Author: denverfrederick

Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Sean Callahan, CRSDenver: And this evening, we’ll be joined by our second semi-finalist, Catholic Relief Services, who is looking to change how society cares for children and orphanages with the aim of getting them into family settings. And with us to discuss it is their President and CEO, Sean Callahan. Good evening, Sean, and welcome to The Business of Giving! 

Sean: Good evening, Denver! Thank you for having me.

Denver: Before we get to the specifics of your proposal, tell our listeners about Catholic Relief Services and the breadth and scope of the work that you do.

Sean: Catholic Relief Services is the international development arm and humanitarian assistance arm of the United States Catholic community. We reach out to people in over 100 countries around the world, reaching over 100 million people every year, focusing our efforts on emergency response, health interventions, agriculture, water, and economic development.

Denver: So Sean, if you would, why don’t we start by having you walk us through one of these orphanages and tell us what we would see and what we wouldn’t see; what we would hear as well as what we wouldn’t hear.

Sean: As you walk into an orphanage—and I just came back from Africa and had this experience—you normally enter a cinder block room that is crammed with metal cribs. And as you peek into the room, it’s normally a little dark so that the children seem to be somewhat sedated in that context. And the one thing that struck me as I walked in is the complete silence… and just quiet when you have a room packed with children. And then walking into the room and by various cribs, if the children notice you’re there, they scurry up and they start grabbing the sleeve of your shirt or grabbing your pants. They’re yearning for some attention and some human contact. 

Denver: Would the lack of noise or the lack of crying be the children realizing it doesn’t do them any good? They don’t get a response, so they just stay quiet like that?

Sean: That is part of it. I think any children that are in this context, as the research has shown: Three months in an institution delays the development of these children by about a month. But my daughter actually went and volunteered in the summer and worked in one of these areas, and she sent me a little quote about her feelings about it. She said there was a young boy named Peter that she was caring for. She said, “Peter, who cried every day that his father visited because Peter actually had a father though he was in an orphanage. His dad was trying, but they were poor – too poor to feed him – and so the father was taking responsibility by putting him in an orphanage. But when Peter got the chickenpox and was on bed rest for a week, his hands bound so that he could not scratch his skin until it bled, he did not cry. He sat staring at the wall like he could feel the world beyond, just sitting there staring at the wall.”

So we do think that as you look at these children, that these children just become placated by the environment they’re in. There isn’t enough stimulation for them, and they don’t have that loving, caring family to help them express themselves. 

…every three months in an orphanage delays development by a month itself, and so what you have is delayed development that is never caught up in the lifetime of many of these children.

Denver: Well, speak a little bit more about that Sean, if you will. What is the impact on a child, their health, their brain development, and, ultimately, their ability to function as a productive member of society?

Sean: It’s actually devastating although many people support orphanages for many, many good reasons, and there are people who work in these orphanages that really try to reach out to the children. But as I was mentioning earlier, every three months in an orphanage delays development by a month itself, and so what you have is delayed development that is never caught up in the lifetime of many of these children. And then when the children exit the orphanage–because they’re only in there for a certain period of time–they have great, great difficulty in integrating into society. They have not had the family support structure; they have not had the interactions, and they haven’t had those daily experiences that we have in a home that would allow them to integrate. And so in school, they have problems; with relationships they have problems. And oftentimes, they’re exploited when they come out of these orphanages. They’re taken by people who probably don’t care for them as much as their family would. And they’re often subjected to commercial sex type work or exploited in other ways, or homeless. 

Denver: When you think of an orphanage, Sean, you automatically think of children who have lost parents, but is that actually the case?

Sean: It isn’t the case. We found that around the world, about 80% of those in orphanages actually have parents, and it’s really an economic problem and a capacity problem. On the economic side, as I’ve mentioned that quote about the young boy named Peter, some families don’t have the resources to care for their children, and they feel by putting them in an orphanage that the children would be fed well, cared for well, and looked after. And they feel that they can’t do it. They just can’t cope, given the poverty that these people are in. In other cases, and I’ve seen this in various countries and most recently in a visit to Iraq, children are placed in some of these locations because of disabilities, either intellectual or physical disabilities. The parents don’t have the education or the ability or the support structure to care for children with disabilities, and so they oftentimes hope that these institutions will care for them in a better way than they could.  

Denver: Does CRS have an estimate of how many children are living like this across the world?

Sean: There’s no exact number, but the estimate that we do have is about 8 million throughout the world right now.

…we found that supporting the children with these day care facilities — as opposed to an institution in which, frankly, the child would be somewhat incarcerated — that the children will then have the opportunity of that family environment and not have all these negative traits and stigma that come with being in an institution. 

Denver: This is a pretty tough issue.  There’s no question about it, so I guess the question would be how do you go about getting these children back with their parents or at least into some kind of a family setting? What do you do? 

Sean: We work with the orphanages themselves, and we work with the local structure of the local government and all, and local community-based organizations. And so as we look at the orphanages throughout the world, these eight million children, we see that probably four million of the eight million are in faith- based institutions. So we’ve been reaching out to various faith-based institutions that support these children and providing them with the research and the capacity-building techniques that would help them to convert their institutions to child care centers… to resource centers for parents, that actually would help educate them and move them beyond this.

In the case of Iraq that I’ve mentioned, the center there now is a day facility where parents can come in, learn the techniques of caring for children with either physical or intellectual disabilities and then caring for those children.  And then they take the children home and keep them in that family environment. In other cases, we work with social mobilization groups and we help the families to develop livelihoods that allow them to get the resources so that they can then support the children. And we found that supporting the children with these day care facilities — as opposed to an institution in which, frankly, the child would be somewhat incarcerated — that the children will then have the opportunity of that family environment and not have all these negative traits and stigma that come with being in an institution. 

Denver: Yes. So you’re really making this much more locally focused. You’re trying to provide those parents with some economic stability and some parenting skills to be able to bring these children back into that kind of a loving setting. 

Sean: That’s exactly right! And it’s a very cost-effective solution. Our solution actually costs about one-tenth of what it costs to keep a child in an institution. So, you can actually help 10 people with the donation that people would provide normally to one of these institutions– they could actually help 10 children, and it actually allows the children to stay with their family, which the family actually desires.  And then it produces a child that is a more integrated citizen into society.

We have seen great results in Moldova. It’s one of the countries in Eastern Europe that has had great success with this.  We’re trying it out in places like Lebanon with some of the migrating communities that go along. We’re reaching out to those communities because many of them are the most vulnerable as well.

Denver: That’s fantastic! I think it’s somewhat counter-intuitive – you think it would probably cost more, but it doesn’t; it costs less. It costs a lot less! It’s unbelievable 10 cents on the dollar! This approach, where has it been successful? Have there been many countries that have tried it with great results?

Sean: We have seen great results in Moldova. It’s one of the countries in eastern Europe that has had great success with this.  We’re trying it out in places like Lebanon with some of the migrating communities that go along. We’re reaching out to those communities because many of them are the most vulnerable as well. And so we’re seeing that the ability of the families to care for their children– and then the support centers reaching out providing the education and capacity building for the families, as well as helping the children integrate into schools– has been tremendously successful.

The other important factor, as we move it forward, we’ve been seeing that the governments have been taking it on and providing legislation that is in support of this type of effort. As you may know, in the United States, we don’t put children into homes and orphanages anymore and haven’t really since the ’70s. And so something that we say is, “We wouldn’t send overseas a medicine that’s been expired… that we wouldn’t use ourselves… and ask them to use it on their children. And we shouldn’t be promoting orphanages that we would not put our children in this country in.” These are actually facilities that oftentimes are somewhat of an incarceration of a child as opposed to allowing the child to flourish. 

Denver: You have an educational effort there, I would imagine, because I think a lot of people, well-meaning people in this country, are sending their monies directly to those orphanages thinking they’re doing a lot of good when, in fact, they could do a lot more good by directing it the way that you have suggested. Do you have any efforts along those lines– to try to inform and educate people?

Sean: We do, and we’re going to continue to move on these efforts. We have a resource group and an advisory panel with us that is a very broad array of various institutions that help children, both technically with intellectual and physical disabilities, and with reaching out to all of these groups to advise their people that by redirecting aid, they can actually have a much more substantial impact.

And so with this 100 & Change opportunity: One, we get the attention for these issues so that we broaden it. We can maximize our effort by reaching out to countries and responding to this crisis issue right away in a more rapid manner. We also provide the opportunity for those who are giving… to continue giving, but to redirect the aid to these resource centers and see that their efforts are actually improving these children 10 times as much as they thought by giving to the institution.

Denver: That’s fantastic! In this 100 & Change initiative, you have two partners, Lumos and Maestral. Tell us about them, the roles that each of you plays, and how this partnership came together around this initiative.

Sean: It’s a really exciting collaboration. Lumos, as many people would know, is the charity of J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. She had seen these issues, had read some articles and some papers, and saw that in Eastern Europe, children were in very difficult situations. And by difficult situations, pretty much in cages, as she saw it.  And it just struck her that that was not the way for a child to develop and so she started Lumos as an enlightenment– as the name would say it– and from the magic spells that Harry Potter would cast to create light in the world.  And Lumos is to shed light on this issue.

And so they have done some great awareness campaigns, really focusing on Europe. And what she wanted to do was combine with the effort of Catholic Relief Services to spread this throughout the world. They have seen some success in eastern Europe where they’ve been working now and wanted to expand that globally.  So, they joined our effort on this, as well as Maestral, which is a United States-based technical group that protects children. They have fantastic experts that have worked around the world, and they’re coming in, bringing their technical expertise. And then we have an array of other organizations including the Special Olympics and  various universities that have come in to join because they all feel “Now is the time.”  It’s right for the political context to help governments set up a new legislative paradigm that will assist us in moving forward in closing down the orphanages and transforming them into child care centers.

Denver: It sounds like you have a dream team with which to address this issue. If your proposal should be chosen as the winning one by MacArthur, what would you do with the $100 million, Sean? What would it allow CRS and your partners to achieve? 

Sean: The first thing that we would do is: we would make changes with governments and allow government leaders to help us to move this effort forward. We would also right away start reintegrating children into their family areas. We would start stopping children from being put into orphanages right away because that is one of the key areas that we find– that stopping them from getting in will help the children right from the beginning– and put them into these support centers.

So, we will have some campaigns, open up these family-based care centers for the children… and then moving away from that reliance on the care… and then providing these nurturing family care environments… so capacity building and education for the families as they move forward. We would also start working with faith-based communities in the various areas, so that those different communities see the strength of this… and assisting them in providing the support for these resource centers that are going to be in the local areas in which they work as well.

The most difficult one I think, is the acceptance from those who have been supporting orphanages in the first place…I think oftentimes people are reluctant to believe that they’ve been supporting an institution that might not be providing the best for the children.

Denver: Sean, you have spoken about creating a paradigm shift as to how society and the world addresses this issue. And of all the challenges you faced in creating that shift… aside from the resources, of course… what do you believe is going to be the most difficult and daunting one that you will encounter?   

Sean: The most difficult one I think, is the acceptance from those who have been supporting orphanages in the first place. I think we have many, many well-meaning individuals who have contributed their hard-earned resources in the belief that they’re protecting or saving the life of a child by giving to this orphanage.  I think oftentimes people are reluctant to believe that they’ve been supporting an institution that might not be providing the best for the children. And so we’re trying to do this conversion process in a way that people don’t feel like they have been doing something wrong. Instead, that the research in these countries and the timing may not have been corrected in times since.  So maybe these institutions were ones that did help protect the child, but now we know that deinstitutionalization really is what the children need.  They need their family and they need that family support. So it’s helping these people who have given in the past and helping them to be supporters of this paradigm shift so that they can support into the future, as I’ve said before, not just one child that they’re protecting and saving, but 10!  

…we’re not just asking to change something for a moment, we’re asking to change a lifetime. So we’re really asking people to look in their hearts to support this effort and to assist us in changing the lifetime of these children.

Denver: Let me close with this, Sean. As I’m sure you will agree, there are seven worthy and really just spectacular proposals amongst the other semi-finalists. But if I ask you to make the case as to why this proposal will have the greatest impact and benefit to the world and society, what would that case be? 

Sean: I would just tell everyone that just imagine your child sitting in a cell by themselves every day, and it’s unconscionable that we, as Americans, would allow that to occur. We need to free these children. We need these children to flourish and have full potentials. So we’re not just asking to change something for a moment, we’re asking to change a lifetime. So we’re really asking people to look in their hearts to support this effort and to assist us in changing the lifetime of these children.

Denver: Fantastic! Well, Sean Callahan, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, I want to thank you so much for being here with us this evening. If people want to learn more about this specific initiative, or of all the work that CRS does, where do they need to go to find it?

Sean: They can just look on our web page which is at

Denver: Thanks, Sean, and my best wishes to you and your colleagues in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change Competition. 

Sean: Thank you very much, Denver! Much appreciated!

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

Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of charity: water, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of charity: water, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Scott Harrison

Denver: We often hear of people who enter a new field from outside of it, coming from a completely different discipline.  They can either have a hard time adjusting, or on the other hand, they can bring a fresh set of perspectives to it. And this new way of thinking can help revolutionize a sector for the better, and do so in an exponential way. It would be the latter that best describes my next guest, former nightclub promoter, Scott Harrison, who went on to become the Founder and CEO of charity: water. Good evening, Scott, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Scott: Thanks so much for having me!

Denver: So much to talk to you about. I really looked forward to this. But let’s begin by having you tell our listeners about charity: water and the mission and purpose of the organization.

Scott: Kind of like it sounds. We are on a mission to help bring clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world.

Denver: And to really fully appreciate charity: water in the way you operate and the way you go about your business, it would help to understand the road that you took to get here from a pretty self-absorbed, if I might say, nightclub promoter, to a social entrepreneur leading this exceptional organization… And if there was a pivotal moment in that transformation, it may have occurred over one weekend in Uruguay. Tell us what led up to that moment and where that moment subsequently led you.

Scott: Sure! The decadent lifestyle that I lived for 10 years was actually almost a betrayal of the way that I was raised. So I had been brought up in a very conservative Christian home. My mom had been very sick when I was 4—there was a carbon monoxide gas leak in our home that almost killed all of us—It deeply affected her, and she just became an invalid from this point on. I grew up in a caregiver role. I just did everything right. I mean, I cooked, I cleaned, I vacuumed, I played piano on Sunday in church. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t have sex. I was the good kid until 18, and then this active, utter rebellion came over me, and I moved to New York City.  I grew my hair down to my shoulders and had this moment where I said, “Look, now it’s my turn. I played by the rules. I took care of mom. Now, it’s my turn to have some fun.”

The way to have fun and also make money that I stumbled into was a nightclub promoter. I learned that you can actually get paid to drink, and your friends would drink for free, and you would only have to work a couple of nights a week.  Working was actually partying. So, from the age of 18 or 19, I started at a nightclub called Nell’s here on 14th street– probably worked at 40 or 50 nightclubs over the next 10 years– promoting these parties. And as you mentioned, 10 years later, I found myself in Uruguay with a 2-pack-a-day cigarette habit, a gambling problem, a pornography problem, a strip club frequency problem, cocaine – pretty much anything short of heroin. I was just this mess, but my life looked amazing on the outside. So I was jumping into limousines; I was flying to Paris for Fashion Week. My girlfriend at that time was on the cover of Elle Magazine. I drove a BMW; I had a Rolex; I had a grand piano in my apartment – all these things that I had coveted that I thought would make me happy.

So I begin to apply to a bunch of humanitarian organizations to be a volunteer for them. The World Visions and UNICEFs and Save the Childrens – all these respected organizations.  Peace Corps!  No one would take me.

Denver: The full package.

Scott: I realized I had somehow become the worst person that I knew – the most selfish, sycophant human being. I was emotionally bankrupt; I was spiritually bankrupt, and if I continued down this path, I would probably die by 40. And if I did manage to live out my life, my legacy was simply going to be a man that got people wasted for a living.

So, I had a pretty radical cathartic moment. I began to rediscover faith in a new way as an adult. I’d been completely disinterested for 10 years. I came back to New York City, kind of struggled with a new value system. I returned to my old value system in morality and spirituality, and I wound up selling everything that I owned that summer. I remembered putting up about 2,000 DVDs on eBay.  This was when DVDs were worth something. I sold everything, and I wanted to explore the opposite of my life. I wanted to see what the 180-degree turn might look like. So I begin to apply to a bunch of humanitarian organizations to be a volunteer for them. The World Visions and UNICEFs and Save the Childrens – all these respected organizations.  Peace Corps!  No one would take me.

Denver: Looked at that resume and said, “Uh-uh”.

Scott: They didn’t want to touch me with a 10-foot pole or let me anywhere near the humanitarian workers. I might throw parties. I might get people drunk. So I had stepped out really in faith, and there was no one that would allow me to serve. So I was very fortunate; finally an organization called Mercy Ships said if I was going to pay them $500 a month and go live in Liberia, right after this 14-year civil war had ended, then I could volunteer. And I dusted off an NYU Journalism degree that I’d never used and said, “Hey, I can come and be your volunteer photojournalist.  And by the way, I have 15,000 people on my list that I have gotten drunk over 10 years.  So, I can tell them a new story, and maybe they’ll give some money. Maybe they would even want to volunteer as well.”

That led to an extreme transformation. I quit everything the night before I boarded the gangway of this 500-foot hospital ship that was going to sail into Liberia with the best doctors and surgeons in the world, who were giving up their vacation time to operate for free on the poor. And I just saw poverty for the first time. I saw leprosy. I saw people with cleft lips and cleft palates. I saw 8-pound facial tumors. I’d never seen anything like this before. The country had no running water, had no sewage, had no mail system. There was one doctor for every 50,000 citizens.

Denver: No electricity, nothing.

Scott: Nothing. So among other things in the two years that I wound up volunteering, I came across the water crisis.  And I saw children drinking dirty water from swamps. I saw mothers losing their children to diarrhea because more than half the country didn’t have clean water to drink. And I think the irony, or the contrast, was I was selling $10 bottles of water to people in nightclubs that wouldn’t even open the water. They would just order a bunch and put them on their table because that’s what you do. And at the time, there were a billion people worldwide without access to clean water. I came back to New York City at 30-years-old and wanted to take that up as a mission. I wanted to try to use the rest of my life to bring clean drinking water to everybody on earth and be a part of the solution.

Denver: And what you did is: you threw a birthday party for yourself, correct?

Scott: Well, I did. In some ways, we had some challenges in the beginning just setting up the charity. As you could tell by the name, I wasn’t very creative – charity: water. Which stuck. I came up with a bunch of ideas of just how to do things differently, and one was to throw a birthday party and use my birthday… which I had use previously… to make money – give my friends an open bar, charge them a lot of money at the door, throw a big party. Really took that same model.  Got 700 people to come to a nightclub, give $20 on their way in.  But this time, instead of pocketing the $14,000 or $15,000, took 100% to do a few water projects in Uganda. And then we sent the photos and the GPS back to those people so they could actually see where the money went.

Denver: And that was the start. You were 31 years of age, if I recall.

Scott: In September.

Denver: Tell us, Scott, … What is it like to not have clean water available in the community? I mean, what’s the impact?  What do people go through?  Mostly women and girls, what do they have to do to get any kind of water for themselves and their family?

Scott: As you said, it’s a women’s issue. So culturally, we worked across 24 different countries. It is never the job of the men to get the water. It is the women and the girls, and it’s shocking and it’s outrageous,  but it is the job of the women and the girls to get the water. The water quality in some of these countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, in rural India, in Bangladesh, in Cambodia, these places where we work — it is water you wouldn’t let your dog drink. It’s water you wouldn’t step in. You wouldn’t walk barefoot into the water. It’s often brown. It’s viscous. Often the water is far away. I lived in a village in Ethiopia where women were walking 8 hours a day with 40 pounds…once they had collected the water… of water on their back… to just a little murky seepage of water coming out of the rock. In fact, one of the girls in this village had walked eight hours one day; at the end of her walk, she had slipped and fallen and she spilled the water that she spent all eight hours fetching, and she winds up hanging herself… just committed suicide in the village. Said, “I can’t go back for water.”

So it’s in such extremity. It’s so hard for us to imagine. We hear a statistic like a billion people without water. Now it’s about 700 million people… and we just numb out. But it’s 13-year old girls named Letikiros Hailu who have hopes and dreams. She wanted to be a nurse, but she was stuck in this 7-day a week cycle to go get the water for her family that then made them sick.

Denver: And I know you went to that village subsequently and really tracked her footsteps. Number one, to just check out that story.

Scott: Yes. It really sounded too harsh to be true. Is a 13-year old girl really going to hang herself because she spilled her water? And what I found there was just… it really moved me. It angered me. It moved me. I met her mom. I met her friend that walked with her that day. I saw her grave. I met the priest who gave her funeral. I saw this frail little tree where they had taken a 13-year old girl’s body down with this little rope around her neck. It was a great reminder to me that in those statistics, they are just everyday people. And the terrible irony is that in so many of these villages, there’s clean ground water 200 feet beneath the village. Literally, the water that could save the lives of the women and children are right beneath their feet. What they don’t have access to is a million dollars of drilling equipment. They don’t have access to $10,000 or $12,000 to drill and construct a well, or a rainwater harvesting system or gravity-fed system. So that’s what we’ve been in the business of for 10 years.

Denver: Tell us a little bit about that process, Scott, if you would. I know that the organization is solutions-agnostic, and as you said, whether it be filtration or rain harvesting, it doesn’t make any difference. Whatever’s going to work. But let’s take  digging of that well, as an example.  What’s a typical process you go through in terms of selecting the village, engaging local partners, and the digging, and so on?

Scott: In the early days, when the organization was tiny, it was pretty haphazard. “Hey, we have money for 10 water projects.” We’d find a local partner and say: “You pick the best 10 spots!”  Now we’re doing over 3,000 a year so there would be multi-year strategic plans using GIS data, using satellite coordination with other NGOs in the area. So there would be a plan in almost everywhere where we work for 100% coverage in a district. Sometimes it’s a 7-year plan or a 5-year plan or a 3-year plan. We’re actually a couple of months away from achieving success in a program we’ve been working at in Rwanda for seven years. So I’ll give you just one example in Malawi, a place I’ve visited a few times. There was a community that was actually cut off from the roads by this huge ditch in this huge gully. So we were giving communities on the other side of this big gully access to clean water. A community that’s cut off hears about this and says to our local partner, “Look, we realize you can’t get those drilling rigs into us, but give us a few months, and we’ll build a road.” And they spend three months, and every single household sent one person to fill in this huge gully by hand! This is moving rocks by hand. You know, small shovels… And they built a road, and the drilling rig got in. Local Malawians jumped out, and in about three days drilled a well, and clean water is flowing. I mean it’s one of the most extraordinary things.

I’ve now been at this for 10 years and had the fortune to be in some of these same communities before and after. I hear from women complaining about leeches in their water, complaining about the disease, complaining about the long walks, shaking their fist at the sky saying “We’ve been waiting for help. Will you help us?” And then I’ve been able to go back six months later with women that are smiling, that have given names to the well …calling it “Blessed” or calling it “Beautiful” and talked about they’re able to wash their faces, wash their clothes, prepare food that’s healthy… seeing the benefits of water.

And that’s the great thing about working on this issue because water is so much more than water. Water impacts education. It impacts health. A World Health stat that we came across a few years ago was: 52% of all diseases of all the sick people throughout the developing world — what some people might call the third world — is caused by bad water and lack of sanitation. So half of the sick people don’t need to be sick. It’s not HIV, AIDS. It’s water.

So, it’s an amazing thing to do. It impacts the local economy as well because you’re providing millions and millions, sometimes billions in aggregate, of time back.  And people can turn that time– that they used walking for water– into productive work. Selling rice at the market, selling rugs… I was just in Zambia and Zimbabwe with women that were making rugs and selling them for $4 because they didn’t have to walk for water. It’s a powerful issue to work on.

Denver: Sure is. The impact can be greater than all the violence in the world, including war. You know, clean water does speak for itself.  But is there any way that you’ve been able to measure the impact of the work you do– whether that be return on investment or a reduction in disease– for people who are now drinking clean water? (more…)

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Meals on Wheels America

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

Denver: If you take the Blue Line out of Washington, it will bring you to Arlington, Virginia, the home of the oldest and largest national organization representing local Meals on Wheels programs, Meals on Wheels America. We’re going to begin with their president and CEO, Ellie Hollander and then you will hear from the dedicated members of the Meals on Wheels America staff. 


Ellie: We have four staff who work off-site.  We’re very supportive of flexible work arrangements, but we never want to lose sight of them. And so, literally, whenever we have staff meetings, we actually have cutouts–which you could see if you wanted to look, Denver–of our four team members and we bring them into the room and always have them sitting around the table. We have cutouts of their faces, glossy, so that they’re always present because we believe that we’re all in this together and we don’t want to ever forget there are colleagues who are sitting with us around the table.

Patrick: I’ve been here for just over a year and I started in April. My birthday is in early June, and I recall something that made an impact on me very early on. It was I came in on June 7 and I had a voice mail, and at that point, a lot of people weren’t calling me because I was pretty new. And the voice mail was someone singing “Happy Birthday,” and it was Ellie, our CEO, calling and leaving me a message singing “Happy Birthday.” And that’s really made an impression on me about people caring for one another here.

Sopha: Every Friday, we try to do what’s called our Friday Jam, which is around 45 minutes until the end of the work day. We try to gather together and we pick someone to create a playlist and play some jams and we just chill out and discuss our week, discuss what we’re doing for the weekend and just try to mingle with each other and chill out.

Jenny:  So I think something that keeps us really connected to our mission is the fact that we volunteer with local Meals on Wheels programs in the area. We have a route every month and two employees can sign up to go and deliver meals. So while obviously that’s—we work for Meals on Wheels and it’s something we’re connected to, it’s really helpful to stay connected to the actual boots on the ground mission, why we show up every day. And co-worker bonding, you maybe get paired with someone you don’t work with all the time so it’s great for bonding. You get to drive around and meet a lot of really cool seniors. So I think the fact that that volunteering part is instilled into the entire organization is really great.

Emily: I’ve been with the organization for just under 10 years at this point, and it’s been an absolute blast seeing the organization grow but also seeing how my career has grown over that timeframe and how Meals on Wheels has invested in me and allowed me to go to conferences—and not just the local ones—and learn so much about so many different topics and has allowed me to explore new fields. So I have actually transitioned from one department to another, started a whole new career path that I never expected to see myself on, especially with the college degree that I got, I’m now doing technical stuff, which I never would’ve thought. And it’s exciting. It’s a challenge every day and I love it. It’s really fun challenge.


Antonette: But we try to make it a life of not just work but also fun. We try to make it exciting and other thigns to do for us to have an opportunity to get together and just be together and have fun as opposed to just working.

Jenny: I’d like to speak a little bit about how we kind of break down silos. Our annual conference is a really great time each year. I like to prefer to it as it kind of feels like summer camp and everyone kind of takes off their role/hat and bands together and does things across all departments and really just pitches in, whether it’s carrying boxes around or staffing one of the training sessions or anything like that. People don’t care like “Oh, well, I’m on the leadership team, I’m not going to help out here” or anything like that. It’s three days of really intense—it’s hard work but we really bond during that time. So it’s conferences that time every year where every one really comes together.

Ellie:  So four times a year, we actually will be providing feedback as managers to our staff and as staff to our managers, and have the ability to automate peer feedback like a 360 but for development purposes and in real time. I think that’s really important because all of us are committed to doing the best we can, and we have an annual staff retreat where we do review the results of our employee survey and we don’t let ourselves get off the hook.

Crystal: And one of the things that I love about Meals on Wheels America is that we did kind of like a work style assessment and it’s called DISC. And it’s been really helpful for me in this work environment to realize oh, yes, not everyone has a work style like myself, but then when I’m thinking about “Oh, okay. I’m going to work with this person. How should I approach them and how should I think about working with them to be an effective colleague?” So I really like that.

Antonette: What do you brag about to friends and family about working at Meals on Wheels America? I would like to say I think I work with the best group of people that I think I’d ever worked with in my career. We enjoy being with each other and that counts a lot.

Patrick: I think it’s worth noting how our office space really reflects not just like the culture of the organization but also the mission. So we have a very open concept with our workspace. We have sort of cubes but not wall cubes, so everything is very open, everyone can see other and speak with each other. But the walls are very colorful. They have our brand colors. We have bright greens and blues. We have wide windows that let in the light. So the whole environment is very light and cheerful, but it’s also…it’s modest yet uplifting. And I think that’s what Meals on Wheels America and our local programs across the country are all about.

Ellie: The other special week I like to spotlight is Spirit Week. You heard a little bit about our annual conference. We do send our employees – all of our employees – to conference because it’s the only chance they get to actually see our members. And we’re a membership organization so we want to never lose sight of who we’re here to support and the seniors that they serve. But there’s so much work that goes into even before we get to conference site. So there’s at least a week or 10 days where we’re meeting every day, we’re pulling together programs, we’re doing name badges, we’re doing whatever. And to keep the spirit, we call it Spirit Week, and each day, we vote on a different way you can dress. So my favorite day is Pajama Day. Every year, I vote for Pajama Day and they let me have it.

Denver: I want to thank Ellie Hollander for opening up their offices to The Business of Giving and to all the others who participated: Jenny Bertolette Young, Emily Persson, Crystal Espy, Antonette Russell, Patrick Bradley and Sopha Sar. Come to for this podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants and the offices of Meals on Wheels America and hey, while you’re there, listen to my full interview with Ellie Hollander


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

Internet Archive’s Founder and Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle and Director of Partnerships Wendy Hanamura Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Internet Archive’s Founder and Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle, Director of Partnerships Wendy Hanamura, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: And tonight, it’s a great pleasure to have with us the Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, and Wendy Hanamura, who serves as the Director of Partnerships and the project lead in the 100&Change challenge of the MacArthur Foundation. Thank you so much for being here!

Brewster: Good to be here, Denver. 

Wendy: Thank you, Denver.

SFW.BrewsterKahleInternet Archive

Brewster Kahle

Denver: Let me start with you, Brewster. Give us a little history about the Internet Archive and the mission of the organization.

Brewster: The idea of the Internet Archive is to try to build the internet into the Library of Alexandria for the digital age. Can we make it so that anybody anywhere can have access to all of the published works of humankind – all the books, music, video, web pages, software ever created? Can we make it so that if you’re curious, you can go and use your screen to find all the published works of humankind? That’s the general mission of the Archive where we’re making good progress.

Denver: And you have an incredible collection both in terms of software titles and audio recordings and television and e-books. Gives us an idea of what’s in the Internet Archive right now.

Brewster: It’s actually huge! We have 2.5 million books. We’ve got a couple of million audio recordings, lots and lots of concerts including everything the Grateful Dead has done – very popular. We’ve got lots of movies. We’re probably most famous for the web pages. We have like a billion web pages every week. So there’s about 285 billion old web pages that if you go to, you can see the web as it was. Also software, you can go and play all the Apple II software in your browser. We’re trying to keep it so that anything that’s been produced is available, either through somebody else’s website or if need be, on ours. 


Wendy Hanamura

Wendy: Denver, we’re a digital library and I think you have to ask your listeners: What would libraries look like and feel like? How will you experience them in the future? And we believe this is what it will be like. You will be able to play video games of the past. You’ll be able to watch films. You’ll be able to listen to music. And of course, the books – the books are what drives us


There are so many millions of life-changing books out there that aren’t in the reach of digital learners. We think that we can change that by digitizing and lending 4 million of the most important books to students, to teachers, to scholars, to the blind and dyslexic.

Denver: Well, you have said, Wendy that if a book isn’t digital, it’s as if it doesn’t exist, and your proposal to the 100&Change competition aims to address this. Tell us about your idea and plan.

Wendy: Let me start with just a little story. It’s about a book that means a whole lot to me. It’s called Executive Order 9066. It’s a beautiful book of photographs from the Japanese-American internment. It’s a book that I discovered when I was, I think in sixth grade in the Glenview Public Library in Oakland, California. This is a book that changed my life, Denver, because it was the first time I ever realized that my parents, my grandparents had spent years in a concentration camp during World War II. But this book is out of print. It’s very, very hard to find. It was published in 1972. And now I have a son, he’s a junior in college. He’s taking a class on race and ancestry, and this would be a great book for my son, Kenny. But, you know what? It’s not digital in many cases. And for him, if it’s not digital, he’s not going to be able to use it. It’s not going to be in the workflow of his student life.

So this is the problem that we’re trying to solve. There are so many millions of life-changing books out there that aren’t in the reach of digital learners. We think that we can change that by digitizing and lending 4 million of the most important books to students, to teachers, to scholars, to the blind and dyslexic. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Denver: How are you going to determine, Wendy, what 4 million books to digitize? That sounds like a good deal of curation and a lot of coordination. 

Wendy: Well, that’s true and we’re not going to do it by ourselves. We’re going to be working with lots and lots of scholars and librarians and committees that are actually already doing this work. They’re doing what they call the “cultural assessment” to see what’s missing in our libraries. There’s a great group called the Open Syllabus Project led by Dan Cohen. He’s already pulled together all of the syllabi of the college classes so we can see what are the books that are most assigned in college classrooms. Then, we want lots of libraries to be able to lend these, Denver. So we’re looking at the books that are most widely held by libraries. There’s 1.2 million that had been determined to be held by many, many libraries. So it’s not really going to be one list, I think it will be curating many lists.

Denver: Brewster, let me ask you about the copyright issue. Now, anything before 1923 is considered to be public domain but it’s not so clear-cut after that. How do you plan on addressing that?


Robin Koval, President and CEO of Truth Initiative Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Robin Koval, President and CEO of Truth Initiative, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Robin Koval

Denver: One of the great public health stories in recent times has been the reduction in teen smoking. Now, there have been a lot of contributing factors to the success of this effort, but no one – and I mean no one – has played a more significant role than the Truth Initiative, formerly known as the American Legacy Foundation. And it is a great pleasure to have with us this evening their President and CEO, Robin Koval. Good evening, Robin, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Robin: Well, thanks for having me!

Our mission is to achieve a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco…

Denver: Robin, give us an overview of the mission and goals of the Truth Initiative.

Robin: So our mission is to achieve a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco – big mission– but very, very achievable. And the way we go about doing it?  We have three major programs: The Truth Campaign, which is our youth public education program, has been around since 2000. It’s where we do most of our work; but we also have a research and policy center where we do a lot of the foundational research in the area; and then our community and youth engagement work where we take what we do with 30,000 feet in the Truth Campaign and really bring it down into the communities. For instance, we have a wonderful tobacco-free campuses program that we’re doing with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and community colleges.

Denver: How did this organization come into being?

Robin: Well, you might remember, back in 1998, still the largest civil litigation ever in the United States, something called the Master Settlement Agreement came about. It was an agreement between 46 states who sued the four big tobacco companies. There was a settlement for over $200 billion. It’s so much money. It’s hard to–

Denver: Even today!

Robin: Still a lot of money! Most of the money went and still goes to the 46 states that were part of the suit, but part of the agreement in that settlement was to carve out a pot of money to create an organization– It was then called the American Legacy Foundation– to dedicate itself to the education of young people, primarily to advance smoking prevention in the United States. And the wonderful thing about it is we get to use the tobacco industry’s money– with no strings attached– to basically say “Let’s put them out of business!”

Denver: Ain’t that sweet? So let’s take a look back. What was the prevalence of teen smoking back in 2000?  And what would it be today?

Robin: When the Truth Campaign first started… so this is in 2000… 23% of teens… 8th-, 10th-, 12th graders in the United States smoked.

Denver: One out of four.

Robin: That’s pretty incredible, right? I mean, now, we think about that; it’s just mind-blowing. Today, the percent of 8th-, 10th-, 12th graders who smoke is 6%. That’s cigarettes. Now, there are some other things involved there too, but to get from 23% to 6% in 17 years is…It has been called one of the  most  dramatic successes in public health history ever.

Denver: It sure is. Now, are there certain communities where the incidence is higher and where the tobacco industry might be targeting their efforts?

Robin: Yes, for sure. So 6% is an average. But tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer. What the tobacco industry is very clever about is…you know, they would call it targeting; I’d actually call it profiling in terms of singling people out based on who you are, where you live, how much you have, and even whom you love, and marketing their products to them.

So, for example, among LGBT youth, the rates of tobacco use are twice as high as for the general population. Or, if you look at people of lower income, lower education – low SES is what we would say – the rates of tobacco use are incredibly higher. And that’s no accident because you’ll find, like for instance, 10 times more advertising for tobacco in an African-American neighborhood in some cities than in other neighborhoods. And as a person whose background was in marketing, I can tell you, advertising works. If you put 10 times more in the neighborhood, it’s going to have an impact.

Denver: Well, that’s all shameful, but maybe even more so is that they really have targeted those who are suffering from some degree of mental illness.

Robin: Yes. So we know that 40% of the cigarettes actually bought and consumed in the United States are among people with some kind of behavioral health issue – again, not an accident –and that’s people with depression, anxiety, substance abuse users. There’s actually evidence that says for a lot of these people, their ability to recover… and if they’re on medication…would actually be better if they didn’t smoke. But sometimes even the medical community doesn’t know that.

Denver: Well, you know, public health campaigns that have been targeting youth to choose healthy behaviors and healthy lifestyles, they have failed miserably forever and a day. And in fact, Tina Rosenberg, who was on the show recently and writes the “Fixes” column for the New York Times, said that many of these efforts have exactly the opposite effect… and encouraged that unhealthy behavior. So what has the Truth Initiative done that has made this so darn effective in reaching this market and changing their behavior for the better?


Katie Hood, Chief Executive Officer of the One Love Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Katie Hood, Chief Executive Officer of the One Love Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

Katie Hood

Katie Hood

Denver: Earlier this month– May 3 to be exact– marks seven years since Yeardley Love, a lacrosse player at the University of Virginia was found beaten to death in her room, just three weeks shy of her graduation. Her tragic death shined a spotlight on relationship violence like we have never seen before. And through the tireless work of her mother, sister, and many others, the One Love Foundation came into being. And here to discuss the work of the foundation with us tonight is their Chief Executive Officer, Katie Hood. Good evening, Katie, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Katie: Hi! Thanks for having me.

Denver: You know, I just touched on it in the opening, but tell our listeners about Yeardley Love and the tragic circumstances around her death.

Katie: Yeardley was a young woman who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and attended the University of Virginia for college. I did not know her personally. Her cousin happens to be one of my best friends, so I feel like I knew her. She was a totally can-do spirit, dedicated to her family and friends, really determined to play lacrosse in college.  And even more than that, her mom says she was, “completely dedicated to UVA.” She accomplished her goals, was admitted to UVA, was a member of the women’s lacrosse team there and loved UVA. Had great friends; one of the strongest girls, nicest girls, kindest girls you’ll ever meet. But unfortunately, no one really knew how unhealthy and dangerous her relationship with a fellow student, a guy on the men’s lacrosse team, had become.

And so her death on May 3 came as a total surprise to so many people who really just hadn’t understood the signs that she was in an unhealthy relationship.  They therefore didn’t know how to help. So what we exist to do today is: we believe that Yeardley’s death was 100% avoidable, if anyone in her life– including her– had understood the signs of an unhealthy and dangerous relationship. So One Love exists today to make sure that others have the information that Yeardley didn’t.

Denver: Did the foundation come into being shortly after her death?  Or, did it take a while for her mother and sister and others to put it together?

Katie: Well, at the time when she died, I was actually at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and I was one of the only people the family really knew in philanthropy. They were in our offices at the Michael J. Fox Foundation within six weeks to talk about how they could honor Yeardley’s life through a nonprofit. It took them a few years, however, to really get focused on relationship violence. Quite honestly, it took them until 2012– when her killer went to trial–to really realize that this strong, positive, happy person they knew had actually been in an abusive relationship. She defied their expectations of who this happens to. I think we all have stereotypes in our head about who ends up in these relationships; these stereotypes are wrong. And it took them time to really realize how wrong they were.

And so starting in 2012, they really shifted their focus to prevention. The idea was: unless we do something radical to change young people’s understanding of this issue, we’re never going to change the pipeline that leads to one in three women and one in four men being in abusive relationships in their life.

So emotional abuse is when somebody is controlling you. When every step you take, you are anticipating how the other person is going to respond, and you’re trying to avoid a negative response. The sad truth is: it’s incredibly common. And the really sad truth is that nobody really thinks of it as abuse.

Denver: Katie, is there an actual definition of what relationship violence is?

Katie: Yes. So we started using the phrase “relationship violence” instead of domestic violence because we’re really focused on working with young people. Young people hear domestic violence, and they think of people who are married, who are older, who likely have kids. Young people don’t realize it can happen to them. And yet, young women, ages 16 to 24, are at three times greater risk of being in an abusive relationship than any other demographic. So we had an information gap here, and it was an information gap that we wanted to address.

Relationship violence, relationship abuse can consist of three buckets of things. Everybody is familiar with physical violence, and everybody knows that physical violence is wrong. But what we always say is, “You don’t get punched on your first date.” The first date is probably the best date you’ve ever been on in your life. And one of the messages we try to get to young people is that every abusive relationships starts out as the best relationship you’ve ever been in. So physical abuse, we’re clear on. Sexual abuse, we’re clear on. This is a little different from sexual assault, which may happen outside of a dating relationship, but it can also happen inside a relationship… inside a dating relationship.

But the least well-known part of relationship violence, relationship abuse, is emotional. This is the stuff that we call “drama.” It’s the stuff that’s normalized in our society today. It’s controlling behavior. It’s isolating behavior. It’s name-calling.  So, emotional abuse is when somebody is controlling you. When every step you take, you are anticipating how the other person’s going to respond, and you’re trying to avoid a negative response. The sad truth is: it’s incredibly common. And the really sad truth is that nobody really thinks of it as abuse. So, a lot of our work actually focuses on this gray zone – this gray zone of the emotional behaviors that are never okay.

Denver: And I would have to think, Katie, that a lot of young people are in one of their very first relationships, so they’re not really sure whether this is normal or not normal because they don’t really have anything to gauge it against.


Jay Komarneni, Founder and Chair of Human Diagnosis Project Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jay Komarneni, Founder and Chair of the Human Diagnosis Project and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Jay Komarneni

Denver: And this evening’s semi-finalist is the Human Diagnosis Project, also referred to as Human Dx. And here to tell us about it is their President and CEO, Jay Komarneni. Good evening, Jay, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Jay: Denver, thanks so much for having me!

Denver: Congratulations on being named as one of the semi-finalists of the 100&Change competition. Give us an overview of the Human Diagnosis Project and what you hope to achieve.

Jay: Absolutely! Thanks. Denver, I think what the Human Diagnosis Project exists to do is to answer the essential question of human health and well-being which is: When you or someone you love isn’t well, what should be done? This is a question that every single person on the planet struggles with many times during their lifetime, and our goal is really to help answer this question for all and forever.

Denver: What was the impetus for you to start this, Jay?  And were there any platforms that inspired your model?

Jay: The story of the Human Diagnosis Project actually starts with the day I was born. I actually was born with a congenital heart defect and was able to get access to the best care and the best specialists when I was a teenager and had to have my heart defect corrected with open heart surgery. If I didn’t grow up in a family of physicians in one of the richest countries on earth, I wouldn’t have had access to that insight. We really believe as a team that everyone in the world should have access to the world’s collective medical insight in order to get better answers to those questions.

Denver: And this is not really just a  “safety net”  for those people who need to go to an emergency room. A lot of this is focused around specialty care. Would that be correct?

Jay: The proposal that we had put together for MacArthur in conjunction with the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the American Board of Internal Medicine is specifically to use the Human Diagnosis Project to improve specialty care for the nation’s underserved. That being said, the system that we’re building ultimately can help every single person on the planet with both primary care and specialty care. As you may know, a billion people on earth lack access to even basic health care, and a hundred million people are put into poverty as a function of their health care cost. So this is a much bigger problem than just the problem we seek to serve here in the US, but we think that this is a tremendous opportunity to help begin building the system, and using it to help the people who need it the most.

If you can actually provide them insight through a system like Human Dx, you can actually ensure that only the people who really need care are the ones that are getting care. So that when they’re paying for it, they really need it. And then you’re actually freeing up specialty capacity to help the patients who really need help.

Denver: Let me see how this might work. Let’s say I’m an attending physician, and I come across a challenging case, and I’m not exactly sure what it is or what I’m looking at, but I’m a bit concerned. What would I do?

Jay: The way that this works typically is one of three things happens when you’re a primary care physician and you’re trying to get a better answer to your case: (1) you actually do what’s called a curbside consult, so you ask other physicians what they think– who you know and are done in person; (2) is you do something called an electronic consult where you actually ask someone through your existing electronic health record or system; or (3) you do a referral. So the issue becomes that when you’re uninsured, you’re really making a choice between two tough places;  you’re deciding whether or not to delay necessary care… and potentially get sicker, or potentially pay for care that may not be needed and go into poverty as a function of your costs. There are 10 million people in this country who are in poverty because of their medical costs.

So, imagine that you’re making that decision. Well, as a primary care physician who’s helping people in the Safety Net, 90% of those Safety Net centers cannot get access to specialists. If you can actually provide them insight through a system like Human Dx, you can actually ensure that only the people who really need care are the ones that are getting care.  So that when they’re paying for it, they really need it.  And then you’re actually freeing up specialty capacity to help the patients who really need help. So the opportunity here– and the way that Human Dx works to solve this problem– is when a primary care physician goes to the system, they basically can encode and organize the major details of the case, post it to the system, and then have other specialists pontificate on that case. Then they can get insight much faster than they otherwise would’ve been able to by doing a traditional referral or e-consult.

Denver: How many of these cases can be addressed through electronic consults?

Jay: Well, I think what’s exciting is that the literature shows anywhere from 30% to 50%. (more…)

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Oxfam


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

Denver: And we’re off to visit the offices of Oxfam which are located right next door to the TD Garden in Boston where both the Celtics and Bruins play their games. For those not familiar with Oxfam, it was founded in 1942 and it’s a global movement of people working together to end injustice and poverty. And as you’re about to hear, the people who work there find it to be a very special place indeed. 


AndreaIf you’re creative and ambitious, you can do whatever you want here and try all kinds of different things here and still feel like you have a culture that supports youI’ve had many managers over the years and the culture of Oxfam has been the same that you work hard, you do your job, you support your colleagues and you go home to your life. And at the same time, what we’re doing here is contributing, you feel everyday like you’re doing something that’s helping people

EmilyI’m a boomerang Oxfam, Oxfam where I left and I came back, because it really is a unique place to work and it has a really welcoming environment that people here we work really closely together and because of that passion I think we feel really united and that there is a family aspect to it, we joke about calling at the Ox family. And there is that sense of unity here that I think doesn’t exist in other workplaces that we’re in it together, we’re fighting, sometimes really terrible issues, humanitarian crises, people who were literally on the edge of life and death and we’re in it together. And I think that is what’s really big about this workplace.

Oliver: One of the things that’s been consistent about my relationship with my managers is the freedom and the autonomy that they’ve given me to do my job and at the same time the support that they’ve given me. When I need help, when I need support, when I need assistance, struggling through a difficult problem or a difficult situation, they’re always there. But if that isn’t the situation, they back off and give me the freedom to go out and do my job and trust. They trust that I will go out and get my job done when it needs to be done and in the way that they expect it to be done. I’ve worked in a lot of organizations that have managers that tend to micromanage and I would be constantly reporting back about every single thing that I did, and that is not the case here

Bridget: I never worked for an organization where I felt like all of me, my whole person was able to be expressed in the organization and I think that’s what’s unique about working in a social justice organization, I think it’s what’s unique about working in a human rights organization that is working in so many diverse places in the world is that I was able to come in to the organization with all the skills that I’d build in the private sector, all of my education. But actually I was able to bring into Oxfam my activism, which I’d never was able to express publicly in the private sector. I wasn’t able to even express really effectively publicly in some of the other nonprofits that I was involved in starting. And that is actually I think what makes from many of us, what makes it unique to work in a place like Oxfam is that I’m able to be–I’d like to say, I’m a Lesbian woman, I’m a Mother, I’m an Activist, I’m a Manager, I’m a person who’s deeply, deeply interested in culture and people all over the world and all of those things come together for me at Oxfam

VinodSo one of the things that I’m extremely grateful for in terms of Oxfam is that Oxfam–and this is something that I always reiterate to newcomers, you will always be given an opportunity. So for me Oxfam is always the land of opportunity, if you have enough agency, if you have an idea, if you seek to desire change and you are resilient, you will be given the chance

IMG_1767Oliver: One of the things that I really appreciate about Oxfam is the accessibility and transparency of our Board of Directors. I’ve worked for another organization that had a board that felt very remote and little bit scary to staff and really was disconnected from staff and that’s not the case here. It starts with the fact that there is a staff-elected member of the board which is rotated on a brand new basis every few years. So the voice of staff is brought into discussions among the board of directors and each time the board meets, our board chair comes in along with that staff member to talk to staff in a wide ranging and open conversation on any topic that anyone wants to raise for an hour or hour and a half without management and executive leadership presentAnd I really appreciate that and look forward to those sessions as a way not only to raise concerns that I see about what’s going on, but also to hear directly about what the boards working on, what their priorities are in any given time.

Emily: I think there is probably no one here who doesn’t feel empowered to share their opinion, which can sometime lead to very impassioned meetings, but I think I’ve never once felt like I need to hold back what I think about something, what I feel is the right thing to do or how we should approach something and I’ve never been reprimanded or made to feel like I shouldn’t give lend my voice to a topic. I think that is a big part of Oxfam program, but it’s a really big part of our culture here that everyone feels empowered to use their voice, whether that be in your one on one with you manager, in you team meetings or in a lunch meeting with the board member. People feel that they can raise their hand and ask a question and question authority empower, and I think that’s really powerful in it, it has helped democratize the organization.

BridgetIt’s a strange thing, we love each other. I don’t know, it’s like the weirdest thing. We actually love each other, does not mean we don’t have conflict, it does not mean that we don’t sometimes have issues that break down and there are issues that come up. But honestly we love each other and that’s why we say we come back to the organization, but in fact we never leave.

Vinod: How that manifest itself on a concrete basis is when we do an inclusion and diversity group, there is staff that actually took the lead to organize a group to talk about spiritual and religious values that are attractive to Oxfam, and I participated in one of the incredible conversation about people’s personal journeys and why they come to work here. It is just mind boggling, the wealth of experience we have and what makes people work here. I don’t want to get into people’s personal stories, but you have very, very moving and inspirational stuff, and you don’t get that and nobody told them to do it

Andrea: I feel like I’ve always felt like it was a privilege to work at Oxfam, because we work on poverty, and poverty is a life long struggle, but people who come and go will work on here. But in this moment, I think people feel really privileged to come into this building and feel like they are doing something to make things better at a moment where a lot of people don’t know how to make things better. And I’m conscious of that and I think that that’s something that a lot of people feel right now in this moment.

Vinod: We have a mechanism called the spotlight of art word by anybody in the organization can say a public thank you to anybody else. So I have done it in the past, where I’ve asked people for favors or request and people have turned it around after office hours at the short deadline, because I needed to send something to the board, and I needed the backup information. So I will ride them, I will give them a spotlight of art and then that is publicly displayed in our lobby later, so that other people can come to know that people are going out of their way to help each other. And it doesn’t cause money, there is no money associated with it, but people do feel wonderful about the work they do, and it leaves you with a good feeling when you get a thanks back for saying “Hey! Thank you for that nice nod”

Denver: I want to thank both Sarah Mandel and Alissa Rooney who helped to organize my visit and to those who participated: Andrea Ferrera, Emily Bhatti, Bridget Snell, Oliver Gottfried, and Vinod Parmeshwar. If you’re interested in hearing this again, reading the transcript or for pictures of the participants in the Oxfam offices, just go to and it will all be waiting for you there.


The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Root Capital

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

IMG_1815Denver: And this evening, we’re going to go up to Cambridge, Massachusetts and to the offices of a truly exceptional organization called Root Capital. They are an agricultural impact investor that grows real prosperity in poor environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America. And for this segment, in addition to the staff in Cambridge, we will be joined on the phone by team members from Senegal and Costa Rica.

Will: So our staff try to live by five principles of leadership which are empowerment, equity, transparency, integrity and service. And every month, the person who carries the leadership torch – so the person who was selected as exemplifying one of those five values – will pass the torch on to one of their co-workers in another region, so if you’re in Latin America, you’d pass it to someone in the United States or Africa who’s exemplified a different value and someone in a different department. So, it kind of fosters this culture of recognizing your fellow colleagues for their accomplishments, it bridges gaps between different departments, and it bridges gaps between different regions as well.

Briana: And I think we especially see that and maybe more so in the small ways, because I have a more back office type of function, where I’m not always in the field, I’m not always on the frontlines with our clients. But my team definitely has a–I feel that we always have a hand in making improvements for the better of the whole organization.

Claire: So we’ve setup an open floor plan. We have one standing desk that is available for use, and more on the way. We’re about to start a nap pod from recent research that I’ve been looking at that shows that if you can find a quiet, secluded space where people can go and just take 10-, 15-, 20 minutes and shut their eyes, that you actually increase productivity, so that’s an exciting thing on the way. We have a lounge area with the puzzle table that’s been getting a lot of great use. We started a little kitchen garden where we just grow sprouts and can add them into snacks and things that we have when we have communal meetings.

IMG_1811Laura: Like in Root Capital you can go whatever, you can visit any of our offices, and people actually care about who you are, what are you doing, how are you doing. That’s what makes Root Capital so special. It’s like a really big family spread all around the world, but all of us somehow make it to always being in contact, always care about others. We are always sharing news, sharing our efforts, sharing our challenges, sharing everything one to another, one country to another and one team to another. So that’s something that makes me really feel committed and feel that Root Capital is the place, the place to work in, in fact.

Salif: The organizational culture is an open one where people discuss ongoing work so that they can have better suits that the work everyone does with the open communication between people from different departments. We have, in my office, someone that will be in credit admin next to someone that will be in lending, writing, and someone that would be business development. So we sort of communicate right one next to the other about what are the present issues, what can we do to better service our clients.


Claire: And so we came together and just had about 10 minutes of singing songs of peace and freedom, and it made such a difference with how everybody felt. And I think really kind of showed that a lot of times when we sing together, it’s fun or even silly or just a nice icebreaker to having a serious meeting, but this was the time that just really pulled us all together and gave us a lot strength.

I think one thing about being an international organization that’s multilingual and there are some of us that can communicate very well in all the languages that we speak and others of us that are learning or maybe will never learn, but music is one thing that connects us all and I think that it’s a very powerful tool that has helped bring our Root Capital community together.

Will: And we’re multilingual. Multilingual in a sense that we’re operating in several different countries. Our staff speak probably a dozen languages between them, both here and the Cambridge headquarters, and in our regional offices in Latin America and Africa. But we’re also multilingual in the sense that we’re ideally just as comfortable communicating with our clients and the farmers we serve in whether it’s Nicaragua or Senegal or Kenya, as fluent communicating with them as we are in the boardrooms of a potential donor or investor’s office in New York or Washington D.C.

Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece Will McAneny who also organized my visit, Briana Woods, Claire Kozower, Laura Ramirez and Salif Diop. Come to for the podcast, the transcript and the pictures.


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

Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: There haven’t been too many newspaper guys that have gone on to lead one of the premier foundations in the country. But if my next guest, who has served as a publisher at the Miami Herald… and has done stints at the Hartford Courant and Newsday among other places… is any indication, then it might be a good place for a foundation seeking a CEO to take a look. He is Alberto Ibargüen, the President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Good evening, Alberto and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Alberto: It’s a great pleasure to be here. 

Denver: Tell us about John S. and James L. Knight, who started this foundation back in 1950… what their original vision was, and the influence that vision has on the work of the foundation today..


Alberto Ibargüen

Alberto: They were originally from Akron, Ohio. They were newspaper people. They saw newspapers as a way of informing communities, and in Jack Knight’s own words, “So that the people may determine their own interest.” Although I would say, not actually really sure that he was a partisan, but I would say he was a patrician, republican, very wealthy man who was actually a small-d democrat. He truly believed in an informed society. He also believed in technology, and he used new technology to advance his business, to advance the telling of news and information–reliable and consistently reliable product– that people would come back to as a matter of habit and as a matter of staying informed about things that were going on in their community. He used the telephone as the new modern thing in the early part of the 20th century in the 1920s to go from Akron, first to Miami, then later Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, and so on… And created what in his day was the biggest newspaper company in America, when newspapers were the key source of news throughout the country. 

Denver: As a matter of fact, I understand he even had some fax technology back in 1948. Although it was short lived, he was delivering the news like that. 

Alberto: It’s actually a great story, I didn’t know it until somebody pointed  out there’s a German engineering magazine that talked about this crazy American, who in 1948…I don’t think 99.9% of the world knew what a fax was…in 1948, there’s this American guy talking about one day faxing his newspaper to his customers. They also lost a lot of money, early internet with Viewtron. I think this was before pictures, before motion, before video. It was just text, but they made a big investment, and I think it’s typical of the history of the Knights– and then later Knight Ridder– that the early Knight Ridder should have invested in whatever the technology was, so that when the customers were ready to go there, they were already there with their reliable news package.

…it was absolutely clear that we had to move away from ink on paper. Why? Because the world had moved away from ink on paper, and it was never about the paper, and never about the ink.  It was always about the news. And how do you get people really well-informed so that they can make the best choices? That’s what journalism should be– always about, it seems to me. 

Denver: Well, that spirit of adventure is still alive today with the Knight Foundation as you do all you can to try to stay ahead of the curve. Now, you’re a national foundation, both I think, in impact and scope, but you’re also a local foundation in that you’re rooted in the 26 cities which had Knight Ridder newspapers. That’s a somewhat unusual structure for a foundation. Have there been advantages and disadvantages in that kind of set-up? 

Alberto: I think there are huge advantages from my perspective. In the first place, we’re not a behemoth like Gates, or even extremely large, like Ford. Two billion dollars sounds like a lot of money until you start figuring out how much it costs to do all these various things in 26 cities. The Knight Brothers were really pretty clear: they explicitly said, “We don’t have a crystal ball, and we know that just like our business, the foundation will need to evolve to stay relevant. What we care about is journalism and the communities that made us successful.” And so, that gives us a really clear “true north” for what we do, and how we do it depends on what’s available now.  And so for me, it was absolutely clear that we had to move away from ink on paper. Why? Because the world had moved away from ink on paper, and it was never about the paper, and never about the ink.  It was always about the news. And how do you get people really well-informed so that they can make the best choices? That’s what journalism should be– always about, it seems to me. 

Denver: Well, when you arrived at Knight, a bit over a decade ago, the foundation was apt to make some really large gifts to universities to endow some chairs in journalism.  But you started to fund innovation along the lines you just said– with smaller grants to start-up enterprises. Tell us how that change evolved, and how it changed the way the foundation both operates– and its corporate culture.