Month: April 2017

Daniel Lurie, Founder and CEO of Tipping Point Community, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Daniel Lurie, Founder and CEO of Tipping Point Community, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


Daniel Lurie

Denver: For people in the world of philanthropy and social good – who may be looking for a successful model of a group that is tackling tough and seemingly intractable problems – they would be well-advised to turn their gaze out towards San Francisco and an organization called Tipping Point Community. And it’s a great pleasure to have with us this evening their founder and CEO, Daniel Lurie. Good evening, Daniel, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Daniel: Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be here.

Denver: You know, many people outside of the Bay Area may not be familiar with Tipping Point Community. Tell us about your mission and the work that you do.

Daniel: Well, we are coming up on 12 years into this work of tackling poverty here in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are focused on the 1.3 million people that are too poor to meet their basic needs. And what we think is the epicenter of the world, we think we’re pretty special and cool out here in the San Francisco Bay Area; I do think that as well, but we also have a lot of problems and a lot of poverty.  We have all the resources at hand to tackle them, and so that’s our mission: to try to bring together all the best of the Bay Area to impact those that because of the place that they were born, or the zip code they were born into simply have not been given the same opportunity that, let’s say, I was born into… So that’s our mission.

Denver: Let me ask you quickly about the name of your organization.  Was it in any way influenced by Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book?

Daniel: Absolutely. I was looking for a name back in early 2003 to 2004, and it kept coming back to his book and his concept that a few passionate people can create great change. Interestingly enough, he didn’t come up with the name himself, but he obviously made it famous. He and I have talked about it, and I think he likes that we took it from him.

Denver: Well, he certainly had to like what you’ve done with it. You know, I find the founding story of Tipping Point Community to be a really interesting one. Tell us, Daniel, what happened after you graduated from Duke that led you to start this organization back in 2005…

Daniel: Well, as you said, I graduated from Duke, and I had heard Bill Bradley. He was no longer Senator then, but he was thinking about running for President. He had come to Duke, and he was talking about the 12 million kids that were going to school hungry. He was talking about the 35 million people that were uninsured in the country at that time. He was a Rhodes Scholar, a Hall of Fame basketball player, an amazing human being.  And he wanted to run for President and talk about issues of poverty. And that is not something that we’ve seen much of since or before, and I was inspired by him.

The day after I graduated, I ended up in his New Jersey West Orange offices, and I ended up – for nine months –working on his presidential campaign for the Democratic nomination versus Al Gore. And I was just incredibly inspired by his message. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but I took his message and moved to New York City. I did a couple of different jobs, and I ended up at the Robin Hood Foundation. I ended up there on September 7 of  2001. My fourth day of work was September 11, 2001. And I found myself a block away from the World Trade Center that morning at our offices.  It was a really obviously traumatic experience for all of us. And especially to be right down there.  But what I also was so incredibly moved at –and I feel so appreciative– that I was able to be at a place like Robin Hood that was helping lift up the hardest hit New Yorkers.  And those were low-income New Yorkers who lost their jobs, lost loved ones, and really had a tough time recovering. And Robin Hood was there for them, and they were there for the city of New York.

And I got to spend two years there seeing what Paul Tudor Jones and David Saltzman and a few others had built into a world class organization that was tackling poverty in New York City. And they were doing it as a group of individuals, coming together as one community to tackle really difficult subjects. It always seems a little easier to me to go out and raise awareness and raise funds for a museum, or for a university, or for a medical institution. But when you’re talking about a child who is going to a failing school or does not have a home to go to, Robin Hood built something that made it cool and hip to give back to those types of issues.  I wanted that for the San Francisco Bay Area. I wanted that for my hometown. So almost immediately, I started thinking: How can I bring this type of model to the Bay Area?   And so in 2003, I moved home. Went to the Public Policy School at Berkeley, got a Master’s degree and launched Tipping Point in 2005 with three other founders: Ronnie Lott, Chris James and Katie Schwab Page; the four of us founded it. We got started in 2005, and we’ve been going  for 12 years now.

Denver: Sounds great. I’ll tell you, you could not have learned how to run an organization in any better place than the Robin Hood Foundation. They are truly phenomenal, always have been, and remain that way. And one of the guys you just mentioned there, I know, is one of your childhood heroes, Ronnie Lott. Tell us about him and how that all came to pass.


Georgia Levenson Keohane, Author of Capital And The Common Good, joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Georgia Levenson Keohane, Executive Director of the Pershing Square Foundation & Author of Capital And The Common Good, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Georgia Levenson Keohane

Denver: When the gap between the aspirations of the global community to find solutions to the world’s most urgent social and environmental problems and the resources available to address them is so wide, what are we to do? My next guest suggests it may not simply be a case of more capital, but smarter capital. She is Georgia Levenson Keohane, a Professor of Social Enterprise at Columbia University, the Executive Director of the Pershing Square Foundation, and the author of Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems. Good evening, Georgia, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Georgia: Thank you for having me!

Denver: You know, in the very title of your book, you speak of innovative finance, and one of the key distinctions you make is between that and financial innovation. What is that distinction?  And give us some examples of each.

Georgia: So the distinction between innovative finance– what I essentially define as financial tools and instruments that are used to serve the public good and to solve problems– and financial innovation is an important one. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, Paul Volcker famously said, “The only real innovation in finance that’s ever been useful was the ATM.” And his point was that fancy engineering, shiny new tools in finance… whether they’re speed trading or very complicated derivatives that are really just for efficiency and profitability sake… aren’t necessarily designed to solve problems or to meet the needs of people. And in my book, I explore ways in what I would call innovative finance, which is taking some of the time-tested tools of finance– whether it’s products like insurance or basic lending– and really using them in ways that we haven’t seen to solve problems for the poor and the underserved.

Denver: An important distinction. Well, the impetus for this book came about in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. How did that spur your interest in this topic?


Georgia:  I was reminded of it when I came down to your studio today in Lower Manhattan. In October of 2012, I had just put my earlier book on social entrepreneurship to rest. That book really explored very colorful, charismatic changemakers – people like Wendy Kopp who had founded Teach For America, or Cheryl Dorsey who was at the helm of Echoing Green – and I was really thinking about social change in those terms. And Sandy, as all of you in the New York area and on the Northeast corridor know, was a really  unprecedented hurricane that in New York City, where I’m born and bred, flooded our subway system and really shut down the entire city… and among other things, put a close on the artery of the city, the lifeline, which is our subway. This massive storm surge in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere inundated the tracks and corroded the pretty ancient wiring, and I was pretty surprised to see… and very happy to observe… that very quickly, the MTA had the subways back up and running.

And what I came to learn afterwards was that actually risk managers in the bowels of the MTA – so not the people you see at the social entrepreneurship conferences, not the sort of Wendy Kopps of the world, but people who are really working day in and day out thinking about risk – had discovered that the subways and the public transportation systems in New York had suffered $5 billion in damage from the storm and were therefore uninsurable in the traditional market. So without insurance, the subways and the busses, the subways in particular, would not have been able to restore service.

What they did was they went to what I would call a municipal finance first, a very creative and innovative use of finance. They went to the catastrophe bond markets, the CAT bond markets, which are typically used as a way to reinsure– not necessarily public transport or even public sector utilities– but really using the private markets. And this got me thinking a lot more. I said, “Wow. This is really creative. This is really innovative. This is entrepreneurial.” and “Are there examples where people are looking to the private capital markets to unlock sources of funds to solve social problems?”

And as you said in your introduction, I eventually came to think of this not just as unlocking more capital in some ways, but really unlocking smarter capital. And what I mean by that are new sources of funding or new financial mechanisms that help us make better decisions and investments for the long term.

Now, we all know that prevention pays. And what I mean by that is that we know, for example, that vaccines are infinitely cheaper than full-blown disease. Tackling even a full-blown disease or an outbreak is infinitely cheaper than dealing with an epidemic or a pandemic, and this is true across a range of issues.

Denver: Well, you started your book with a very vivid example of how this can work in the case of vaccine bonds in the U.K. Walk us through that and the impact that it has had.

Georgia: So in some ways, I went from thinking that “This isn’t just about more capital. This is about smarter capital.” And then I realized maybe this isn’t really about money at all. What this really is about are things like trust, really about things like time and time transfer. So, for millennia, finance has given us instruments that are really about what economists call intertemporal transfer. So borrowing from our future selves… and our hope that we will be able to have resources in the future, and essentially frontloading or bringing that money forward to today to solve problems or pay for needs for today.

Denver: Or to live in my house.

Georgia: Or to live in your house. And the mortgage is a classic example where we’re borrowing from our future selves and our future earnings to make down payments and then pay incrementally over time. Now, we all know that prevention pays. And what I mean by that is that we know, for example, that vaccines are infinitely cheaper than full-blown disease. Tackling even a full-blown disease or an outbreak is infinitely cheaper than dealing with an epidemic or a pandemic, and this is true across a range of issues. This is true if we think about job training versus mass incarceration, if we think about early childhood education versus subsequent job training, or even if we think about  that investments in low carbon technologies are expensive, but they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than trying to deal with the long-term and catastrophic effects of climate change.

Denver: Yes. The ROIs are off the charts.

Georgia: The ROIs are off the charts, but we don’t always have either the incentives or the ability to make those very cost-effective investments in prevention today.

So, interestingly, I came upon an example and I started to look at these… as you mentioned, IFFIm, the International Financing Facility for Immunization, where essentially the UK government partnered with some folks at Goldman Sachs. Actually, I was just in the UK last week and got to reconnect with Christopher Egerton-Warbuton, who was leading the team at Goldman Sachs. What they basically did after 2000 when the world got very excited about  the Millennial Development Goals and ambitious global goals in health and economic development. The world and many countries, including the UK, made these really ambitious and spectacular commitments to solve some of these problems and then said, “Lo and behold, we don’t necessarily have the funding to do this, but can we think about finance?” And in the case of IFFIm, it turned out that there were a number of countries, the UK included, that actually had made very substantial and multi-year commitments to development aid. Some of them… even over 20 years. What the Goldman team with the UK Treasuries sorted out—and these were people who’d really had a lot of expertise in structured finance, that were used to issuing bonds, and used to thinking about how we frontload money—they basically said, “Can we take those 20-year aid commitments and frontload them and issue bonds against them, and come up with a financing facility that allows us to raise bonds against those multi-year pledges?  

They worked with the Gavi Alliance, which focuses on vaccines for the world’s poorest, for diseases that are really preventable. Those diseases have an 18% ROI. And since 2006—it took a few years for IFFIm to get up and running—they’ve raised almost $5 billion for vaccines for some of these global diseases. And parenthetically, that financing facility model is now being considered for refugee populations, for other issues of woman and maternal health. It’s a little complicated to structure, but the hope is that it offers a model for really taking multi-year aid commitments for the future and using that money today.

…it was not just what people were paying for but how they were paying for it that struck me as the real innovation in some ways.

Denver: You’ve also seen innovative finance at work in places like Kenya where maybe about 80% of the country are using mobile money on their mobile phones.  But my goodness! So many people are off the electrical grid and depend upon kerosene for lighting. How has innovative finance played a role in that case?

Georgia: A terrific question. When I embarked on this book, a number said, “Oh, you’re writing about innovative finance. You must be talking about mobile money.” This is really a book in some ways about technology, and we’re assuming that you’re looking at the M-Pesa story in Kenya and now elsewhere. Ten years ago, Safaricom entered the Kenyan market; no one had phones. Now, 80% of the population, as you say, have phones, and about 70% of that group are using those phones for mobile money. They use M-Pesa, which is essentially a payment system. And I thought that was very interesting.

But the more I looked at M-Pesa, something like 40% of the Kenyan GDP does flow through the M-Pesa platform. So digital money is clearly transforming the economy there and what we would consider financial inclusion. And by the way, that’s no longer just remittances – people can pay school fees, people can pay for water, people can pay taxes, people can pay nearly everything. But as I start to look at this more closely, I realized that in fact, it was not just what people were paying for but how they were paying for it that struck me as the real innovation in some ways.

So you brought up the point that maybe 80% of the population now can use mobile money, but they don’t have electricity. So they’re still off the grid, and they’re still using single-use batteries, and they’re using lanterns, and they’re using kerosene for their energy needs. And as you know, things like kerosene are not only toxic and it burns; it’s a huge source of global warming, and it’s very expensive.

Denver: It’s very dangerous.

Georgia: Very dangerous. The only reason people can afford it is because they are buying it in small batches. And there have been huge efforts in the global community to introduce solar and other forms of alternative energy affordably, but the issue is that no one has gotten it down affordably. So if you, for example, are a family in Kenya and you’re paying $200 a year or more– which many are for kerosene– it clearly makes economic sense—and these families know this; they’re rational actors—to make an investment of $199 to install a solar panel. The issue is that no one has $199 up front.

So fast forward, M-KOPA is the first. There are now several and actually at Pershing Square Foundation, we are invested in one called Angaza, which are pay-as-you-go financing companies, mostly focused on solar… although you could do this for really almost anything – you could do it for water, you could do it for books – that allow families to pay as you go, essentially do micro-leasing or installment payments for these solar panels that suddenly allow them to pay in increments for something that was otherwise unaffordable. And by the way, that pay-as-you-go mechanism in this whole field has, in the case of solar, increased solar option by fourfold. But as we were discussing, you could imagine applying this—it doesn’t just need to be solar. You could imagine books that people are sort of paying as you go per chapter. You can imagine it for water and for medical needs. So, again, people have been paying layaway for centuries; that sort of incremental financing is nothing new. But to me, bringing that basic utility of finance to underserved populations– that makes it a real innovation.

Denver: And that’s also happened here closer to home. There’s a similar situation– although different– with MetroCards here in New York City. Now, how has that one been addressed?

Georgia: Absolutely! I thought of it this morning when I hopped on the C train to come down to your studio. So that trip, if I had just walked into the subway, would’ve cost me $2.75. And if you think about most commuters in the New York area, they’re probably doing two of those trips a day… so maybe 500 times a year, and that adds up. That’s a lot money. Of course, for me, I have a monthly pass and my kids have discounted student MetroCards and everything else – and so, fortunately, there is a very substantial discount if you’re a regular commuter.

The unfortunate situation– and exactly analogous to the issue of solar panel installation– is that that discount costs you $116 upfront each month. And by the way, and not surprisingly, that $116—and as we were discussing earlier, the fare is going to go up—that $116 is really cost-prohibitive to many New Yorkers or many people even in the tri-state area who are coming in.

So it turns out—and in the old days, we used to think of intercities and poverty concentrated in the city center. Of course, now, people live far distances from the city and are commuting to work and commuting to school. So, again, ultimately, this is a problem you would imagine that the MTA or other government entities would be dealing with, but you have some very innovative startups. I looked at one called Alice Financial, which is essentially a FinTech startup, but they’re really focused on the needs of the underserved. And I said, “This is crazy! We could essentially come up with a layaway program where people can pay for the discount in weekly increments.” So they don’t need the $116 up front and they can pay us and they charge a little bit of float, but it’s only enough that they can essentially recirculate it and run the company. And again, they let people pay on—you can pay on your phone and you can do most of it digitally. But I think that this sort of pay-as-you-go mechanism, which did grow out of the—it’s one of the cases where we really imported this from emerging—

Denver: Reverse innovation.

Georgia: Reverse innovation. It could be transformative. And by the way, as I said, I was in the U.K. this week. So New Yorkers overpay, in aggregate, $500,000 a day because they’re not getting the discount. I was just in U.K. this week and last weekend in London; it’s even more.  So the same thing. This is a very large-scale problem.

…what IFMR Trust is really clear about is that: it’s this person and it’s the human interface and it’s the trust piece that will actually work with individuals and families to make sure that they’re adopting the right products.

But I do think that we sort of lose sight of the fact that that human connection is really vital to make this all work.

Denver: And with these great, new innovative ways for people to improve their lives and those of their families… they just don’t automatically happen, do they, Georgia? I mean, sometimes you need a person to be in there and try to encourage people to take these actions.

Georgia: Exactly. I think the Angaza and the M-Pesa and even the Alice Financial stories, in some ways… people have said to me, “Wow. What you’re talking about are the technology plays – are you essentially saying that innovative finance is the same thing as innovative technology, and it’s just a technology play?” And I think it’s tempting. We all have these hopes and these aspirations somehow that we’re going to have really technological solutions to all of our needs and all of our problems. And in the course of writing this book and my working out of Pershing, I’ve spent some time with what I would consider some really innovative financial service organizations, both in India, by the way, and here in the US, that have thought a lot about how you use technology to improve financial inclusion.

I’ll tell a quick story about an organization called IFMR Trust, which is in India and works as a microfinance in rural India. They were very much initially into lending business and then got into other products and services, which everyone has hoped that microfinance would do, whether it’s pensions or saving products or insurance products or otherwise. They had a client—this was a few years ago—and she was an agricultural laborer and she had come regularly to IFMR for gold loans. Essentially, she would use her jewelry as collateral and they would give her loans and she would go on her way – a very common practice in India and other parts of the developing world. And she, one day, severely unfortunately, is walking to work and also not all that uncommon, is hit by an oncoming truck and is killed. And IFMR discovers that she had five dependents at home.  So she was supporting her parents; her husband had left her; she had two children, also supporting a sibling. And of course what this woman really needed – not a gold loan – was life insurance, and that’s what her family needed.

In the case of IFMR, they actually had life insurance in their product offering, but they did not fully understand her financial needs. They have since really revolutionized  how they think about offering products and services, and they have a community wealth manager who goes door-to-door. They use a tablet. They collect all sorts of financial information about households.  And then through an algorithm, they’re able to determine what products you really need. The person who’s selling it is paid or compensated accordingly, so they’re not selling the wrong products, et cetera. But what IFMR Trust is really clear about is that:  it’s this person and it’s the human interface and it’s the trust piece that will actually work with individuals and families to make sure that they’re adopting the right products.

By the way, and parenthetically, I was relaying the story of the IFMR case to some colleagues of mine in Columbia, and they said, “Well, you must know Justine Zinkin at Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners in Upper Manhattan,” and I said, “I know a little bit.” And they said, “Go up and talk to Justine.” And Justine told me almost an extremely similar story, which is Neighborhood Trust is a very innovative organization. They’re working with all kinds of underserved populations in Upper Manhattan. They have developed a terrific socially responsible credit card. They have developed an app that helps people save. They are now working with companies to really think innovatively about payroll technology and how you could essentially– almost in real time– make sure people get paid rather than having to wait every couple of weeks… so real innovations that involve technology.

And I asked Justine, I said, “Well, for your customers, for your clients, what do you think is the most popular? You have all these technological solutions. It’s awesome!” And she said, “Well, you know it all hinges on Marisol.” When we surveyed, they said Marisol. And so of course, I have my geeky professor hat and a former consultant, and I said, “Oh, Marisol! That must be an acronym, like measurement, accountability…” And she said, “No. Marisol is a lady who lives in Washington Heights who’s convincing people that it’s okay to take the money out from under their mattresses; they’re not going to get deported, and they can actually engage in the financial services sector in a productive way.”

And so it became very clear to me.. and I call it in the book FITT just because I like acronyms, but it’s “finance, innovation, technology and trust.” There are two Ts there. But I do think that we sort of lose sight of the fact that that human connection is really vital to make this all work.

Denver: The trusted neighbor. We depend on other people’s recommendations before we take an action,  and particularly when it comes to your money.  These things will not sell themselves.

Georgia: These things will not sell themselves.

Denver: Well, let’s turn our attention to insurance. And there’s a kind of insurance entity, I guess, which is owned by the African Union, and it’s called African Risk Capacity. How does that work?  And what are some of the advantages of it?

Georgia: So again, nothing new about insurance. Insurance as a product has existed for hundreds of years, in some cases thousands of years, and we saw that with  Greek shipping fleets had insurance. So not new. I think where the ARC, the African Risk Capacity example becomes very interesting is that for years, the disaster response system—and on the radio, it’s hard to see what air quotes around a word like “system”—essentially meant  if you experience a drought, and let’s say you’re in the sub-Saharan Africa, you’re in the Sahel. And Sahel in the last decade has experienced at least three major and really devastating droughts. And again, it’s like the discussion we had about the investments and prevention, so drought does not inevitably lead to famine and widespread catastrophe, but unless we respond soon enough, it will.

And so again, the “system” for international humanitarian relief when it came to drought—but this is true for all kinds of things including pandemics like Ebola, which we saw a few years ago—was that countries had experienced drought, insufficient rainfall, go to the UN, go the donor community, issue an appeal, and then months later at best, if at all, the donor community would respond. And at that point, often, drought had metastasized into famine and into really widespread hardship.

Two years ago—a few years actually, we’re coming up on the third year—a number of countries in the African Union came together and they said, “There has to be a different way that we can respond to this. And what about insurance? Is it possible, for example, to use a satellite technology in the sky that can help us… and proxies on the ground, help us very early detect insufficient rainfall? And can we put together a pool of countries…” And by the way, it turns out, which wouldn’t have occurred to me necessarily, that countries in the Sahel, their rates of drought are uncorrelated, so you actually can ensure a pool of countries and have it be more diversified than I would’ve thought. And these countries now pay in a relatively small premium in drought insurance.  As soon as the satellite technology indicates insufficient rainfall – and this is an African Union-owned insurance company, so this isn’t a foreign entity – the payouts are triggered, and those payouts shave months off of the response time.

Denver: Makes all the difference in the world.

Georgia: Right. And that’s not like you and me waiting for our auto claims to come back. I mean, that’s really the difference in these situations between life and death.

Denver: And you can’t really depend on these appeals anymore. A lot of the countries never fulfill their pledges. And there are so many things going on in the world, they’re not even getting close to what they’re hoping to achieve.

Georgia: Right. Even if you could, even the best intentions. As you say, there are multiple appeals; there are multiple issues as we saw very tragically in the case of Ebola, for example. MSF in March 2014 sends the alarm about Ebola. The World Health Organization does not declare a medical emergency until August, and funds don’t start to flow until November. Well, just to put it out there, it’s too late or it becomes—it’s like we talked about– hockey sticks in a good way in the investment community.

But the World Health Organization by its own estimate said, “It would’ve cost, had we intervened to try to contain the outbreak, in April, it would’ve cost $5 million, by July, $100 million, and by October, $1 billion.” And again, Ebola is about tens of thousands of lives…it is a human tragedy. I don’t mean to just quantify it in monetary terms, but the value of prevention is clear. And by the way, the World Bank, under the leadership of Dr. Jim Kim who is a physician, has created a pandemic financing facility, sort of based in some ways on ARC.

Denver: Let me ask you about one more of these, and those would be social impact bonds, and we’ve discussed that a lot on the show.  Perhaps you can tell us how they work through the example of the Nurse Family Partnership and the partnership that they have with the state of South Carolina.

Georgia: Social impact bonds, which are, as you know, not really bonds. They’re Pay for Success instruments. They’re basically contracts. The idea, again, comes back to this idea of prevention. So we know prevention pays, whether it’s reducing recidivism, which is what the first social impact bonds were modeled – Peterborough and then Rikers in New York City, and then there’s the New York City State Bonds – so whether it’s sort of investing to keep people—investing in prisoners once they leave jail so that they don’t re-commit crimes and aren’t reincarcerated.  Or whether it’s in early childhood education. Peterborough is in 2010, we now have about 60 social impact bonds globally, and they have moved, in some cases, much further down the prevention continuum. And I’ll get to the Nurse Family Partnership example that you mentioned, but in some ways, that’s the earliest because that’s maternal health or early childhood where the ROI is huge.

But the basic idea is that we don’t necessarily have the incentives or the motivation or the capacity or the dollars to make those early investments in prevention. So here, the idea is that, in the case of recidivism for example, you bring in private investors, and for the most part, those private investors have been philanthropists.  So Pershing Square Foundation is an investor in the New York State Social Impact Bond. But you essentially bring in those investors to frontload– to loan money to the social service providers, who then provide whatever intervention it is. And then if the intervention works, the investors are repaid out of the social savings of the costs averted, whether it’s the cost of putting people back in prison or in the case of maternal and child health, the cost of not needing additional special services– whether it’s Medicaid or specialized instruction and schools.

It’s a very elegant structure. In practice, some of them, they involve very rigorous measurement and evaluation. They are sort of complex and involve a lot of people and entities at the table, but that’s the basic design. And what it means ultimately, two things: I would say one is the taxpayers are only on the hook for interventions that work, so the government and therefore taxpayer money only repays the investors if they’ve actually seen an improvement; and two, it’s really about evidence-based policy making. So what that means is that there are pretty rigorous measures, whether it’s using a randomized control trial for the control population… or just really evaluating in a very serious and earnest way to say, “We really are only going to fund interventions that have demonstrable…”

Denver: A lot of money on the line, right?

Georgia: A lot of money on the line. And the case that you mentioned with Nurse Family Partnership is probably one of the most rigorously evaluated social and anti-poverty interventions in the US. And the idea is you have  home visits to mothers– typically low-income mothers, but it really could be anyone who are first-time mothers– through their pregnancy… and then with the children to make sure that everyone is getting the health interventions that they need, the social and emotional development that they need, and again, the ROI, the return on investment, from those visits are huge.

So currently, in aggregate, we spend about 40 times the amount responding to disaster that we do in investing in prevention in the first place.

Denver: Let us look to the United Nations 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals because that is really where this thing comes into play, I think in a very central way. I think the aspiration calls for about $3.9 trillion a year to be able to meet those goals by 2030, and perhaps the projected amount of revenues coming in are only going to be about $1.4 trillion. That’s a huge gap. How significant a role do you believe that innovative finance can play in closing that gap?

Georgia: I think that was , again, the initial impetus for this book. And I have colleagues at the Rockefeller Foundation who lead something called the Zero Gap Initiative, and it’s very much focused on closing that and other gaps where the amounts of public capital and philanthropy fall short. So the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, serves as the most pronounced example. They don’t even include some other areas. So the sort of urgency is that we do need these types of new innovative finance approaches to begin to close that gap. I think some of it is creating proof points. So once we have an example of Africa Risk Capacity, for example, or successful social impact bonds or other types of insurance mechanisms that demonstrate that these investments in prevention pay and in some cases– not all– that you can actually earn market or close to market rate returns would demonstrate the value in investments and prevention.

So currently, in aggregate, we spend about 40 times the amount responding to disaster that we do in investing in prevention in the first place. So I think that you will see– or we hope to see– and unlock a little bit of shift in the mindset about when we make investments, which is just a little bit more to my “smarter capital, not just more capital” perspective. The other thing is I think really the large sources of capital, the trillions of dollars are in things like sovereign wealth funds and pension funds and big institutional investments. And if we can start to move that needle a little bit and say, “Can we unlock some of those resources to bear on some of these needs?” We do begin to close in on some of those gaps.

In some ways, I just think it’s a willingness on the part of government actors to be involved in progressive and forward-thinking public-private partnerships. So all of the examples we gave, whether it’s the social impact bonds or IFFIm… they were really government coming together with the nonprofit sector and the private sector in partnership. And I think that that, more than any one policy, is the way to unlock some of these tools.

Denver: Is there a role, Georgia, that government or policymakers can play to help innovative finance optimize its potential?

Georgia: I think we have seen in the US, for example, in recent years, we’ve made some significant advances on how we think about fiduciary responsibility and how we make it clear what’s legal and what’s fine versus what’s been a commonplace practice. So that people and investors and investment managers start to feel a little bit more comfortable in realizing in some cases, they’re not in violation of their fiduciary responsibility to make investments for social good. And by the way, parenthetically, in some cases, they begin to understand that if they are over-exposed to things like carbon-intensive industries, they may actually be in abrogation or violation of their fiduciary responsibility.  So it sort of flips it on its head, I think, ERISA and the other reforms we’ve seen– different regulatory reforms– vis-à-vis pension funds and how they can be invested.

In some ways, I just think it’s a willingness on the part of government actors to be involved in progressive and forward-thinking public-private partnerships. So all of the examples we gave, whether it’s the social impact bonds or IFFIm at the top of the hour, they were really government coming together with the nonprofit sector and the private sector in partnership. And I think that that, more than any one policy, is the way to unlock some of these tools.

Finance is a tool, and it’s not something that we should fetishize, and it’s not an end in itself.

…we have to realize that over time, financial literacy and financial education is critical because debt can be crushing.

Denver: Let’s talk about vaccine bonds one more time that you just referenced. Is borrowing on future aid payments to get cash now for this “ounce of prevention strategy”– which sure seems to make a lot of social and economic sense.  But are there concerns that borrowing on the future like this could cause some strains on the system down the road?

Georgia: So debt is an extremely powerful instrument. And it can be an extreme instrument for good. It can allow someone to become a homeowner for the first time. It can allow people to send their children to school and allow for higher education. We also have seen that debt obviously can be crippling. And sometimes that’s because of nefarious activities, so you have people really making bad loans, and you have people sort of in almost a predatory way—finance is complicated, and the compounding nature of finance makes it not only complicated but potentially crushing if you take on too much debt.

And so I think two thoughts: One is that, again, finance is a tool, and it’s not something that we should fetishize, and it’s not an end in itself. So this is not a book celebrating these instruments; this is a book saying, “This is what these instruments can help us achieve and they are means to an end in terms of financial inclusion and shared prosperity.” But that also means that we have to realize that over time, financial literacy and financial education is critical because debt can be crushing. And that is true of a household, and that is true of a sovereign nation that takes on too much debt. And so I’m mindful that these need to be put in place very sensibly.

Denver: Let me close with this, Georgia. Many of the tools that you’ve discussed in innovative finance are time-tested as you’ve said – lending and insurance and credit enhancement. But they’ve only recently made their way to the social sector. Why do you think it took so long?  And why is it happening now?

Georgia: It’s a good question. I think I probably have two or three answers. I think the first is innovation is born out of necessity, and I think that there is a little bit of doing more with less. So I think as we’ve seen in the US in the wake of the financial crisis, we saw governments, particularly at the state and local level– really with their budgets and their sort of coffers diminished, and so you have to, by necessity, start to look to some of these other partners and these other mechanisms. So one of them is a tool of necessity. I think that that’s for sure.

I do think secondly that there have been in the last generation—my first book touched on this—a real shift  in mindset across the sector– so certainly nonprofit sector; I think in the public sector, but also in the private sector. So in the financial services community, at large corporates where people I think are really understanding that business is a very powerful tool and engine for social change. People who work for large banks or people who work for large companies really now have the expectation that those entities they work for have a responsibility and a mandate to also do good in the world. So many of the people I profile in the book went into finance for sort of conventional reasons, but really, I think pretty early in their careers,  recognized the power of their skills and their tools and the organizations behind them. And I do think that we have seen across industries and across the world a very different convergence in the way of thinking about  who is on the hook and who has the ability to solve problems.

Denver: Great point. Well, Georgia Levenson Keohane, the Executive Director of the Pershing Square Foundation, I want to thank you for appearing on the program this evening. The book again is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems. And for people who are interested in understanding what better and smarter solutions are out there to address the challenges that the global community faces, you will not find a better source than Capital and the Common Good. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show, Georgia!

Georgia: Thank you so much!


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

Dennis Whittle, Executive Director of Feedback Labs, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dennis Whittle, Executive Director of Feedback Labs, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.



Dennis Whittle

Denver: My next guest is a most interesting fellow– through his own life experience, and as a result of some of the institutions where he has worked. He has been able to re-imagine the world upside down, not in the top-down way that most of us are accustomed to, but rather bottom-up.  And he has thought about how to go about it and the implications it would have for the global society. He is Dennis Whittle, the Founder and Executive Director of Feedback Labs. Good evening, Dennis, and welcome to The Business of Giving. 


Dennis: Nice to be here, Denver. 

Denver: Tell us about Feedback Labs and what your organization does.

Dennis: Feedback Labs is a network of 200 organizations working in aid and philanthropy, who are dedicated to hearing what the people themselves want to make their lives better, and whether we’re helping them get it.  And if not, what should we do differently? 

Denver: Well, before we get into that work more deeply, I want to frame it if I can, Dennis, in a somewhat larger context. And I know you maintain an innovation– and I mean real transformative innovation that leads to disruption– occurs in waves.  And you see that occurring now in the philanthropic sector due to three things, three waves; two of which you’ve had a very prominent hand in.  So let’s briefly discuss each. The first is donor-advised funds.

Dennis: Donor-advised funds were pioneered in the late 80s and 90s,  and they are a way of making it possible for ordinary people to have foundations. You and I, Denver, can with a few thousand dollars create our own foundation. It can be the Denver Frederick Foundation and the Dennis Whittle Foundation. It’s enabled us to be ordinary Oprahs, as someone said; we can be Bill Gates. Donor-advised funds are a way that we can get professionalized services around our own giving. It’s a really pretty dramatic revolution in giving. 

Denver: The second wave of innovation is crowdfunding, of which you are a pioneer, perhaps the pioneer. Tell us about crowdfunding. 

Dennis: In the 80s and 90s when I worked at the World Bank, I noticed that if you were an expert, you could have your ideas heard and funded. If you were not part of the World Bank/ USAID foundation aristocracy, it was not possible to have your voice heard or your money used. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Mari Kuraishi and I left the World Bank to create GlobalGiving which was the first ever global crowdfunding website. Allowed anybody in the world with a good idea to pitch their idea and anybody in the world to fund it. That was five years before the word “crowdfunding” ever appeared on Google. 

Denver: That’s right! The final wave is feedback… which we just briefly discussed in the opening. So, Dennis, I want you to take these three waves of innovation together… What do you see as the changes that are going to occur as a result of the way that philanthropy is done around the world?


Margaret Laws, President and CEO of HopeLab, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Margaret Laws, President and CEO of HopeLab, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Margaret Laws

Denver: We frequently discuss on the show how transformative change rarely occurs in any one field of endeavor, but rather at the intersection of where different fields meet. And at one of those crossroads where health, technology, neuroscience, and philanthropy come together, you’ll find a nonprofit organization by the name of HopeLab. And it is indeed a pleasure to have with us this evening their President and CEO, Margaret Laws. Good evening, Margaret, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Margaret: Good evening and thanks for having me!

HopeLab was formed actually to create the game that would help kids take their cancer meds at the frequency they were supposed to take them and ideally have optimal outcomes through their cancer treatment… Now, our expanded mission is to combine science, design, and technology to improve the health and well-being of kids and young adults.

Denver: Tell us the founding story of HopeLab, Margaret, and the mission and goals of the organization. 

Margaret: It’s actually a terrific founding story. So Pam Omidyar, wife of eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, was working in a lab. She was working on some research and some challenges faced by kids with cancer. And what she was seeing and what they were seeing in the lab was that these kids with cancer… who were supposed to take chemotherapy for two years… were not taking all their meds. They weren’t taking all of their chemo meds, and they weren’t taking all their antibiotics, and they weren’t having the outcomes that we would hope they would have.

She was into video games – she was a gamer – and she thought maybe video games could play a role in helping get these kids to take their drugs, to take their full course of chemo. So she had this crazy idea, which is:  “Could a video game cure cancer?” And HopeLab was formed actually to create “the game” that would help kids take their cancer meds at the frequency they were supposed to take them… and ideally have optimal outcomes through their cancer treatment. 

Denver: And now your  expanded mission would be?

Margaret: Now, our expanded mission is to combine science, design, and technology to improve the health and well-being of kids and young adults. 

Denver: Fantastic! Now, before we get into more details and some of your specific programs and projects, why don’t you give us an overview of the state of health and wellness of young people in our country today. I think most people know it isn’t probably what it should be, but may not know much more than that. Tell us what it looks like. 

Margaret: It doesn’t look great. We’ve got significant problems with childhood obesity… with type 2 diabetes…at epidemic proportions.  And one of the things that we’re really focused on now that’s been a real challenge is mental and emotional health and wellness of kids. We’re really seeing challenges in the teen years, but all the way down into childhood. So there are a lot of things that are creating adversity for kids in our environment, and a lot of opportunities to engage kids and young people in helping to create better pathways for health and well-being.

So, we thought a lot about health and well-being of kids and young adults… what contributes to it, what’s detracting from it.  And our unique contribution is really to engage those young people in helping to create the solutions. 

Denver: Why don’t you walk us through the original game that Pam Omidyar helped create. It was called Re-Mission. How do you play that game?


The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Ellevest

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

For our Better Than Most series of great workplaces, we not only go to nonprofit organizations but also to businesses that has social good embedded into their core operations. And one such place is Ellevest whose mission is to close the gender investing gap and whose offices are up at West 25th street in Manhattan. We’ll begin with their CEO, Sallie Krawcheck, and then hear from a few members of the team…

Sallie: All about the mission, all about the mission, and all about open, frank discussion and respectful debate. I knew that we had this right when our lead designers such as Melissa Collins…(What an enormously talented woman! And so important in the usability and the aesthetics of Ellevest!)… when we were interviewing her, she said she got chills. I said, “Done! This is exactly what we want to do! ” It enabled us not only to bring in someone like her, but our head product manager is from Weight Watchers, so that’s a great perspective. We’re working on being an enormously diverse group of individuals and diverse in every way.


Alex: Part of our culture is that we hire world-class people to come in and to disrupt the industry. And so everybody that we hire, they tend to just sort of have this eagerness about them and they want to solve our problem at hand. Like we’re trying to close the gender investing gap here and it’s fun to sort of see these people who are the best at what they do in their industry come in and want to help us solve that problem.

Melissa: The mission gives us so much energy around here and especially when you’re stuck in a tough problem or you are having a difficult conversation. I think we all come back to the same place and we all know that we’re here to accomplish the same goal. And there’s a real sense of team that is unique to Ellevest. I haven’t experienced that anywhere else because I think that we really do stand together in our drive to build the best financial service to close the gender investing gap.

Sallie: Dug in for hundreds of hours of research with Elle, spending time with her, going through her financial statements, watching her interact with our emerging product online. And I would say that she co-created Ellevest with us, that archetypal client built it with us. So it’s not she’s at the center because we say it is. She’s at the center because we really built the product around her, and that really informs almost everything we do here.

Phoebe: Our most junior members are free to weigh in on bigger initiatives and ideas. And then it’s sort of up to each person who owns whatever part of the business they own to sort of evaluate all of that, reconcile any sort of conflicting feedback. Ultimately, there are some last words at the upper management level, but really sort of do what they think is best for the clients and the business.

Alex: One thing that we do that I guess you consider as a ritual is every couple of months, we get together as an organization and we review our core values. We go through them one by one and we ask ourselves, “Did we live up to this since the last time we met or did we not?”

Melissa: And so, we have an entire channel in our Slack where we’re constantly posting feedback emails from Elle and everybody has access to those. So everybody has really good visibility into what’s working for her and what’s not working for her so that when we are in a position to deliver feedback, I think we all have a better sense of what the user needs. Because the tendency is for all of us to imagine that we are her, but none of us really are because all of us in this room have more information about our product than she does and we have a perspective and an opinion that she doesn’t have. And so to be able to kind of constantly have that reinforcement of where she is and what she thinks and how she feels, I think it helps us navigate difficult conversations in ways that can be problematic in other circumstances.

We tend to use Slack more than we use e-mail. I think it is helpful because stuff doesn’t get lost in inboxes, but…we slack all the time.

Phoebe: So there’ll be sitting on the floor and it’s sort of a time for us to sort of just go [on a] high level overview of our success metrics for the previous week, that sort of helps with the culture of transparency. And I think with this small, highly communicative team, transparency is sort of an inevitable by-product of that. So it’s not even like really worked explicitly into our values, it’s just sort of how we operate. It’s almost like an implicit sort of rule, I guess.

Sallie: It’s not an easy place, I would say. We so believe in what we are doing and that we won’t hire somebody unless they believe in what we’re doing and truly believe that we can affect real good in this world. That’s a high bar, and then they have to be excellent at what they do. And I have to tell you, when someone starts here, they have to prove themselves, and I don’t want to sugarcoat that at all. That there is a view of “OK, let’s get in the game and care about this and work hard for this.”

And so what’s really fun to have evolved are these stories of the team over time and what are those shared stories that we laugh about and talk about, what’s the fabric of them, what is the first really dumb prototype we put out there–so many that did not work that we were so proud of.IMG_1604

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

Lee-Sean Huang, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Foossa, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Lee-Sean Huang, Co-founder and Creative Director of Foossa, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. 


…our point of view is that the people who are stakeholders who are using the services and products that surround us should have some say in the way that they’re designed, because they’re often experts of their own context, experts of their own communities. And these services can be more robust and work better for people if they have a say in designing them.

Denver: I was over at the Measured Summit recently, where they were addressing the impact of human-centered design on healthcare, and I connected with Lee-Sean Huang, who is the Co-founder and Creative Director of a company called Foossa. And he has been good enough to join us on the phone this evening for a few minutes. Lee-Sean, tell us about Foossa and what you do.

Lee-Sean: Hi, Denver! Thanks for having me. So Foossa is a community-centered design and strategy practice. We are based here in New York City, and we work with diverse communities to work together and to design the future. We primarily work in a field called service design. So if you think about how our world today is not just based on physical products, it’s based on services that deliver value. Just like a DVD or Blu-ray might be a product, but your Netflix or your Hulu is a service that still delivers you your content. We’re looking at the services that surround us in the world. These days primarily, we’re working on public services although we also work with startups and with corporate clients as well.

But our point of view is that the people who are stakeholders who are using the services and products that surround us should have some say in the way that they’re designed, because they’re often experts of their own context, experts of their own communities. And these services can be more robust and work better for people if they have a say in designing them.


Lee-Sean Huang

Denver: Exactly. Well, one of the things you do is you use design to build community-based participation that will ultimately become movements or networks for good. Tell us about how you go about that, Lee-Sean, and give us an example of one, if you would.

Lee-Sean: Sure! So, I have a hybrid background in both design and activism. Prior to starting Foossa, I was part of a design practice at a consultancy called Purpose, which was also working to build social movements. It was a creative agency that was started by social activists, and then I also worked as an in-house designer in several nonprofits before that.

So part of what we do through design to build participation is one thing we call “the ladder of participation,” so thinking about how somebody goes and becomes a more robust member in something. So if you think about an online community, the first thing might be looking at a piece of content on social media like a tweet, a Facebook post. The next level of commitment or of engagement could be liking that thing, could be commenting on that thing or even following you. And then from there, you could think about things that are higher barrier to do like joining your e-mail list, maybe even making that transition from online engagement to something offline like going to an event. So we use this as a planning tool, this ladder of engagement, to figure out ways that people kind of grow in a community through a sequence of calls to action.

Another design technique we do is designing things that are not so perfect, that are unfinished. I mention design and people often think about design or designer to mean something that has a lot of artifice, that has a lot of polish to it. [It becomes] designer jeans or designer-interior design. But a lot of what we do, even though we work in the tech space, starts out very low-fi. It just involves doing paper sketches with people in a workshop so that people who don’t have a design background, who don’t have a tech background can participate in the design of what an app might look like, what one site might look like. And so that designing for imperfection is a way of inviting people in to participate in the process. And so that requires designers to be more like hosts and facilitators rather than these distant experts with our hipster glasses.

Denver: Exactly! Interesting. Well, give us an example of one that you’ve done for social good.

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Lee-Sean: One of our recent projects is called Design for Financial Empowerment, and it’s in collaboration with the Parsons School of Design and the New York City government and various nonprofit partners and funders. We are working on a city project where New York City actually offers free financial counseling for anybody who lives and works in the city. You call 311 and you book an appointment. You meet in person with a financial counselor and you can discuss anything from how to open up a bank account if you’re a new immigrant to things like “I’m an entrepreneur and I’m trying to pay down my debt and get out of debt.” So it’s a variety of different people. And they have found in the data prior to us working on this project that there’s a direct correlation between retention and outcomes. So the more sessions you go to your counselor, the more you work with your counselor, the more likely you are to meet your own financial goal, whether it’s getting that mortgage or paying down your debt or whatever that is.

But in a lot of cases, people who are in financial trouble also have other things in life. They may have families, kids, other commitments and so they don’t always come back to their appointments. So we had been working with the clients and the counselors as well as administrators in the city to co-design ways to increase retention. And that’s basically around this idea of how do you create a community and also how do you provide wayfinding. So what the community did, even though financial topics are often very personal, how do we create this feeling that people aren’t alone. It’s not just this one-on-one relationship between a client and a counselor, but that they’re part of this larger community of people who are trying to work on their financial situation, their financial empowerment.

And then on the other hand, we’ve also been working on wayfinding across different media, too. We’ve designed a couple of different interventions that have now been prototyped and are being tested around the city. Some of them are fairly low-fi but necessary. Like we design what we call a journey map, and it’s essentially a little fold-out card like you get or a subway card that helps show the journey towards financial empowerment. And it sets an expectation like having at least three appointments to begin with, to see how many appointments you might need and helps explain this process a little bit more. And we both have been experimenting with more high-tech interventions as well, like interactive videos that could be sent to clients before their first appointment, and a video, sort of mini-documentaries of other clients and their counselors, to give just sort of some emotional baseline to what it’s like to work on this financial counseling and to be inspired by other people’s stories as well.

Denver: Great. Finally, let me ask you about the Awesome Foundation where you are a founding trustee. What is their mission and how do they operate?

Lee-Sean: Well, the Awesome Foundation was started by some friends of mine, and they invited me to start the New York chapter with them. And basically what we do is we forward the cause of Awesome in the universe, or at least in the New York chapter in the New York tri-state area. And so we give out $1,000 micro-grant every month, no strings attached, to Awesome projects. And so it’s everything from–our very first grant was a guy who runs a nonprofit called BioBus and he was building this laser beam microscope thing and he was taking it around to schools around the city to show kids microorganisms, and you could shoot these lasers at the microorganisms. It wouldn’t hurt them, but it would hold them in place.

There’s another grant we gave to a guy who started a new ritual called “Nametag Day.” And the idea is that one weekend in the summer, they pass out nametags on the streets in New York and also now in San Francisco and a couple of other cities around the world, and it just encourages people to talk to strangers and introduce themselves. So it changes the social dynamics of things. 

So a lot of these projects are kind of fun or kind of community-oriented, and it’s all our own money, actually. So we each contribute $100 per trustee every month. And then we have a database where we collect these applications. And then we just decide through voting and consensus building who we give the money to and then we send them a check. So anybody can apply at

Denver: That’s right. And all these projects are awesome! Well, thanks for being with us, Lee-Sean. If people want to learn more about Foossa and the work you do, your website is?

Lee-Sean: It’s Thank you so much for having me, Denver!

Denver: Great! Well, it was my pleasure.

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

Earl Lewis, President and CEO of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Earl Lewis, President and CEO of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Denver Frederick, Host of the Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


Earl Lewis

Denver: As the arts, humanities and liberal arts have fallen out of favor in recent decades, they have known no better friend, no more loyal friend than the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. And it’s a great pleasure to have with us this evening their President and CEO, Earl Lewis. Good evening, Earl, and welcome to the Business of Giving!

Earl: Thank you! My pleasure.

Denver: Tell us about Andrew Mellon, the person, and the foundation that bears his name.

Earl: Andrew Mellon had his origins in Pittsburgh. His family of Irish immigrants had moved to the Pittsburgh area. By the late 19th century, they had tried a number of things, and they moved into banking.  So it was the father and two sons. Andrew was one of the two sons. And if you think of the late 19th century, if you think of Pittsburgh– in particular the rise of the industrial era, and people like Carnegie and others who were in their midst– they actually went into a “new world” – what we think of today as venture capital. They actually would make loans to enterprises through their banks and then recoup the dividends on the backside as those enterprises developed. Think of Gulf Oil. They were early investors in Gulf Oil among other kinds of enterprises.

And if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers,  there is a chart where Malcolm attempts to identify the wealthiest human beings of all time. And you realize that there’s a name: Andrew Mellon.  They are among the top 10 or 11 individuals, well above Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and not too far from some of the others that you think of as among the wealthiest. Andrew Mellon would then go on to become the Treasury secretary in the 1920s. He would go on to create the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. He would die in the 1930s. And then his children, Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce had two separate foundations as they inherited wealth from their father’s estate: the Avalon Foundation and Old Dominion Foundation. And in 1969, while the kids didn’t always agree on everything, they agreed to merge their two foundations and rename it for their father. Hence, it was born in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Denver: And when you arrived there about four years ago, I don’t know if any foundation could have had a much lower profile than the Mellon Foundation did. It had a very static website; you had no communication staff whatsoever, and really not much of a public face at all.  But you’ve changed all that. What have you done?  And why do you think it was important to do it?

Earl: At the foundation, we had come to realize that in the 21st century, one needed to have a slightly larger footprint in the digital world. Several of our grantees will come and say to us later, “Look, we value the support you grant us through your dollars, but we need you in another way. We need you to be more visible, and in some cases, to actually step into the limelight or the spotlight to ensure that the work we do is actually considered important.”

We heard them. As a result, the decision was made that certainly we needed to do something with our website. It was as much a spider web as anything because things had been stuck there for a long, long, long, long time. And we realized with that portal, we could begin to communicate not only something about our mission and our values, but also more about our grantees. And I think of all the things I did like in pointing out, when people turn to the website, at the bottom of the homepage is now a listing of every grant that we’ve made since the inception of the foundation in 1969– mapped not only by the amounts and the topics, but also geographically.  And you get some sense of flavor of who we are and what we’re about.

…there’s a way in which art… dramatized on stage… can tell us about our past, and provide the insights into the present in ways that even the most beautifully written book, or the most well-executed speech, never can.

Denver: That’s great. Well, you have to have a voice in today’s world; you can’t just be writing checks. Well, the foundation fervently believes that arts and humanities play such a vital role in democracy and help promote understanding of different peoples and cultures. Tell us about some of your work here and some of the projects that you have funded.


The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of The Humane Society of the United States

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

Wayne Pacelle: We’re taking on puppy mills and dog fighting, things that many people have heard about, your listeners have heard about, but also factory farming, seal hunting, commercial whaling, horse slaughter, horse soring, greyhound racing. It’s a wide range of issues, a big set of problems…

IMG_1416Katie: And so through our pets in the workplace program and through colleagues who had been through the program, my dog now comes with me to work every single day and is happy. He’s content. He has some favorites around the office. We have a dog park out back and anybody can go to it and bring their dog and just kind of romp around, and so that’s just one little perk that helps me and it helps me to refocus.

Julie: One thing that strikes me about working here is if you are driving to work and you find an injured baby bird on the side of the road or there’s a stray dog down professional drive, all you need to do is send out an all staff email the minute you get here, and there will be an army of people helping out and that’s a really great thing.

Emily: We also have an award-winning recycling program and we also compost—I’m on the compost committee—so we try to make sure we are leaders for the environment as well.

Another thing that we have is a chalkboard. It’s actually that paint that creates a chalkboard so we can write in things that we are grateful for. We feature an employee of the month on that chalkboard; ideas, so it really creates and fosters a culture of collaboration, like I said, and appreciation for one another.

Sara: …they can identify the bird. They can probably talk about what the diet the bird needs. They’ll know what the habitat is. They know where exactly to put it. They need to know if it’s climate controlled or how long it can be released or where should it go. So there’s just really this expertise that’s not tapped into anywhere else, and I get great pride from that. It makes me proud to work here. It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger or potentially part of that collective. So those are some of the ways that I think the corporate culture influences one of [unintelligible].

Katie: there really is no time clock. We work weekends, we’ll work nights. It’s because we love the job and we love the work that we do. And without those crazy nights or early mornings, driving puppies from [Dallas] to Angels of Assisi, without that the job doesn’t get done. We’re not here because of a paycheck. We’re here because this is our life.

Sara: So my dog is also an HSUS special. He’s from one of our rescues. When I look at him, what it exemplifies to me is the 100% commitment. That’s what I always say about the culture, is that it’s 100% commitment. If we’re going to intervene in something, it’s all the way, it’s every resource we have, it’s going to be applied.

Jill: It can be very lonely sometimes, you’re basically the only HSUS employee in the state, but it’s also there’s a lot of pressure because you are the face of the HSUS in your state. But I think that everyone in Gaithersburg and the D.C. office does a wonderful job in making sure that state directors feel included and an integral part of the organization, and do everything they can to help them achieve their mission and help them to feel not quite so lonely and isolated out there in their states.


John: A few years ago, actually, where there was a cockfighting ring raid and these animals needed to be held until the case came up where it was going to be resolved.

But throughout that time, again, it was rewarding to actually go in there and feed these animals and clean out their cages, basically things like that given that what they had gone through, you felt connected obviously to them, and each one of them had different personalities.

Chris: We recognize that all animal suffer and all animal feel pain, and that they all deserve our time and attention, and I’m so grateful for that because everyone is on board with it. No one ever gives you a sideways glance when I tell them I work for chickens and pigs. Everyone is supportive and knows that the work we’re doing across the board is crucial.

I also like that the staff here are generally not obsessed with attention and individual credit. Of course, every human being has an ego, but I think we all realize that what’s really going to matter at the end of our life is how much did we advance the ball for animals? How much did we reduce animal cruelty and create a better world? So it’s very refreshing to work in that kind of environment.


Sara: I tell you what Wayne provides is tenacity. So he leads by example. I think he sets pretty clear expectations. But he’s tenacious in his fight, and so in the fight for what he believes that HSUS does and so I think in that respect, as a leader, he provides great vision and a good foundation for everybody who’s here.


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