Month: October 2017

Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Deborah Rutter, the President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

 

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Deborah Rutter © The Kennedy Center

Denver: One of the most well-respected and revered institutions in all of America is The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. And for me, if I can name just one organization that I would be curious to know more about, that would be the one…in part because there is just so much to know. And that is why I am absolutely delighted that we have with us this evening their president, Deborah Rutter.

Good evening, Deborah, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Deborah: Thank you. I am so delighted to be here.

Denver: Let us start by having you tell us about the history of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and how it all came to be.

Deborah: Actually, this is a very interesting history that I didn’t know before I came to The Center. In fact, George Washington, when they were planning the City of Washington, had it in his mind that they should have a cultural center, but priorities got a little distracted at that time and it took until the 1950s. Eisenhower actually signed authorization to create a cultural center for the United States of America and sent it off for the people to raise money, and very little money was raised.

When John F. Kennedy became president, having a cultural center became very important, both for his wife, Jacqueline, who of course was a big lover of the arts, but for him as well. And so, at that time, under their leadership, they helped to really promote this idea of having a national cultural center.

There’s a famous video of a fundraiser where Leonard Bernstein is hosting an event; a 7-year-old Yo-Yo Ma and his sister are playing for the President and Mrs. Kennedy. And you can go on YouTube and find it today; it’s adorable. But it brings full circle what this is all about for us at The Center. After he was assassinated, Mrs. Kennedy was asked by Congress: How would you like your husband to be memorialized? And she said, “I would like to have the nation’s cultural center named after him.” At that point, they started raising the money, designing, and really going full force on the construction of the project. Now, it took a long time.

Denver: They always do.

Deborah: So, there’s a famous picture of Johnson with a shovel… but it didn’t open until 1971. So, quite a long time from his death to the opening, but we have been celebrating John F. Kennedy ever since.

We have a resident opera company, The Washington National Opera. We have a resident symphony orchestra, The National Symphony Orchestra. We have a full season of ballet, a huge dance program, one of the largest jazz programs in the country, chamber music, contemporary music, and contemporary jazz music. We have international programming. We have spectacular theatre, musical theatre program. We have international festivals and 40 programs for education, including theatre for young audiences and all the traditional young people’s kinds of programs. We have a program every single day, 365 days a year at 6 p.m., free to the public.

Denver: Absolutely. Well, The Kennedy Center does such an amazing range of things that I sometimes wonder, Deborah, if the people in the building are even aware of all of them. Give us a snapshot, if you can, of the breadth and scope of all that you do.

Deborah: It is something that until you have lived and worked in D.C. and at The Kennedy Center for a period of time, you can’t really grasp. At the moment, and I say that because we’re expanding our footprint, but today, we have nine performance spaces. Three are major, large venues — from a concert hall of 2,300 to an opera house of 2,100 to a small theatre with 350 seats. But we also have very informal black box spaces…ones that can transform into other spaces.

We have a resident opera company – The Washington National Opera. We have a resident symphony orchestra – The National Symphony Orchestra. We have a full season of ballet, a huge dance program, one of the largest jazz programs in the country, chamber music, contemporary music, and contemporary jazz music. We have international programming. We have spectacular theatre, musical theatre program. We have international festivals and 40 programs for education, including theatre for young audiences and all the traditional young people’s kinds of programs. We have a program every single day, 365 days a year at 6 p.m., free to the public.

Denver: Oh, wow.

Deborah: So, we are really for everybody. Just recently, we expanded all of that programming to now include a major comedy season and just added hip-hop to our regular programming. So in addition to all of what you expect at a performing arts center, we’ve added to really complement what we already have, but also in response to what we have learned from our audiences what they’re interested in.

So, we’re thrilled with the expansion of our programming in this way, and we believe there is something for everybody at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as he would want it to be.

Denver: Sounds that way to me. A lot of institutions rolled into one. Speaking of John Kennedy, it was earlier this year… I think it was May 29 that we commemorated the 100th anniversary of his birth.  It certainly was the time for your organization to reflect and recommit to the original vision of The Kennedy Center. What were some of the things that came out of that, Deborah?

Deborah: Anniversaries are great moments for reflecting on the legacy of an individual, and performing arts organizations frequently do that around big dates of some sort. So, think of having a celebration around Mozart or Dvořák or Beethoven or a choreographer or a playwright.

Denver: Bernstein next year, right?

Deborah: And for us now, Leonard Bernstein. And so when it came to the concept of coming up to the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy, we thought, “Okay, well, the library is going to do something…” The Kennedy name is everywhere around our world. What will a performing arts center do for a president? We can’t really speak to his legacy per se in terms of his specific actions, but what we could do is celebrate what he stood for: What were his ideals? What do we think of when you think of John F. Kennedy?

And so we decided to build our programming and our celebration of John F. Kennedy around what he stood for and his ideals. So, our team thought about this at great length, did a lot of reading and research and came up with a concept of celebrating his ideals of service, courage, freedom, justice. And then, after we spoke to the family to review this, to make sure we were on point, we added gratitude because that was really about who they were as a family and who John F. Kennedy was.

So, building on those kinds of ideals, what do programmers do? We had such creativity from our really brilliant programmers. We did programs around Cesar Chavez. We did the operas Dead Man Walking and Champion. We commissioned a new dance work. We featured a whole program of repertoire and commissioned a new work from our composer and resident, Mason Bates, who used the words of John F. Kennedy and Walt Whitman to envision what a future would look like with John F. Kennedy, and it was really fantastic. So, a lot of creativity in all of the art forms.

On the weekend, which happened to be Memorial Day, we had a fantastic huge open house with just wild things happening. Dancers… the great dance group, Bandaloop, dancing on the side of the building, and every kind of art and theater and music in all of the spaces around the building. So we had 15,000 visitors over one day on Memorial Day weekend. And then on the day itself, we had a beautiful sort of retrospective of who he was — videos, language, music, reflections on who he was and his words themselves. It was really a wonderful way for us to really bring John F. Kennedy back to life in a very real, tangible way.

When you are the living memorial to a fallen president, sometimes, as we who walk around the building all the time, might take it for granted. And we really wanted to remind people about the fact that the Kennedy Center is a memorial to President Kennedy and why. Why would a performing arts center be named after a president? And this was a great opportunity for us. We’re really excited about this as really, frankly an ongoing approach to our programming.

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Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Carter Roberts, the President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

Carter Roberts © ImpactSpace

Denver: When my next guest was 29 years old, he made a list of the things he wanted to accomplish which included getting married, having three kids, seeing the Himalayas and the Arctic, and finally, leading a group of people in saving the most important places on earth. He has done pretty well with that list, including the final item. He is Carter Roberts, the President and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund.

Good evening, Carter, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Carter: Thanks. Great to be here.

Denver: Why don’t we start by having you give us a snapshot of the World Wildlife Fund and the mission of the organization.

Carter:  World Wildlife Fund. You may know us by our panda logo more than anything, but we were founded 55 years ago. We work in 100 countries around the world. People would think that we are nice people saving fuzzy animals, but our mission is all about creating a future for humanity on this earth in which we live in harmony with the planet… which means protecting nature and driving more sustainable behavior for all of us.

Denver: You know, Carter, the general public, I think, is often confused with all the different environmental and conservation and wildlife groups. What makes WWF distinctive?  And what particular niche do you uniquely fill?

Carter: I’ve worked for a couple of groups in my career,  and I’ve studied different groups. I love history, and I’ve often said:  if you want to understand the group, you should look at the moment of conception– the first thing they did– because the DNA of that group is baked in in the very first thing they do.

Denver: Interesting perspective.

Carter: I was with the Nature Conservancy for 15 years. The first thing they did was: they were a group of scientists who were about to lose a place. They took out second mortgages, raised a lot of money to buy the land to keep it from being developed, and the idea of mobilizing capital to save nature is at the heart of what they do. And for WWF, we were founded 55 years ago, simultaneously in the UK, the Netherlands, the US and Switzerland to draw the world’s attention to the plight of animals and places around the world that we were losing, to raise the resources and mobilize people to save them.

So from the beginning, we were created as a global organization that would operate through communication, through elevating issues, and then getting people to converge on a single place, on a single issue, to make a difference before it’s too late.

Over the past 40 years, we have lost 50% of the populations of the world’s species, and that trend line is headed in the wrong direction with some notable positive exceptions. And on the other side, when I started this job, we were demanding in the world, 1.3 times what the planet could sustain. We just hit the 1.5 mark, and at this rate, we’re going to need two planets to survive this humanity.  And, of course, there’s not another.

Denver: Well, sticking with the idea of global, one of your signature publications is the Living Planet Report. What were some of the highlights, as well as the trend lines from your most recent report?

Carter: Yeah. I wish I could tell you that that report is going in the right direction. We’ve been doing it for 40 years. We have two big measures of the world. One is a market basket of the world species and how those populations are doing over time. And the other measure is humanity’s footprint, or how much of the world does each person, on average, demand from the world in order to survive. And when I started this job, we had already seen a decline in the world’s population of species.

Over the past 40 years, we have lost 50% of the populations of the world’s species, and that trend line is headed in the wrong direction with some notable positive exceptions. And on the other side, when I started this job, we were demanding in the world, 1.3 times what the planet could sustain. We just hit the 1.5 mark, and at this rate, we’re going to need two planets to survive this humanity.  And, of course, there’s not another.

Denver: Yes. That’s, I think, they call it “earth overshoot day”, and it’s really now, right at the very beginning of August when we’ve used up the resources in a single year.

Carter: It is. And for the remainder of the year, it’s the equivalent of a farmer eating his seed. It’s not a good thing.

Denver: No. You know, there have been a number of significant accomplishments that have occurred in the 12 plus years that you’ve been the CEO of WWF. But perhaps, none, any greater than your work in Brazil and creating a system of protected areas in the Amazon. How in the world were you able to achieve that?

Carter: Yeah. When I ask people and when I interview them, I always ask them: what are you most proud of? And if you ask me, beyond my personal life– actually my work life is my personal life– what are you most proud of? I would mention the Amazon because back in the day, 25 years ago, when the world knew it was losing its forests, we developed a partnership with the government of Brazil– President Cardozo– the World Bank, and a number of foundations– the Moore Foundation and the Global Environmental Facility– with the dream of creating a system of parks in the Amazon covering at least 10% of that part of the country.

And in the process, we have created a system of parks since then, equal to 125 million acres, that is larger than the state of California.  And it’s the largest single conservation project anywhere in the world. And we have then taken the steps to create a consortium of groups around the world to finance it in a really cool, multi-party single closing that is performance-based… that gives the government of Brazil time to put in place the measures to hire the park guards, to finance all the equipment they need to make sure that those parks remain intact.

Denver: Let me pick up on that idea, if I can. About 15% of the world’s land is protected. And to finance that, it takes maybe $2.5 billion or so, of which we have a shortfall of $1.5 billion.  So, some creative financing is called for there, and your effort around that is something called Project Finance for Permanence. What is that?  And how does that work?

Carter: What we found is: it’s truly important to create a park. If you create a park, the level of deforestation drops by a bit. But if that park is not financed, and you don’t have the money to hire the park guards– boots on the ground– put up the signs, patrol the roads, all of that, then the level of deforestation jumps.

And so, with the government of Brazil, we estimated what would it cost to actually manage these parks. We looked at the gap between that and where the government of Brazil is now. We figured out how long it would take to put in place the measures to close that gap, and then we created a $215 million fund with the government of Norway, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Moore Foundation, the Global Environmental Facility, the government of Germany, and many others that came together from around the world to basically say, “Look, we will cover that transition but on a performance basis. So, we will pay out each year the government of Brazil takes a step in the right direction.”

And it has become a model that many other governments in the world now want to follow from Bhutan, to Peru, to Colombia, to even the DRC in Africa. And so, we are now looking at: how do you scale this up to do likewise in the most important forested of countries in the world?

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Gary Knell, President and CEO of National Geographic Society Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Gary Knell, President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


 

 

 

Gary Knell, LinkedIn

Gary Knell © LinkedIn

 

Denver: Legacy institutions, many of them over 100 years old, have an immunity to change because so many of our organizations are architected to resist change and withstand risk. So when you see one that is successfully reinventing itself for the 21st century, taking its brand from reverence to relevance, you really take notice. One such organization is the National Geographic Society. And it’s a pleasure to have with us this evening, their President and CEO, Gary Knell.

 

Good evening, Gary, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Gary: Denver, it’s really great to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Denver: Let us start with some of that legacy, if you will, and share with our listeners a little bit about the history of the National Geographic Society and the mission of the organization.

Gary: Yes. So, 129 years ago, 27 guys… and they were guys… got together at the Cosmos Club in Washington D.C. This was an era of discovery and exploration. The Smithsonian Institution had started just a few years before, with the legacy of diffusing knowledge.  And the folks around National Geographic felt we needed to diffuse geographic knowledge. So, it was an amazing group of pioneers. Some of them could’ve been working in hipster coffee shops, I’d like to say, but they were out there as geographers, scientists, explorers wanting to tell the public about the beauties of the West and exploration and to satisfy the curiosity gene that so many people have.

I would just say also, the first issue, Denver, the cover story was the geologic strata of the Potomac River, a real page-turner if there ever was one. So, over time, when Alexander Graham Bell took over as the second president, and his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, they introduced photography into National Geographic, really the first major publication to introduce photography. Two board members quit in protest because they thought it would dumb down the magazine.

Denver: No kidding.

Gary: They were wrong. So, don’t always listen to your Board of Directors. I’m sure my chairman will be thrilled with that comment. But, the rest is history where National Geographic, of course, is known primarily for photography and storytelling and visual storytelling. So, it was a courageous move back then that has paid off in so many ways.

We’re going to have 9.5 billion people here by 2050. There are twice as many people on the planet today than there were since we graduated high school. We’re probably roughly the same age, and that wasn’t that long ago… So, it wasn’t 1888! But how can the planet really sustain all these people? How can we feed them, educate them, provide energy for them, house them without burning up everything in or on the planet? That’s the big question.

Denver: 1888.  National Geographic covers the planet and beyond unlike anybody else. Science, exploration, culture, environment, ecosystems, animals and so on. So, let me ask you a big picture question if I can. What’s your assessment of the planet in 2017? Is anything getting better?  And what are you really worried about?

Gary: Well, there are things getting better, and there’s a lot of amazing people in the sector of public service and NGOs and government and the private sector that are doing incredible things. The biggest issue, really though, is we’ve got so many people on our planet. We’re going to have 9.5 billion people here by 2050. There are twice as many people on the planet today than there were since we graduated high school. We’re probably roughly the same age, and that wasn’t that long ago… So, it wasn’t 1888! But how can the planet really sustain all these people? How can we feed them, educate them, provide energy for them, house them without burning up everything in or on the planet? That’s the big question. And when I pose this actually in Washington where we’re based to Republicans and Democrats, nobody says, “Boy, that’s a dumb question.”

This is a non-partisan, existential question that we need to face head-on, and we hope that National Geographic can provide some answers and post some of those questions to give our political leaders and others a longer lens that they can look through… as opposed to the quarterly lens that so many of our organizations are stuck with.

Denver: Yeah. Well, you are certainly leading a lot of these conversations. It was just about two years ago that the National Geographic Society expanded its relationship with 21st Century Fox in a venture called National Geographic Partners. How does that partnership work?  And what have been some of the benefits of it to the National Geographic Society?

Gary: Well, it’s been a terrific partnership. The leaders of 21st Century Fox, led by their CEO, James Murdock, have been fantastic partners who really believe in our mission. They are certainly putting a lot of resources behind it. They’re out there publicly really promoting Nat Geo as one of their core assets, creative assets.

We had an almost 20-year partnership, Denver, with 21st Century Fox on the National Geographic Channel that Fox owns 70% of, and it is now the largest cable channel in the world in terms of distribution. It reaches about 450 million people around the world in 170 countries. And in many countries, National Geographic is known through the channel even more than the print magazine.

So, what we did two years ago is we simply put our print assets– the books and magazines and our digital assets– into the cable venture. So, we now have a 70/30 partnership. There’s a joint board between Fox and National Geographic Society people that oversee that. We have a lot of bells and whistles about making sure that it’s still consistent with the mission of National Geographic and the brand of National Geographic… so it doesn’t go off sideways in some place. And I would say that so far, it’s been a resounding success.

The other part which is critically important is: because we were able to monetize some of the equity around the print magazine and the digital, we’ve been able to create a $1.2 billion endowment now to fund scientific exploration and storytelling pioneers out in the world, which is something.  Now with this war chest, we could double down on our impact.

Denver: That’s wonderful. And it was about a year ago that you underwent this extensive rebranding effort across all your media platforms, reinforcing this idea of one National Geographic. As a matter of fact, I think, in some ways you almost dropped the word channel because you just wanted to get that concept out there.

Gary: We actually did drop the word channel.

Denver: Yeah.

Gary: It’s now National Geographic on air.

Denver: So, give us your thinking around this rebrand and what the impact has been so far?

Gary: Well, I’m a big believer in brands. And as I have had the privilege to oversee big brands like Sesame Street, and NPR, and National Geographic, we have to stick to our knitting, and I think consumers know actually much more than you think they do… knowing when things are off brand. And you can lose people and dilute yourself very easily chasing a buck. So, it’s critically important that we stick to our knitting, that Sesame Street really was, and still is, all about educating pre-schoolers to give them an opportunity to succeed, and NPR is really about educating the public about national and global affairs and inspiring them. And National Geographic is really about satisfying the curiosity that will get people inspired to care for the planet.

So, we have to come back to those all the time, and we actually have these conversations in National Geographic every week. Is this on brand? Is this not on brand? How do we make sure it is on brand? It’s a really important part of what we try to do.

Denver: And with this new rebranding, you also have a tagline, right?

Gary: We do. I mean, “Further” has really been what we’ve tried to express in one word which cuts across all of our media. And it’s really a human inspiration to go further which has been, of course, the legacy of Alexander Graham Bell, who not only invented the telephone but also came within a week of putting the first airplane into flight… which most people don’t even know. He was a serial inventor.  But then we funded people like Hiram Bingham, and Jacques Cousteau, and Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey, and the Leakeys and all kinds of other people… all the way to today where we have amazing pioneers with that exploration gene. And they all had the inspiration to go “further,” hence, the idea that each of us has that opportunity in our own lives.

It’s really about photography, and I have to give credit to my predecessors– who were nimble and entrepreneurial– to be able to take what was simply a print magazine and push it into books, push it into television, push it into cable, push it into social media. And now through integration… scale, we have an opportunity to make a much bigger impact.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Sesame Workshop

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


Denver: And this evening, you’ll be heading up just north of Columbus Circle in New York into the happy and oh-so-joyful offices of Sesame Workshop. We will begin the segment with their CEO Jeff Dunn and then hear from other members of the Sesame Workshop team.

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Jeff: I think it’s the CEO’s number one job. I’ve often said to people – if you know well the CEO of the company, know who that person is, you can predict the corporate culture. Conversely, if you don’t know the CEO at all but you know the corporate culture, you can predict pretty clearly what the attributes and values of the CEO are because, over time, the CEO and culture get very closely aligned. Whatever attributes and values the CEO has and expresses and brings, and says “this is what’s important to me,” that’s what the company begins to absorb and take on and deliver on. So the CEO owns the positive and the CEO owns the not so positive. So I think a lot about it. I think about: what do we do to have the right culture here? How do we make sure that we articulate what we want our culture to be? And then, what are the things that we can do to try and deliver on having that culture?

Phil: I think one of the biggest surprises that a new employee will experience about the workshop culture is that we don’t consider our Muppets to be children’s characters; we actually consider them to be colleagues. Elmo is as real to me as Louis is sitting across this table. And I think it’s because when you work at Sesame Workshop, you can be walking by a conference room and the performer for Elmo will be in there perhaps reading a script or reading a storyline, and you’re just walking to the water fountain and you hear Elmo coming from across the hall, and you think, “That’s Elmo.”

Diana: I was given the opportunity outside of my regular responsibilities to head a communications group, which was a cross-functional group of people – different levels and different departments represented. The sole goal of the group was to help foster communications, both sort of vertically up to senior management as well as across departments. For me, personally, it was a great opportunity to take on a role outside of my regular responsibilities and get to work with different people, but most importantly, we, as a group really have the ear of senior management. I was very impressed by the fact that they really wanted to hear what people had to say. They wanted feedback about what’s working well for the organization, what’s not. They took it very seriously. I was often the representative, kind of sharing the feedback from the group to management, which wasn’t always an easy role to be in, but they would hear it and they would think about how they wanted to act on it and they’ve taken tremendous steps to really act on that. So I think that has helped foster a real sense of openness and transparency for the organization.

Estee: Because it’s exactly the same process. We get our work done the same way in every single territory, in every single co-production. We sit down as a team and we discuss: What are those features that we want in this new Muppet? Or what are the goals that we want to achieve in the creation of a new format? It was really incredible. The team around the table was so enthused by this because they were like, “You’ve been doing it for 40 years and yet you still ask the same question as you’re asking us where we are creating this for the first time in Afghanistan with our Muppets.”

Bridget: One of the things that I find so unique to Sesame Street is you’re going to have the world’s worst commute here in New York City and you can expect the subway to treat you horribly on a daily basis. You could come in and you could have had such a tough day already at 9:30 in the morning, and you walk in and you see a mural of Sesame Street in black and white with all the Muppets in color, smiling and having a great time. You look at that and you’re like, “How could anything in my life ever be bad?” It is just such a welcoming environment to step into the office every single day. And then when you go to your desk – everybody’s desks are covered in Sesame paraphernalia.

 

Jeff: Some of the things that I brought here was what we call “Ask Jeff anything” which is people get to submit anonymous questions before a staff meeting. The reason we make it anonymous is because people won’t ask you the things that they really want to know, particularly if it’s unpopular, if they have to stand up and put a face and a name to it. But if you allow people to submit them anonymously, then you really get to know what’s on people’s mind. If you answer them, and you answer them honestly and you make all that available to people on a regular basis, then they get to know what’s going on.

The death of any culture is the grapevine, and what you want to do is you want to prevent the grapevine from going off in a lot of different directions because information abhors a vacuum, right? So by allowing employees to ask whatever questions they want, and promising them an answer and giving them an answer…and we post all the answers, make it all public. It’s all public. Well, public, I say, within our company. People get to know what’s really going on here.

Cheroc: I was instrumental in naming the conference rooms after characters and naming the printers after characters, so we try and keep it fun here at the office. I’ve worked in a few other places, but Sesame has the perks pretty much nailed down. Not many of them have changed. They’ve gotten better. I don’t feel that any of the perks have been taken away, but we’ve got amazing benefits here – from the 401(k) to having off the between Christmas and New Year’s and the amount of PTO days you get and just understanding when there’s family emergencies or bereavement to the maternity leave.

I’ve had the opportunity of being out on two very generous maternity leaves while here at Sesame and all of my friends and family are just like, “How does your company allow you to be out for so long?” But I think it speaks to the mission and how important family and children are to Sesame Workshop.

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Janelle: One of the questions that came to mind for me was how are decisions made, and I’ll say that for me, that has been one of the biggest surprises and delighters for me joining the workshop pretty recently. If I had to boil it down to one word on how decisions are made, I would say collaboratively or inclusively would be the words I would choose. There have been huge initiatives that have been put out company-wide based on upward feedback, and Jeff, our CEO, implemented some of these initiatives.

Philip: “Here I am just a few years into my career and I’ve booked a meeting with the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh.” I think it’s important for any employee to feel like your employer trusts you to go out and do the business for the organization and the brand. I have seen that with a lot of my colleagues and I think a lot of people at Sesame Workshop appreciate that type of trust and respect.

Louis: I was asked to be part of the Principal for the Day program, and again, I didnt even realize that we participated in that, but one of the chief executives actually asked me if I would do it. I said, “Well, sure, I’ll do it.” They said, “You could pick whatever school you want.” 

So I went to my elementary school and actually brought with me Elmo and Ernie. Im not allowed to do the voice or anything like that, but I snuck a little bit of Ernie only because of this little boy–Ive met a lot of children on the spectrum of autism and this little boy was brought from another school by his mother. He loved Ernie but she didnt know he was going to be there, so she went and got him and brought him to the school. And I said I have to do a little bit for him because this is his favorite character, so I did Rubber Duckie and things like that. The kid looked frozen. He didnt respond. He was a non-verbal child on the spectrum. Later on, I got a letter from that woman. Im trying to find that letter. She told me that for the first time, her child started to speak. He didnt put sentences together, but he started to talk about Ernie — “Ernie talked to me!” — and he just kept on. She didnt know what do herself because it was a miraculous moment. So talk about a wow factor.

These characters have impact on so many people, from children to adults. I know its going to be a long story, but it gives me chills every time I say this. One of the most amazing moments in my life in general, but it happened through Sesame Workshop.

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Denver: I want to thank Elizabeth Fishman for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated in this piece –  Jeff Dunn, Bridget Miles, Louis Henry Mitchell, Estee Bardanashvili, Cheroc Slater, Philip Toscano, Diana Polvere, and Janelle Petrovich. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, you can hear this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of the participants and the offices of Sesame Workshop. 


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