad, and welcome back to The Business of Giving.

Brad: It’s great to be back here.

Denver: For those listeners that are not familiar with the Foundation Center, tell us about the work that you do.

Brad: Great. I think the easiest way to understand us is:  what Bloomberg does for the financial markets, we do for philanthropy!  Basically, we publish data and information about the transaction of philanthropy. In other words, these endowed foundations that make grants to support organizations in the social sector to make the world a better place…We track all that information. We put it out there in an unbiased way so that you can search it; you can find it; you can understand who’s funding your cause, who’s not funding your cause, what foundations are doing, and what they’re not doing.

Denver: Let’s talk about foundations for a moment. When we look at philanthropy in the US, last year about $375 Billion was made in contributions. What percentage of that comes from foundations?

Brad: It’s roughly 16 – 17%,  and this is a common misunderstanding. A lot of people look at nonprofits in America, and they assume that their larger supporters are wealthy foundations and maybe individuals, but the largest source of income for American nonprofits in the aggregate is actually government. Foundation money is very important because it’s one of the few sources of income that nonprofits have that usually is not earmarked; it’s very flexible.

Denver: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that. I think foundations are pretty abstract to most people. It’s kind of a big idea out there, and I think you have a wonderful way of explaining it by talking about the sources of influence that they hold.  There are three of them,  and let’s pick up on each.   I’m going to start with the one you just mentioned. The one that is obvious to everybody: money, but as you say it’s a very special kind of money, right?

Brad: Correct! Foundations have a really important role in American history and American society. Basically, our government has created a kind of social pact in which wealthy individuals are given a tax incentive for creating a charitable foundation. They make a donation of a portion of their assets to the foundation. They no longer control those assets. They can’t take them back for personal use. They get a tax exemption in exchange for creating a stream of charitable giving in the future. Now, there are a lot of ways to look at the size of the philanthropic sector in the US. There are a lot of foundations. I  know when the Foundation Center was created in 1956, there weren’t near as many. In fact, when the Foundation Center published the first print directory of American foundations, there were about 4,000 foundations. Today there are well over 80,000 foundations…about 87,000 to 88,000. And the assets they manage–their investments–surpassed $800 Billion. And it’s the earnings on those investments which are tax-free, that are used to actually fund grants and fulfill their charitable purpose.

Denver: Right. The second source of influence that foundations have is “convening power.”

Brad: Well, there are not a whole lot of people in this world whose job is to give away money. And people always were sort of perplexed about that. They said: “Gosh, how do you find the organizations to be worthy of getting the support of the foundation?” And I used to tell them: “Look, when you are in the business of giving away money, you don’t have to go looking for people; they find you.” So, one of the things that gives a foundation virtually a seat at any table is the fact that they’re giving away money.

And the other thing is, they’re giving away money which, unlike congressional money or city money, isn’t earmarked by elected officials for their pet causes. It’s very flexible, long-term, risk-taking money.  But this also gives them the ability to “convene.”  And we find that the foundations that are having the greatest impact on the issues that are working– whether it be criminal justice, or climate change, or job creation–are not just giving away grants in a retail kind of way. They’re actually creating tables to which policy makers, academics, activists, and others can come, and really think about what the long-term solutions are to these serious problems that our society and world face.

I think the next frontier for philanthropy is going to be managing information, and producing and sharing knowledge.

 

Denver: And it would seem in an era of collaboration, they do have that special role to be able to do that. They don’t have a dog in the fight; they’re neutral…

Brad: Correct.

Denver: They give money away, and they have an incredible ability to get everybody to come when they call a meeting.

Brad: Yeah. When I worked with the Ford Foundation, the two jokes they always tell you when you start to work there is that all your phone calls get returned. And immediately, it seems like all of your ideas are brilliant.

Denver: That’s right, and you also become a little funnier and better looking too.

Brad: That’s right, yes, of course. Two of the perks.

Denver: And finally, and this is so important:  the accumulated knowledge that foundations hold.  Speak to that.

Brad: I think this is really the frontier for foundations. Roughly, I think we can say that… and I know you’ve had a lot of speakers come on this program… foundations have moved from the notion of just giving away money… a charity approach… to what a lot people call social investment. The idea that even though you’re making a grant, you’re investing in a solution, and you’re expecting return in the form of impact.

But another way to look at foundations is–I gave a presentation on this recently–and I said: “When it comes to knowledge and information, foundations are like black holes, and they need to become supernovas.”

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Caryl Stern of Unicef Joins Denver Frederick

Caryl Stern says that when she became CEO of the U.S. Fund for Unicef, she replaced its hierarchical “pyramid” leadership structure with “a series of circles” built on teamwork and feedback.  She also details the charity’s wearable-tech venture, Unicef Kid Power, and some of the special relationships it has forged in the business world, and talks about combating donors’ “disaster fatigue.”

The following is a conversation between Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Ms. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF

Denver: There are leaders of major international aid organizations that possess all the skills and talents and managerial capabilities to successfully lead their organization in its life changing work. But there are only a few who not only possess those traits but just  strike you as having been born for the job. Caryl Stern, the President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF happens to be one those people, and she’s with us now. Good evening, Caryl, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Caryl: Thanks! Nice to be here.

Denver: Let’s begin by having you tell us the mission and goals of the US Fund for UNICEF.  And what exactly is the nature of the relationship between the US Fund and  UNICEF?

Caryl: Sure! Well, UNICEF International is the organization that does really whatever it takes to save a child anywhere in the world. Working in 190 countries, 12,000 boots on the ground, under the phenomenal leadership of the Executive Director, Tony Lake. Underneath that, independent of it, there are 34 organizations around the world that enable that work.  I have the privilege to run the US arm of that– the US Fund for UNICEF. We are a 501(c)(3) located in New York City, and we have a tripartite mission. First and foremost, we raise money; it is our job to raise the dollars to help to make UNICEF’s work possible. Secondly, we are the voice of children from around the globe here in the US.  So, a part of my job is to go and bear witness to what’s going on around the globe and come back and talk about it. And then the third part, hopefully, is to raise a generation here in the United States that will do a better job than we have done thus far of saving, protecting and insuring that the the world’s children thrive.

Denver: That’s a great mission. Let’s talk about the current state of the world for a moment.  Perhaps you could do that through the lens of the three emergency levels that the UN uses to classify a crisis. What is the look these days?

Caryl: The UN does classify emergencies.  Obviously, not every emergency rises to the same necessity of response.  So, there’s a level 1, a level 2, and level 3 is the highest level of emergency. And up until about a year and a half ago, on occasion, you’d have one or two level 3s at the same time.  Currently there are five and unfortunately for those who respond… and not just UNICEF…all of the UN agencies that respond, the other NGOs..these are not either/ors.  You can’t say: “Okay, we’ll fund what’s happening in Syria right now instead of funding the response to Ebola, or the response currently to Zika.” They have to be “ands”; you’ve got to figure out how you are going respond to this, and this, and this, and this and this. Its an “and,” and an “and,” and an “and,” right now.

Denver: One of those level 3s is the refugee crisis.  Matthew Bishop of The Economist was on the show earlier this year, and we were talking about Davos.  He said it was the Number 1  topic of conversation there. And I said: “Well, is anybody talking about a potential solution?” He said: “No.”  You have been the leading voice and a strong advocate for the children caught in the middle of this unprecedented crisis. Is the world getting any closer to figuring out how we can handle this?

Caryl: I don’t think so. I think we are responding better, not solving better. Unfortunately, there are more children on the move right now, unaccompanied and accompanied, but more children on the move right now than in any period since World War II.

Denver: That’s remarkable!

Caryl: Really, it is remarkable. And we don’t get to pick where we’re born,  and surely wouldn’t pick poverty or a conflict zone if we had a choice. And the children on the move are really victims of the politics of adults.  These are not the choices they’re making that are forcing them to leave the home they’re familiar with, the community they’re familiar with, the practices and rites and rituals they’re familiar with.  To usually walk, not drive, great lengths for many days in the hopes of finding better space. And we are definitely not equipped around the world to treat the children as children when they arrive on those shores.

Denver: I bet. There have been a lot of recent stories, Caryl, around disaster aid.  Some of them haven’t  been been all that good. Supplies not getting through… and millions and millions of dollars being spent, and not much to show for it. But UNICEF operations are quite distinct from many of the others. Tell us how you’re unique in this regard.

Caryl: UNICEF International is responsible for the supply chain.  Frankly, there’s a huge warehouse. The primary warehouse is located in Copenhagen, and it was a gift of the government there to give us the space,  and it operates there. But there are also a series of pre-positioned supplies and warehouses around the world.  The reason that’s really critical is — you take what happened in Myanmar in Burma. While the world waited to see if planes were going to be allowed to land there when the crisis hit, we had a warehouse there; we had supplies there, and people went right to work.

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Jacob Harold, President and CEO of GuideStar, Joins Denver Frederick

GuideStar is the largest platform of information about data for nonprofits.  In this segment, Jacob Harold, President and CEO of GuideStar, talks about how both individual donors and nonprofit executives leverage the data that GuideStar curates.  He also discusses the danger of “short-termism”– of thinking everything happens on a quarterly basis. He explains that if you’re trying to build a great company, it takes years or decades… and the same is true for social change.

The following is conversation between Jacob Harold, President and CEO of GuideStar, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


135d0bbDenver: It is a bit ironic that at a time when we have more information and data than at any other time in human history, our ability to predict the future and to make sound decisions has never been less. And one reason for that may be because not enough people are thinking about how to make this data accessible, meaningful, and truly useful. That is why the nonprofit sector is so fortunate to have someone like Jacob Harold, the President and CEO of GuideStar…who just happens to be with us now. Good evening, Jacob, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jacob: I’m thrilled to be here, Denver.

Denver: Some listeners may never have heard of GuideStar. For those who have, they may be thinking: “Oh, Yeah, Yeah. The 990 tax form people.” So, let’s start by having you tell us what GuideStar is, and what you do.

Jacob: You bet!  GuideStar is the largest platform of information about data for nonprofits. And let’s just start by saying:  Why do we even care about having data about nonprofits?  And for me, it’s to address what I call “the elephant in the philanthropic room,” which is simply that some nonprofits are better than others.  Some are able to squeeze more good out of the dollars that they spend. It’s not necessarily that those that are not as effective are bad people, but they haven’t figured out the most effective way to do good in the world.

So the challenge that donors face and that nonprofit executives face…and researchers and government officials… is trying to find excellence in the field, to learn from it… to make sure it gets the resources it needs. And so GuideStar’s mission is to help in that process: to provide the kind of information so that the “stakeholders of social change”–the people who have a stake in the work of the nonprofit sector–are able to make good decisions with their time, and with their money,  and with their attention, with their passion. So, we provide data. And historically that’s mostly been, as you said, from the IRS Form 990, the tax form that most nonprofits are required to file. But we realize that that’s a very powerful foundation of data, but none of us would tell our own story through our 1040. And  we need to supplement that with other kinds of information to tell a richer story about nonprofits. And so that’s what we’re really trying to do at GuideStar right now.  And we’re having some success; we have about 7 million people each year who use GuideStar.


I had a chance to work for a whole set of different environmental organizations: Green Corps, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network. And I got to know dozens of others. And it became very clear to me in my early 20s that some of these organizations were simply far more effective. And it led me to a question: ‘Well, okay, how are we going to tackle a great challenge like climate change if we’re not sending money to where it can be most effective?’


 

Denver: That’s right. And you really get into the inner workings of all this data and how the whole philanthropic system works. Where did that come from? What kind of background did you have that instilled this into your DNA?

Jacob: In some ways, it came from the dining room table at the house I grew up in. Both of my parents worked for small community-based nonprofits. My mom worked at an AIDS hospice. My dad worked for Catholic Social Services, providing services to the poorest of the poor in our community. And so over the dining room table, I would hear about the struggles faced by those people who are devoting their lives to try and make the world better.  And these were my parents!

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Roxane White, CEO Of the Nurse-Family Partnership

In this segment, Roxane White describes the mission of the Nurse-Family Partnership, which is to help transform the lives of vulnerable first-time moms and their babies. Roxane outlines how the organization creates a culture of success through mutual motivation.  Through ongoing home visits from registered nurses, low-income, first-time moms receive the care and support they need to have a healthy pregnancy, provide responsible and competent care for their children, and become more economically self-sufficient.

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Roxane White, President and CEO of the Nurse- Family Partnership

The following is conversation between Roxane White, President and CEO of Nurse- Family Partnership, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: Over the last several months, we’ve had on the show the CEOs of the organizations that rate charities–from Charity Navigator to GreatNonprofits. And if you visited their websites to check on how they rated the Nurse-Family Partnership, you would see that it’s been awarded the maximum number of plaudits and stars. And here to tell you why that is the case, is the President and CEO of the Nurse-Family Partnership, Roxane White. Good evening, Roxane, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Roxane: Thank you so much. It’s delightful to be here!

Denver: Tell us about the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP)–what the central mission and purposes of the organization are.

Roxane: Well, what we do is really pretty basic and simple in many ways. We work with moms who are low-income, and we go into the home before they deliver their baby.  We help them deliver a healthy baby; we support the mom to raise a healthy child, and then we help Mom get back on track as well.

Denver: Let me ask you this:  What compelled you to take the CEO job at the Nurse-Family Partnership? I know you’ve been a tireless advocate for fighting homelessness and supporting youth.  Most recently, you served as the Chief of Staff for the governor of Colorado. What inspired you to take on this job?

Roxane: My first encounter with the Nurse-Family Partnership was when I was working with street kids.  I had a young mom who was ready to get off the street, and she was becoming a mom. And I called Nurse-Family Partnership, and I was like: “Yeah, right. Nobody really wants a street kid.” And they took her!  They helped her, and she turned her life around. The second time I was working in child welfare, and I was at an autopsy of a young person who had died. Family had failed: the foster family had failed; government, sure as Hell, can’t raise kids. So,  I was asking our staff,  “What can we do?”   They said, “There’s a program that can reduce child abuse by over 48% and has a track record of doing that.”  And we started working with Nurse-Family Partnership and got much better outcomes for families.

And then when I was Chief of Staff for the governor of Colorado, we were looking at what the heck do we do about Medicaid costs that were completely out of control!  And we brought in Nurse-Family Partnership as a way to reduce the cost to taxpayers of delivering unhealthy babies.

Denver: They made quite an impression on you. Let’s walk through the process a little bit.  Give us a picture of the typical mother you serve–her age, education, race, marital status– things like that.

Roxane: All of our moms are low-income, and all of our moms are at risk for a high-risk pregnancy. So they’re identified by their docs, by pregnancy testing places, by community advocates who say: “Hey, we got a mom here that’s going to deliver a baby.” Often, they are young moms; they may be teen moms. We don’t take any moms generally under the age of 14–but from 14 until about 30. There are moms who are at risk of having a baby born into the ICU unit, a baby being born unhealthy, a mom who’s not prepared to be a mom. So, our most vulnerable moms are the most expensive moms in terms of that delivery. And then we go into the home, and we start working with her.  We’re in the home at least every other week, if not more often before she delivers the baby, to help her deliver a baby on time, at a healthy birth weight.

Denver: Let me pick up on that  teen mom issue– that has always been a big question. Are we making any progress in this country, Roxanne, in getting teen mom birth rates down?

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Andrew Yang, Founder of Venture for America, Joins Denver Frederick

“If you are a smart kid in the U.S. today, you’re going to do one of six things in one of six places,” says Andrew Yang, founder and CEO of Venture for America. Learning how to build a business is not one of those things, and Cleveland and Detroit are not among the places.

What Mr. Yang means, as he explains in this segment from the Business of Giving, is that today’s top college graduates tend to gravitate toward a handful of fields (financial services, management consulting, the law) in a handful of cities (New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco). As did he, going from Brown and Columbia to a Wall Street law firm before realizing it was a bad fit and starting a successful career in start-ups.

Now Mr. Yang brings that experience to bear at Venture for America, a nonprofit he seeded with $120,000 of his own money. In this interview he details how Venture works to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs through fellowships and mentoring and shepherd that budding business talent to cities most in need of an economic boost. He also discusses Generation Startup, an upcoming documentary about the organization, and Venture’s goal to create 100,000 new jobs across the country by 2025.

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The following is conversation between Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO OF Venture for America, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: What would you say about a baseball team that was made up entirely of great field and shortstops? Well, you say they need to get some different kinds of players: someone who can hit, maybe a pitcher or two,  and some people who can play some other positions in the field. Well, my next guest believes that Team America has too many great field and shortstops. So he has dedicated himself to seeing that some of our best and brightest college graduates become engaged in helping to build enterprises in cities across the United States that could really use their talent. He is Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO of Venture for America. Good evening, Andrew, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Andrew: Thanks for having me; it’s a pleasure.

Denver: Tell us about Venture for America. What is the central mission and objective of the organization?

Andrew: Venture for America is a nonprofit that recruits and trains top college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses. We train them for a summer,  and then we send them to work at early-stage growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities around the country that could use an economic boost. Our goals are to help create American jobs through helping early-stage companies grow, and also to train the next generation of entrepreneur.

Denver: Let’s take a look at some of our successful college graduates from some of the very top schools. Is there a default path, Andrew, that they are following– both in terms of careers, and the cities that they gravitate to?

Andrew: Well, I resemble this. When I graduated from college, I didn’t know what to do. So,  I went to law school. My parents thought that was a great idea. And then I came to work here in New York as a Wall Street attorney. And to your point, that’s one of the default paths that our top college graduates have today… and one of the top markets. The default paths today are financial services, management consulting, law school, academia to some extent.  And our talent tends to concentrate in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, and a couple of other cities. One joke we have at Venture for America is: if you are a smart kid in the US today,  you’re going to do one of six things, in one of six places.

Denver: Yes!

Andrew: To your point about having a lot of the same sort of player on the field, that’s a pretty apt analogy.

Denver: Yeah. As you’re talking about trying to build and groom these entrepreneurs, I think the words “entrepreneur,” and certainly “social entrepreneur,” weren’t very commonplace a generation or two ago. And I think that today: with the lower barriers to entry, with the internet, and with social media, you can start a business from your dorm room or your home. And we read these stories about these incredible, successful entrepreneurs. I think most people have this assumption that more people are going into entrepreneurship than ever before. Would that be a correct assumption, or not?

Andrew: Well, the statistics tell the opposite story: Rates of business formation among Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 are down about 65%…

Denver: Wow!

Andrew: …over the last 25 years. And if you think about technology, it’s really a double-edged sword. So I’ll give you an example… People think: “Hey! Like now, you can spread the word about your business; you can do all of these things cheaply.” But on the flip side, the internet has taken a lot traditional, small business opportunities and transported them to the cloud, if you will.

One comparison I make is that Kevin Plank –who started Under Armour– which is now a multi-billion dollar company– His first business was selling flowers. Today there is 1-800-FLOWERS and a bevy of online vendors that would make that initial business probably unsuccessful. So, there are a lot of opportunities that have now been taken away.

Technology is also a barrier for many people because a lot of people aren’t coders. I’m going to guess that most of the people listening to this broadcast right now are not coders.  So, for all the talk and hype about:  “Oh, we need to train engineers and coders…” If you look at the ranks of entrepreneurs, the vast majority are non-technical, non-engineers. There has been a lot of industry consolidation at various levels that makes starting a business today actually more rare than it was 25 years ago.


…if you are a Big League hitter, and you hit 300, you’re excellent… which still means you’re not getting on base 70% of the time.


Denver: Yeah, I guess you have to be better than everybody today, whereas before you just had to be pretty good in your own community. Now, you have to be the best of the best. Do you find that young people have a fear of failure?

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Robert Egger, Founder of LA Kitchen, Joins Denver Frederick

The founder of LA Kitchen and the DC Central Kitchen, Robert Egger, discusses his initial idea to teach homeless men and women basic cooking skills, and how that idea has blossomed into a program with huge impact— from training unemployed adults for culinary careers, to reclaiming healthy, local food that would otherwise be discarded.


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The following is conversation between Robert Egger, Founder and President of LA Kitchen, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: There are not many founders who would build a world class social enterprise, then one day leave it all behind, move 3,000 miles across the country, and start up another one. But my next guest is not your typical founder; he is Robert Egger, the Founder of the DC Central Kitchen, and now the President and CEO of LA Kitchen. Good evening, Robert, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Robert: Thanks. It’s a real pleasure to be on.

Denver: Well, from the time you were a kid, you wanted to be Rick in Casablanca, the character played by Humphrey Bogart, open a night club, and change the world through music. But instead, you started the DC Central Kitchen in Washington. So you pivoted, Robert–long before anybody ever heard that word…outside of a few basketball coaches. Tell us how this came to pass.

Robert: Well, I was, as you suggested, a night club guy. I really dreamed–since I was very young– and wanted to be part of the social movements that I grew up watching in the 1960s. I wanted to be part of something, to contribute. As you suggested, man, I thought music was the vehicle, and I still believe it has power.  But I just ended up like a lot of people in the late 1980s.  The issue of homelessness became so “in-your-face” in DC,  but also in every city. I thought  I had to go out and do something. So one night I went out innocently  to serve people on the streets of Washington and encountered the kind of charity model–which is sadly and often times wrapped up in a kind of redemption for the giver, versus the liberation of the receiver. In short, I was serving food that was purchased at the grocery store to people who were standing outside in the rain.

And so I innocently proposed an idea that eventually became the DC Central Kitchen, mainly because all the groups I went to– to try and give it to them– liked everything the way it was. That’s been a benchmark of my career. It’s that sense of: “what we’re doing is great, but it could be better! Let’s always be open to trying something new.”


I also proposed the cooking program, that in effect said: Let’s teach homeless men and women basic cooking skills… and I don’t mean people right off the street. But, let’s try and be part of a system that would start to create an exit door. And restaurants could donate food. Then they could also help teach, and would have access to entry-level people who could help them make money! Everybody would win something!  That was where it started– this idea of quid pro quo.


Denver: Well, tell us a little bit about the DC Central Kitchen: what your business model was there; where you sourced your food; who you hired;  and what you were able to achieve.

Robert: OK. The first time I went out, I purchased food from a grocery store, served the people outside in the rain. So I said: “Hey, look: restaurants, hotels, hospitals, universities throw away a ton of food every night.” And they hate throwing away food; they just don’t want to be sued. So, if you could find a safe, healthy way to get that food…boy, you could serve more people…better food, for less money.

Denver: Yes.

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Rosanne Haggerty, President & CEO of Community Solutions, Joins Denver Frederick

In this segment, Rosanne Haggerty, President & CEO of Community Solutions, discusses her organization’s work towards a future without homelessness, in which poverty never follows families beyond a single generation.  Additionally, Rosanne debunks some myths surrounding homelessness— she explains that homelessness is not just a “big city problem”, and that it’s more cost-efficient to get people into a stable homes than to maintain their homelessness (i.e. via shelters).

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The following is a conversation between Rosanne Haggerty, the President and CEO of Community Solutions, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. It has been edited for clarity.

Denver: There are some social problems that, as unfortunate as they may be, just need to be accepted. They will always exist to one degree or another. And one of those problems most people have resigned themselves to is homelessness. No matter what we do, it will never be eliminated entirely. But my next guest is not most people. She is Rosanne Haggerty, the President and CEO of Community Solutions. Good evening, Rosanne, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Rosanne: Thank you for having me here.

Denver: You have said that the world is full of complex social problems for which no reliable, cost-effective solutions have been found. Homelessness, however, is not one of them. Explain to us what you mean.

Rosanne: All over the country, we’re seeing communities make profound strides in reducing and ending homelessness for good, among people who are chronically homeless–meaning they’ve been homeless for long periods of time– and homeless veterans. We really misunderstood this issue. There is much to be excited about… in terms of what can be accomplished when cities organize their resources properly. That’s the big “Ah Ha!”

Denver: Tells us about Community Solutions. This is now the second organization that you have founded, albeit, related to the first one– which was Common Ground. What is the philosophy of Community Solutions? What are the goals and objectives of your organization?

Rosanne: We help communities solve the complex problems that affect their most vulnerable residents. And we do that by bringing tools from other sectors that have been effective in solving complex problems–from design thinking, quality improvement, data analytics. So, that’s our mission. We have redefined homelessness as a symptom of the larger problem–the breakdown of community systems.


I quickly saw the young people I was responsible for–their problems were not 30-day problems. They were permanent problems around housing, jobs, families that had fallen apart… The real complexity was not homelessness, but poverty… that had driven them into homelessness.


Denver: You started this work back in the early 1980s, and you were exceptionally idealistic back then. You were really hopeful that homelessness was a solvable problem. But what you witnessed was quite disheartening… and gave you a little less of an optimistic outlook. What did you see back then?

Rosanne: When I first moved to New York, homelessness was a newly-defined issue at the time,in the early 80s. I worked by day at a shelter for homeless and runaway young people, and overnight, once a week, volunteering at a church basement shelter for homeless women. And I think in my naïvete, I was of the belief: “We’ll be enough volunteers and shelters–we can nail this!”

Denver: We can lick this thing!

Rosanne: “It’s a new issue; it’s kind of happened on our watch.” And within a couple of months, in both places, I was just appreciating this huge disconnect. I think I had imagined that there was some larger plan, that if we got enough volunteers to staff the shelters, this was all going to work out. But at the Shelter for Runaway and Homeless Youth, the young people could stay for a maximum of 30 days. And I quickly saw the young people I was responsible for–their problems were not 30-day problems. They were permanent problems around housing, jobs, families that had fallen apart… The real complexity was not homelessness, but poverty… that had driven them into homelessness. And yet, we would discharge them after 30 days. No surprise! Most of them would be back 30 days later.

After a few months, I thought, “What exactly are we accomplishing here? This is certainly not something that’s solution-oriented.” And meanwhile, I’m working as a volunteer overnight with women who would be bused to the church basement shelter…They had been lining up for hours and travelling all over the city before being dropped off…They would just sort of stumble in, exhausted. I was able to sit down and speak with a few of them over tea. And it was clear that none of them had any idea how they were going to get out of homelessness. And no one was talking to them about how that could happen. What they knew and had been instructed on was: when and and where to catch the bus to get to that overnight shelter. And so there I was, as a 21-22-year-old, thinking: ”Wait a minute! Nobody’s in charge here! There are a lot of well-intentioned emergency efforts, a lot of people like me who are trying to pitch in, but this is not going anywhere.”

Denver: Well, I think you also witnessed that the resources were available and, just as you said, people had deeply heartfelt intentions. But, the system itself… was broken. How was the system broken?

Rosanne: I’ll start from the vantage point of 2016. Sometimes it takes a while to understand and really see what’s going on. The dots weren’t being connected. There were people who could not solve their housing needs in the marketplace–who needed something other than just affordable housing in many cases–in order to resolve the overriding problem that was making them vulnerable to homelessness. (more…)