Author: denverfrederick

Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

 

Jim Canales

Jim Canales © The Barr Foundation

Denver: No matter what the field of endeavour, we all enjoy watching organizations take shape, emerge, grow and evolve into something that increases their effectiveness and impact. There’s a foundation based in Boston that fits that description to a tee. It’s The Barr Foundation. And it is fortunate to be led by one of the most capable individuals in the field of philanthropy, and he just happens to be with us now. He is Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation.

 

Good evening, Jim, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jim: Good evening, Denver and thanks so much for having me.

Denver: Tell us about The Barr Foundation, your mission and goals.

Jim: The Barr Foundation has been around for about 20 years. We have assets of $1.7 billion, and we grant approximately $80 million a year in the areas of arts & creativity and climate and education.

Denver: The evolution of The Barr Foundation, at least for me, has been a fascinating thing to watch. It started out as sort of an anonymous giving entity, and it evolved into a family foundation, and now it has become a professional operation and a major legacy foundation. Tell us about that journey, Jim, and some of the challenges along the way.

Jim: The foundation was created by two individuals who are enormously generous and strategic about the kind of impact they want to have. Amos and Barbara Hostetter created the foundation 20 years ago. Amos was one of the co-founders of Continental Cable Vision, and that’s what led to the opportunity to create the foundation.

The foundation has grown over time from that initial gift to, as I said earlier, $1.7 billion in assets. And the foundation did start anonymously. It began anonymously because Barbara and Amos felt very strongly that it was important to focus on the work and not to focus on the foundation itself. And that’s evolved over time. And interestingly enough, part of the reason that it has evolved has been feedback from the grantees of the foundation. Many of whom said to The Barr Foundation almost a decade ago, that it was actually better for them to be able to be public about where the funds were coming from, that the foundation had achieved a certain kind of reputation in the community as a thoughtful grantmaker, and that being anonymous was not necessarily serving them well. And that, I think, was a pivot for the foundation.

Now, I arrived in 2014, so I’ve only been there for about 3 &1/2 years, and in that time, there’s a lot that we have done, and there’s a lot more that we have to do.

Denver: Oh, I bet. I bet. But that’s good to have co-founders who listen. And they listened, and they acted on that listening. You mentioned a moment ago, you have three major program areas. I’m going to ask you to say a word or two about each one.

The first is Arts & Creativity. Lots of things going on here like Boston Creates. What’s your overarching goal for your Arts & Creativity program?

Jim: Arts & Creativity is focused on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So originally, the arts program had a focus on Boston, and as part of a strategic planning effort that we went through a couple of years ago, we made the decision that Barr was going to take a more regional approach to its grantmaking. And within that, we decided that Arts & Creativity would become a statewide program. And our focus is: How do we create and foster a creative, vibrant, cultural and artistic community for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

And we focused in three principal areas. One is: How do we invest in arts organization so that they can become adaptive and relevant, given so many changes that are going on around them– which I’m happy to get into. We also focus on ways that the arts can connect with other sectors in ways that ultimately contribute to that vibrancy that I described a moment ago. And then we also focus on ways to build advocacy on behalf of the arts.

Denver: Arts have really become a key driver in urban renewal, haven’t they?

Jim: They have. And in fact, we’ve seen a lot of that in the Commonwealth. One of our partnerships is with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and we focus on ways that we might revitalize certain cities that have suffered significant changes because of changes in industry… and ways that certain spaces that lie fallow could be revitalized and used for creative purposes. And so, this is one of the partnerships that we’ve been engaged in the last number of years, and we see it as a hopeful sign. Think about ways that you can repurpose these old mills, these old buildings, these old factories to foster the kind of creativity and the kind of entrepreneurship that I think will help these cities to turn things around.

Denver: Great stuff. Second program is around Climate. Now, we sometimes don’t think of a locally-focused organization doing something on climate, but that would not be the case. And part of your focus there is around an initiative called  What’s the strategy here?

Jim: The strategy for that evolved from a decision that was made about seven years ago. The foundation had had a broad-based environment program up until that time. And in 2010, the foundation trustees made the decision that it was evident that climate change was one of the most urgent and pressing issues of our time. And as a result, that the environment program should shift into a climate program. And in deciding how to focus the climate program, they looked at: What were the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the region? And they were buildings and transportation. And so, that’s what led to a focus on energy and on transportation as two core areas of focus.

We did that work for about five years, and as part of a planning effort that we undertook a couple of years ago, we shifted to a focus on clean energy and renewables and then a focus on mobility.  So, what we think about with our Mobility focus is how we can achieve two things: How we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time, focus on how we help people to get where they need to get in a more efficient and effective way.

Denver: Human-centered designed to a certain degree. It’s around people.

Jim: It’s very true.

Denver: And finally, there is education. And your concentration here is around secondary schools and your desire to see that all students succeed. What is working there? And what are you especially excited about these days?

Jim: So, I think your emphasis on all students is absolutely right. And many people across the country look at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and say, “Wow, Massachusetts is a real success story.” Across many indices, Massachusetts is often at the top in terms of student achievement and in terms of other measures that we use to assess academic achievement.

But underneath that data, you come to realize that it may not be that excellent for all students. And that’s what led us to focus on ways that we can think about re-envisioning secondary education in ways to create more relevant experiences for students when they’re in high school, in ways that help them to connect to both postsecondary and career opportunities, and also in ways that perhaps personalize the experience. To realize that every student comes at this from a different perspective and with a different set of competencies. And if we can reimagine the way we deliver secondary education in a way that acknowledges the need for that kind of personalization, we can really make a significant difference for those students, particularly those who are at greatest risk of dropping out.

Denver: Can you give us an example of one of the things that you are supporting?

(more…)

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Navy-Marine Corps

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, we’re going to take you down to Arlington, Virginia into the offices of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. What they do is help provide financial, educational and need-based assistance to active duty and retired Marines and sailors, their families and survivors. So let’s find out why the people who work there like it so much. 

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Bryan: I just wanted to talk a little bit about how the organization really makes you feel like you’re a part of a family. I actually went away for 12 years and came back. So I’m kind of a retread. And there are people who are here, who just recently retired, who have been some of my closest friends ever and continue to be, as well as a lot of new people who I knew coming back and re-interviewing. And the people that were gone, I’m sure they were missed but the new people coming on board had been taken in and been made a part of the collectives so it was just great.

Wayne: When I got here, it felt so comfortable. The idea only entered my mind once about moving and then I actually rationalized to myself: What in the world would you ever wanna do that for? Because I enjoyed what I was doing so much. I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to go to another job and get that same kind of fulfillment. So for me, the feeling was immediate and I still felt close to the military being working with the Navy and the Marines and still felt like I was doing something and giving back to those groups. So that’s what it was for me.

Telisha: We are very volunteer-oriented. We’re big on volunteer recognition; that whole volunteer week is very special here for obvious reasons. I think that is the part of the culture of just giving back and serving, so that is reflected on how employees are as well. You’ll see people who really are passionate about what they do. How can I help? Even if it means always going the extra mile. You don’t want to burn out, but you see people who really care enough and they want to find the solution because we are dealing with tough problems

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Holly: I think one thing that is specific to the society that you probably wouldn’t know unless you work here and I thought was interesting when I came here was our saying of “Spend what you need and not a penny more.” I always found that saying perfect when you’re dealing with donor dollars and how you have to tell people to get the job done, so you can support the client and the service members, but also not to spend too much and be responsible with the funds that we get.

Kim: And I’m just going to touch on one thing where it says here… when a new employee really belongs. I’m going to have to say it’s the Christmas ornament that if you’re a new employee and Christmas time comes around, you get to place your Christmas ornament on the tree. But years go by and each Christmas we still — you may not be here, you may have been retired, you may have moved — but each Christmas you still are here because your ornament is still here

Tammy: To me, the “wow” is our Visiting Nurse Program. We are the only military aid society that offers home visits by registered nurses; be that with a new mom or baby or our combat injured and their families. So that allows the clients that we worked with to have that financial side of the house with Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society but then we also bring in the nursing piece to address all the other issues that they may have going on, be it access to medical care or other resources that they may need

MonicaBut I had more volunteers that actually said they wanted to come in that I had space where I could plug them in. And I was just thinking: Wow! I mean it’s a weekend, it’s Sunday, I can’t believe that I have more people raising their hand to come in and help than I can even plug in. And that’s just the kind of people that are attracted to the society and why I feel so lucky that everyday I’m around people that really have a servant heart and want to give back and help people. So just being surrounded by people like that everyday naturally makes the culture just a nice to be because you work with great people everyday.

Josie: I wanted to just touch upon how management trust us in place with decisions like when we were on disaster mode. There’s a group of people, we sit there and we handle all the decisions… We don’t have to worry about going as high up as we can go. We work as a team to make sure that the field was supported.

And we make sure that they have what they need so they can do their job helping service members that are in disaster situations.

Susan: I’m considered the area trainer and developer, so I get to be in both worlds. I get to be here at headquarters and work with a fabulous team in the divisions that we have. But then also I’m able to go up to the field and be in awe of our volunteers and everything that they accomplish with sometimes with just one employee and the rest of them just take it and run. And we try to evaluate what would improve their environment and their opportunities whether it’s training or communication. And then take all data and bring it back and then reach out to those that can make changes and make differences

: What I find something amazing about the society is that we have, always at headquarters, had Friday was casual work day; you didn’t have to wear work clothes. And in the past, very often, people at headquarters seems to take that a little far. But then we started really paying attention to branding and Shelly came in and it amazes me how many people on Friday choose to wear their branded shirts because it is now become an organizational thing that we are all proud. We put on our branded shirts on Friday and instead of wearing a T-shirt like we could, we now wear branded shirts because we were part of the team and we are proud of that. And I find it very interesting that that has evolved into what Friday is now. Instead of being “Casual Friday”, it is now “Wear Your Branded Shirt”. And yet we all proud of that. We all are onboard with that. And I think that is amazing.

 

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Denver: I wanna thank Shelley Marshall for organizing my visit and to all those who participated in this piece – Kim Zamagni, Josie Militello, Monika Woods, Wayne Osbourne, Susan White, Tammy Ackiss, Brian Brookbank, Winnie Orsini, Holly Robertson, and Telisha Woods. To listen to this again, read the transcript as well as see the pictures of the participants and the offices of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, all you need to do is go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


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

The Business of Giving Visits Hamilton College

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, we’ll be taking a drive up to Clinton, New York, one hour east of Syracuse and to the beautiful campus of Hamilton College. We’ll begin the segment with my daughter, Andrea, a 2011 graduate of the college, speaking with their president David Wippman.  And they’ll be followed by members of the Hamilton faculty and staff.

Andrea: How would you describe the organizational culture at Hamilton?

David: I’ve been here just a little over a year, and when I was learning about the community, that’s the word that kept coming up. This is a real community. That’s how I describe the organizational culture. People really care for each other here at the college.

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Andrea Frederick and David Wippman

Dick: When we’re hiring, we now take along a laptop with a series of pictures of the space, and when we’re talking to a job candidate and say, “Here’s what it looks like.” And you can see a picture from inside a faculty member’s office with the faculty person sitting there… several students sitting across the desk.  And in the background, you can see out the door, and there are 10 people outside the door too.  You look at the face, and some people look at that and say, “Are you crazy? Who would want to do that?” The people that we hire are the people who look at that and say, “That’s where I want to be. That’s what I’m going to be doing.”

Phyllis:  I have this world-famous recipe for fried chicken that I can do like no other. I’m allowed to go into the dining hall and fry that chicken and prepare it so people can share. The back part of that is: I just simply love the fact that everybody knows my name. I can walk across this campus and get a hug and get a hello from people who call me by name and acknowledge that I’m here. To me, that’s a real perk.

Vige: I have a lot of interface with faculty and students, but one of the opportunities that I have that I really, really enjoy is the international host family program that I participate in every year. Almost since I came here in 2002, I’ve “adopted” a student or students. I usually stay in touch with these students. So now I have alumnae families in Turkey and China and Luxembourg and France and all over the world. Whenever I get a new student, I call upon my graduated students to e-mail that student and tell them what to bring and how to prepare, and it’s their responsibility…what to order from Amazon. It creates a network, and they start helping each other.

IMG_2893Stuart: At any rate, from the day I got here, I’ve been proud to be a part of this faculty. Frankly, pretty much in awe of everyone I’ve ever worked with – at times overwhelmingly so. But to see the impact that my colleagues have had on my children, and the impact of a Hamilton education on my children…now, I love my colleagues. I’m grateful for them in ways that I… sometimes… I hope there’s some parent out there that feels that way about me. Having some kind of impact on your kid, because I’ve seen it three times over now.  And talk about blessing!

Patty: One of the things that makes me happy and feel so grateful to be a part of this community is just the sheer fact that one of my graduates, Catie Gibbons, shoots me a text message the other day telling me that they’re moving her little brother into Hamilton tomorrow. He’s coming in as a new freshman and wants to know if I’m around and she and her dad want me to come find them, and that just makes me so giddy and proud that we’re in a relationship with so many people like that.

Marianne: My favorite perk that I want to talk about is actually the free spot in the cemetery, which when I tell people about this, they are always just blown away.

So you look at the map and you’re like, “Oh, I’ll be over by so and so. I’m sure she’ll have a really cool statue, so people will come over and visit me.” I joke with my students about that, and they say, “When you come back for reunion, you can come visit me over by the Truax pillars. Have a drink, have a toast, read some Kant or something in honor of me. So that’s my favorite perk.

David: This is the place where Samuel Kirkland, who founded the Hamilton-Oneida Academy, which was the predecessor of Hamilton College back in 1793… That’s where he would greet students. Now we’re greeting the students as they come in to sign the register. You tell me, but to me it’s a really moving moment. You’re inscribing your name in the book of the college, and you’re connecting with that 206-year history, and you’re also looking to that community going forward.

IMG_2909Stuart: But Hamilton’s history, certainly the modern history, is absolutely stunning compared to almost anywhere else. It is this insane combination of the old stuffed shirt, men’s campus on one side, and the raging liberal female campus on the other side. What we’ve got here is hormonal balance. It’s just fabulous, and it took the best of both of those perspectives and rolled it into one ball, and that is what everybody here benefits from every single day.

Patty: This is a co-curricular education where so many different people are going to challenge you and literally put a mirror in front of your face so that you also educate yourself and gain some kind of self-awareness, which I don’t think you can get in any textbook or from any specific person other than you wanting to own that yourself. I know that this college presents those opportunities to our students and it’s just wonderful to be a part of that and also be the beneficiary of that because I know that I have grown as a professional and as a person in this community because of my colleagues and the students and just living where I live on College Hill. It’s absolutely a blessing to be a part of it.

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Marianne: I’ve taught in many places, and I’ve formed attachments to students in all those places, but there has been just something particularly… I don’t know… connected between me and Hamilton students. I don’t know if that’s partly because we have sort of an informal culture here, and so we make these bonds really easily… and the college encourages that, or if it’s just these students. I don’t know. It could be both.

Mike: We had the idea that we would take these students down to the National Press Club, and they would actually present their research in front of…We invited the media and the like, and there was no question of the college… we’d come up with the resources and we would do this kind of thing for the students. It just kind of epitomizes for me the opportunities that students have, and things that fit with the culture of the institution.

Phyllis: I consider that a true testament to the movement of inclusion and diversity here on this campus, and the fact that it’s so present, but then so not, because we do a fantastic job of including folks and making room. When I started here, the student of color population was 0.3%. There were 12 of us. And now we’re at 30%. I take that as a personal commitment to me, and the fact that this institution makes room. That’s my story.

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Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece: Richard Bedient, Marianne Janack, Stuart Hirshfield, Phyllis Breland,  Patty Kloidt, Vige Barrie, and Mike Debraggio. You can listen to this podcast again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the Hamilton campus simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com.  And while you’re there, check out the link to my full interview with David Wippman, the president of Hamilton College.


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of One Acre Fund

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. 

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Matt Forti and Denver Frederick

Denver: And this evening, we’re going over to Broad Street in Lower Manhattan to meet some of the staff at One Acre Fund. One Acre Fund serves smallholder farmers in Africa and works to help make them more productive and prosperous. We’ll begin the segment with Matt Forti, their Managing Director and a recent guest on The Business of Giving and then hear from members of the team.

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

Jillian:  What it means, first and foremost, and which we’ll see in every email signature and every document that comes across your desk, is “Farmers first.” That means, everything that we do, we’re always working toward this number one goal of putting farmers first. The values that go into that, like I said, they’re kind of everywhere in the organization.

Some of the main ones we talked about are humble service, so really making sure that we are meeting the farmers where they are. Most of our staff actually work in the field right alongside our farmers. Even our staff in the US office get out to the field at least once a year to make sure that they have a real connection with the farmers that we are serving.

Ross: One Acre Fund really stands out in terms of feedback comparing to other nonprofits I’ve ever worked with. It’s a pretty fundamental thing to know what’s expected of you and where you stand with your managers, and so One Acre Fund does a good job of creating a culture of feedback. The main mechanism for this is the check-ins we have either each week or every other week with our managers, and it’s a space where we check in on sustainability and workload, problems solved through our current projects, and also this key: Dedicate time to big picture thinking. That’s where a lot of the innovative ideas for our teams and for organizations come out of.

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Dave: I thought that broadly applies to our sort of GSD attitude, Get Stuff Done, and then specifically, how that GSD applies to input delivery.

Where the GSD comes in is we have truck breakdowns, we have farmers that live in areas that just don’t have access to the one, the services that we provide, but many, many other services as well. So when it comes to our input delivery, when we say we’re going to get inputs to a farmer on a certain day, it happens. We don’t call a farmer up or send a messenger to say, “Sorry, your inputs are going to come a week from now, a month from now.” They come the day that we say they’re going to come, and that’s how we build our trust.

Emily: The data that we get from this really allows us to tackle different areas that may contribute to an employee’s life cycle at One Acre Fund. We’re able to make better decisions regarding retention, better decisions regarding work-life balance and personal sustainability, and we’re able to implement new programs that really ensure that employees are going to stay with us for a long time and have a successful career at One Acre Fund.

I don’t know of any other nonprofit that uses that type of data to make those decisions. It really ensures that all of our people decisions are grounded in metrics and that we’re able to assess our projects going forward.

Briehan: Four times a year, people have career chats with their supervisors, either informal coffee chats, which you’re reminded and encouraged to do, or a 360 review that we do twice a year as part of our annual evaluation cycle.

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We also have a formal mentorship program to make sure that staff members have access to mentors that they can talk to about their career challenges and their paths that might be available to them.

We also have trainings around the kind of subjects that we feel like are really important to growth. Things like how to delegate efficiently, on how to hire effectively, and even trainings around how you can identify what it is that you want from your own career path, either within One Acre Fund or even if that path were to take you outside. That’s something that we really feel like as we face this incredible challenge of ending poverty, we are able to make sure that people are growing and taking on as much as they possibly can.

Dave: We have people in Kenya, New York, Seattle – we’re kind of all over the place, and we all come together on a big conference call around a different topic every month. And we really dive deep, and everybody prepares to learn about that topic in advance. On the call, it’s sort of like a pop quiz, you know, call out someone, “What would you say about X, Y, Z?” What that does is really kind of build the culture of, “You need to know what you’re supposed to know” sort of a thing. I think that’s a little bit unique. Can be, I guess, high pressure at times, but it really forces you to understand the nitty-gritty of what you’re supposed to communicate externally.

Ross: The model is very scalable as well. We’re able to move from districts and scale the same unit out within countries and to new countries. But having data around what works when we do technology trials and what our impact is, is also really important for getting donors and other supporters onboard. It really is this excitement from donors and other organizations that have enabled us to mobilize our efforts and serve so many farmers.

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Jillian: Our people teams in general were allowed to really dig in to certain specializations, so whether it was people support or people data or recruitment. And that allowed us to establish stronger relationships with people in different departments so that we could provide better support to them. That also allowed us to really kind of flex these team building muscles, provided me with an amazing management opportunity where I got to work with individuals on my team, with senior leaders in the organization, and really helped build up our team, and then in turn, I’ve been able to provide that opportunity to the people who have been working with me.

Thea: And one thing that I really love about our office space is that even though we are in New York City surrounded by concrete and brick and glass, when you’re in our office space, you really feel connected in many ways to the field and to the farmers that we’re serving. In every single room, there are photos of farmers who are clients of One Acre Fund working in the fields with the crops that they are producing.

Emily: I want to talk about one of my favorite rituals at One Acre Fund. Whenever I go to the field, I try to attend a farmer meeting or a field officer meeting, and one of my favorite aspects of attending these is that they always start out with a song. Often, a dance accompanies it too. But in every meeting I’ve been to, there’s a song about One Acre Fund in the local language or just a really joyful expression of working with One Acre Fund and working with farmers. So that’s one of my favorite things about attending meetings in the field.

Denver: In addition to Matt, I want to thank all the others who participated in this segment: Jillian Joseph, Ross Miranti, Dave Betts, Emily Laser, Briehan Lynch and Thea Aguiar. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we’ll have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants in One Acre Fund offices and we’ll put up a link to my full interview with Matt Forti, the Managing Director of One Acre Fund.

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

Amy Goldman, CEO of The GHR Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Amy Goldman, CEO of The GHR Foundation and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Amy Goldman © ghrfoundation.org

Denver: In philanthropy, good ideas can come from anywhere. And one of the very best was hatched by a relatively modest family foundation in Minnesota, the GHR Foundation.  And the idea was something called the BridgeBuilder Challenge. And here to discuss it with us this evening is the chief executive officer of the GHR Foundation, Amy Goldman.

Good evening, Amy, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Amy: Good evening, Denver. I am happy to be here.

Denver: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us about the GHR Foundation, your mission and the areas that you have traditionally supported?

Amy: Certainly. As you mentioned, GHR is a family foundation based in the Minneapolis area. We’ve actually been in existence for over 50 years in a relatively quiet way, and focused primarily in the areas of education, health and global development.

Our mission is really focused on creating transformational change in the areas that we work in. A lot of this stems from our legacy — our founders created a real estate development firm that really pioneered the concept of design-build and construction & design. And we have taken that approach and applied it to how we do our giving. So with design-build, we really think about how to have an integrated process, how to collaborate with partners, how to be creative… and not really often know what the outcome is going to be because we’re constantly learning as we’re working in the areas that we’re investing in.

So, the BridgeBuilder Challenge, which I am certainly happy to talk about, really was an outcome of our thinking more directly about this inheritance that we had of the design-build approach. And so it was our opportunity to start to test some of those ideas a little bit more out in the open than we had been in the past.

Denver: Well, how was this idea conceived, and how exactly does it work, Amy?

Amy: We have several grants that we call legacy grants, which we really view as long-term partnerships with specific institutions that mean a lot to the founders of the foundation. We had one legacy grant where we were thinking – we wanted to take an opportunity with that grant and that partnership to try something new. And we clearly were inspired by Pope Francis’ will calling globally to build bridges across areas. We found that very powerful. So Denver,  we were thinking about: what are we going to do with this legacy grant to perhaps respond to that call of Pope Francis?  While at the same time, we were thinking about: how can we open the windows at our foundation and let some fresh air in?  How can we find out what those good ideas are out there? We started to think about creating a challenge.

So initially we thought, with the BridgeBuilder Challenge, again, that was inspired by Pope Francis,  we started thinking about doing this internally and realized very quickly that we had limited capacity to do this ourselves. So, we looked around for partners and ended up partnering with OpenIDEO and we were very attracted to the OpenIDEO approach of human-centered design. We thought that that was completely consistent with our approach at the foundation to really put people at the center of all of our goals for our programs.

So we started our partnership with OpenIDEO, and frankly, it was a bit of an experiment and a stretch, I think for both of us, I will certainly talk for GHR Foundation; OpenIDEO had not issued a challenge with a private foundation before. So we were learning as we went,  but also, as I mentioned, learning in the open in a very transparent way. And I’d be happy to discuss more details of that if you’re interested, but that is the basic outline of how we landed on the BridgeBuilder Challenge concept about a year ago at this time.

We chose those three pillars, along with the fourth pillar of People because, again, it really resonated with this call from Pope Francis, on building bridges across these areas.

Denver: And the three pillars of the BridgeBuilder concept were: Peace, Prosperity and Planet. How do they intersect?

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Derek Rapp, President and CEO of JDRF, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Derek Rapp, President and CEO of JDRF, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

Derek Rapp

Derek Rapp

Denver: Anyone who knows a person with type 1 diabetes knows only too well how difficult it is to manage this disease. It requires attention every minute of every day. JDRF is working to lessen that impact on people’s lives, and ultimately, to find a cure. And here to tell us about that work is the President and CEO of JDRF, as well as a parent of a son who has type 1 diabetes, Derek Rapp. Good evening, Derek, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

 

Derek Rapp: Good evening, Denver. Thanks very much. I’m glad to be here.

Denver: Tell us about JDRF, the history of the organization, and of your mission.

Derek: Sure. JDRF was founded in 1970 by a couple of parents of children with type 1 diabetes– sons. One in the New York City area, one in Philadelphia. These were people who were determined to help their kids with type 1 diabetes to one day be able to learn what it’s like to live a life again without type 1 diabetes.

Denver: Yes. And speaking of type 1 diabetes, what’s the difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes?

Derek: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where a person’s body stops producing the insulin that is required to help a person convert sugar to energy. With type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, a person continues to produce that insulin, but the person’s body becomes resistant or isn’t able to work with the insulin as effectively.

Denver: Good distinction. How many people in the US are afflicted by type 1 diabetes?

Derek: We don’t know for sure, but our guess is between 1.25 million and 1.5 million probably.

Denver: I know type 1 diabetes can strike both kids and adults, and it can come on very suddenly. Do we know what the triggers are that instigate this?

Derek: We know some. We’re pretty confident we know some. We certainly know that genetics are a significant factor, but they’re not sufficient. I’ll be sharing an interesting statistic. About 50% of the time that identical twins– where one has type 1 diabetes, so does the other– which also of course means 50% of the time, the other one doesn’t. That’s how the genetics are important because that’s far higher than it would be for other siblings who aren’t identical twins. But at the same time, obviously, there are some factors that trigger the onset in those 50% who do get it.

Denver: Yes. I’d be curious what that is because I know that type 1 diabetes has been on the rise a little bit.

Derek: It sure has.

Denver: Yes. Any explanation that you can even put forth?

Derek: Well, we know that certain viruses are significant. Viruses such as hand, foot, and mouth disease or coxsackie virus, enteroviruses. Respiratory infections in the very young are believed to be significant in triggering an immune system in a person that amps up in order to fight that infection… just like it’s supposed to.  But then for some people, unfortunately, that immune system doesn’t calm back down like it’s supposed to. Instead, it looks for another target – something else to do, if you will. And unfortunately for people with type 1 diabetes, that something else to do is to go target and kill the beta cells that produce the insulin in the body.

Denver: Your son, Turner, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes back in 2004, and I would guess that no matter how much you may think you know this disease, you really don’t fully understand it until a loved one has it. What is it like to live with type 1 diabetes?

Derek: That’s right. In fact, I had some good friends in college, and my wife had four relatives who had type 1 diabetes before Turner was diagnosed.  And so certainly, the disease was around us. And yet when it became part of our immediate family, only then did we start to understand the insidiousness of this, just the never-ending impact, of this disease.

Imagine a disease that requires a person to constantly be vigilant about what he or she eats and how much exercise that person is getting. Whether that person is stressed out by some factor. Whether a person has hormonal activity due to puberty, or whatever it might be. All those factors can cause a person to process insulin very, very differently. So we know that a person with type 1 diabetes has to have a variable dose of insulin every day, different times of day, and yet can still get it wrong.

With too much insulin, perhaps causing a person to have a catastrophic event that can even include seizures or death, and too little insulin that will cause a person to have high blood sugar, both making that person perhaps concerned about the longer term complications, but also even immediately about the possibility of diabetic ketoacidosis, which again, can be catastrophic. So it’s an extremely complicated, demanding disease.

Denver: So, what’s his life like? What does he have do every day in terms of trying to manage this successfully?

Derek: I’ll first say, as Turner’s dad, that I think he’s doing fantastically. I’m relieved and proud and grateful. Turner wears a pump, an insulin pump, and many people think that that pump has the intelligence always to know when a person needs insulin.  Well, truthfully, no! That’s a pre-programmed device that will give insulin when it’s told to, and that’s going to happen whether or not the person needs insulin. I’ll get to that some more in a second because I’m glad to say we’re changing that.

Turner also wears a continuous glucose monitor which is a device which is constantly reading… and giving a new reading every five minutes… his glucose levels in his body. And therefore, it allows him to know how he’s doing, provided he is vigilant. So then, he has meals through the day, and he has to tell that pump that he’s had a certain level of carbohydrates in that particular meal, or he watches his numbers, and if he’s higher, he slowly needs to adjust accordingly.

Turner’s a very active guy. He has run four marathons. He recently did the New Jersey State Olympic Distance Triathlon. He’s doing a lot. In fact, a week from Saturday, he’ll be riding 100 miles with me in Colorado, and therefore, he needs to know how his body is doing all through that time, and adjust his insulin levels and his sugar intake accordingly.

Denver: What are the implications of a high glucose level, and on the other hand, when it’s low? What are the impacts of those?

Derek: Type 1 diabetes– and diabetes in general– is the leading cause of adult-onset blindness, of extremity amputations; second leading cause of heart disease; leading cause of kidney failure, and a lot of other issues as well. So when a person has poor control over time– or even variability of blood sugar level– that puts a lot of strain on the body, and it can lead to those different complications. So that’s a big concern always.

I mentioned earlier the possibility of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is when a person’s electrolytes get so out of whack that the organs then start to do some strange things, and even perhaps to shut down. That, as you might imagine, can lead to terrible consequences. So, that’s the discussion of the high blood sugar.

On the low blood sugar side, when a person has too much insulin– versus the amount of carbohydrates that he or she has brought in…For the rest of us who don’t have type 1 diabetes, our bodies have all these different regulators in us that can allow us to constantly adjust. But the person with type 1 diabetes doesn’t have the ability to regulate that way. So with low blood sugar, a person can go into seizure and to coma and into death. It can happen very quickly. But unfortunately, the ketoacidosis can happen quickly too. I hear too many frightening stories, and the fact is many people die of ketoacidosis as do of low blood sugar with type 1 diabetes.

Denver: Well, let’s talk about some of the work that you do in research. It was about a decade or so, Derek, that JDRF launched the Artificial Pancreas Project, and this was a tremendous collaboration to accelerate progress in an effort that has really transformed the field. Where do we stand right now with the development of the artificial pancreas?

Derek: You’re right. This is one of our prouder accomplishments over the last decade plus. At this point, the first hybrid closed-loop artificial pancreas system has been commercialized. Let me explain that long term I just used.

Hybrid closed-loop means that it’s not a perfectly automatic system. I described earlier that the pump wants to keep producing and expressing insulin, so what we want to do is we now want to have a system that will know when to turn off if a person has too much insulin… not enough sugar in his or her body… or will automatically administer insulin when a person has high blood sugar. Now we have a system that will do that.

Now, a person is still telling the system when that person’s having a meal in order to try to help that system catch up with the load of carbohydrates that will be coming in through a meal, but it’s allowing the person to have much tighter control than otherwise would be the case. We have several systems like that that will be commercially available in the next few years, and they’ll keep getting smaller, easier to wear, more accurate, et cetera. So, great progress in that area.

I want to also mention about this that it’s not just about the research, it’s also about the advocacy work that we do. In fact, we work with, for example, the Food and Drug Administration here in the U.S. to help the regulators know the importance of bringing these therapies along.  And as part of that, to providing a road map that will allow the companies that make these devices to know what they need to do in order to have a regulatory approval.

Back some years ago, when we knew that the different companies in this space had their continuous glucose monitors… and they had their pumps and the systems that might put it all together, but they weren’t producing the full systems, it was because they were seeing a lot of uncertainty at the FDA in terms of what would be required in order for them to be able to get a product approved. So we started a very public campaign to impress upon the FDA the importance of laying out that road map. Eventually, after our insistence, the FDA did just that, and that’s why we now have one of these products already available, and others that are coming along. Again, our work and advocacy is very, very important.

Denver: Yes. Well, it just seems like that’s a by-product of the time you spent in the private sector, and knowing how important it is that companies know what the rules of the game are in order to get them to get on board.

Derek: There’s nothing that a business person hates more than uncertainty. You can handle bad news.. and maybe adjust  the valuation or whatever else, but that uncertainty paralyzes people.

Denver: It sure does. Another area that has received a lot of attention recently is encapsulation. What is encapsulation?

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Richard Tofel, President of ProPublica, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Richard Tofel, President of ProPublica, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Richard Tofel

Richard Tofel © ProPublica.org

Denver: There have been few industries that have been disrupted more in recent years than have newspapers and magazines. And as they fight to survive by cutting costs, one of the areas that many have jettisoned has been investigative reporting. And that’s not good for any of us. So what was needed was a new business model — a nonprofit one — to help carry on this work. And this is how ProPublica came into existence back in 2007. And with us this evening is the president of ProPublica, Richard Tofel.

Good evening, Dick, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

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

Denver: Tell us about ProPublica and the mission and goals of the organization.

Dick: ProPublica, as you suggested, is a nonprofit investigative journalism newsroom. We print, publish everything on our own website at propublica.org but we also work with leading journalism organizations in partnership. And as you say, we’ve been publishing now for a little bit more than nine years.  We focus on investigative journalism in the hopes that it is a critical part of democratic governance in our society, revealing to people things that people in power don’t want them to know… that we hope that will make them more effective citizens.

Denver: Well, you have had a really sensational first decade of existence. How has your audience grown?  And how has the organization been recognized for some of its outstanding work?

Dick: We’ve been very fortunate. We’re now reaching directly on our site somewhere between two– we’re recording somewhere between– two and three million people visiting us in an average month.

Denver: That’s impressive.

Dick: Between four and five million pages of our material is read on our own site. And then, of course, there’s the material being read when the stories are published by our partners. We’ve had 149 journalistic partners, pretty much every leading news organization in the country. And in terms of recognition, thank you for asking, we’ve been fortunate enough to win four Pulitzer prizes… I think literally, half of the Pulitzer prizes awarded to digital journalism organizations so far.

Denver: Congratulations. Well, since the presidential campaign, Dick, last year, I know more people dialed in, and I’m following the news more than I ever have in my life. What has the impact of the Trump presidency been on your operations?

Dick: It’s been very, very significant. Traffic is up 40%, 50%, 60% one or two months… over 70% this year over the previous year. Funding has been up enormously. So, without drowning people in numbers, we had 3,400 donors in total in 2015. We had 26,000 in 2016. And so far this year, although most of that kind of activity occurs, or much of it occurs, at the end of the year…

Denver: True.

Dick: So far, in 2017, we’ve had more than 21,000 donors.

Denver: That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about trusting the media a little bit. Something that the president talks a lot about… actually, not trusting the media. It’s at an all-time low, but I would say that trust for almost all of our institutions are at an all-time low. You have said that many people very well may not trust the media, but they believe it. Share with us what you mean by that.

Dick: So, here’s what I mean about that. I certainly wouldn’t dispute the surveys about low trust in the media, and as you say, I think that extends across almost all of our institutions. My favorite example of this is the president’s approval ratings. The president’s approval ratings, as folks probably know, are the worst of any new president in our history. Already after just 200 days, the president’s low point in approval is lower than 7 of his 10 predecessors ever were across 42 years between them… of occupying the presidency.

So the question is: where are they getting the basis of the conclusion? So many people, a very substantial majority of the American people don’t approve of the president’s performance in office. And I think the answer is: they’re getting it from what’s being reported in the news media. I think frankly, that’s why the president is so frustrated. He is frustrated because he’s not getting a lot done. He’s not delivering on his promises, and the press is telling the American people that that is the case.

Denver: So, whereas people may say, “I don’t trust the media,” somehow it is having an impact in the responses to how is the president doing.

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Maurice Jones, President and CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corporation Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Maurice Jones, President and CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Maurice Jones © LISC.org

Denver: LISC, or the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, has a well-earned reputation for having become an incubator for innovation in the community development field, effectively aligning the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and catalyzing opportunities in both urban and rural communities. And with us this evening to tell us about that work and its impact is their President and CEO, Maurice Jones. Good evening, Maurice, and welcome to the Business of Giving.

 

Maurice Jones: Good evening. Thanks for having me.

Denver: Tell us about LISC, or Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and the mission and goals of the organization.

Maurice: Absolutely. So LISC is an almost 40-year-old enterprise. Our mission, basically, is to work with partners at the local level to forge opportunities. Communities of opportunity. That’s what we’re about. How we do it? We invest money in these communities; we bring other money and combine it with ours.  We serve as what I would call a backbone organization where we help get projects done; we work on public policy issues, and then we serve as an advisor to investors in these communities, as well as the communities and residents themselves who are trying to get work done. We’re doing work in the affordable housing space. We’re trying to get people prepared for jobs that make a living wage. We’re trying to attack food deserts. We’re trying to make sure that people have health facilities. Those are the problems that we’re trying to solve through the means that I just discussed.

Denver: An absolutely holistic approach. As you alluded to, you’re about 40 years old. You’re founded in 1980. What have you been able to achieve and accomplish in those nearly 40 years?

Maurice: In almost 40 years time, LISC itself has invested over $17 billion in these communities. I’ll tell you more about our offices. We have offices, about 31 offices or so, all across the country in urban areas. And then we work with another 80 or so partners in rural areas. So we serve the rural areas in 44 states, 2,000 counties. We’ve invested 17.5 billion. We have aggregated or leveraged with that 17.5 billion, $52 billion of investments in these communities, 366,000 units of affordable housing, and millions of square feet of facility space. When I talk about facility space, I mean child care centers, schools, fields for kids and adults to recreate on, theaters, all the kinds of infrastructure that a community needs to be a true community of opportunity. We’ve facilitated or done all of that in that almost 40 years.

Denver: A very nice track record indeed. I sometimes think that people have come to the conclusion that when it comes to addressing poverty, nothing really works– and that may be just as a result of this steady diet of bad news that we’re getting fed all the time. But you say that is essentially wrong. What is working and working well in tackling poverty?

Maurice: There are so many things that are working and working well. So I’ll give you an example. We have these enterprises around the country now called financial opportunity centers. The goal of a financial opportunity center is to basically help an individual in one of these underserved areas get onto a pathway of a career making a livable wage job. You come into these centers, and they’re based in the communities where people live. You get three kinds of services. You get one-on-one coaching on the financial side. The goal there is: get your credit score or increase your credit score, and get you to a point where you’re making a budget so that you know what it takes for you to be cash positive. That’s number one.

The second goal is: get you prepared for a job. Career readiness. Now, what that often means, 70% of the residents that come through, they may actually have a high school certification or diploma or a GED, but their reading and their numeracy skill sets are 6th to 8th grade. We’ve got to help them get to 10th grade levels or get into a training program to get the right credential for a job.

Denver: And also probably help them with the soft skills too. So when they are in an interview, they would know how to handle them. We’re never taught that in school.

Maurice: No question. It is really important. The third area that they receive help in is: we connect them with the kinds of assistance or investments that they need while they’re trying to increase their wages. Help with childcare, help with housing and food. That bundled group of services has helped thousands of individuals improve their net worth, improve their credit scores, get jobs, stay on jobs long enough where you are earning a livable wage. Job tenure is a big piece of it. It has helped transform people’s lives.

I talked to one individual who had been incarcerated for seven years. He had a drug offense. He was in his 20s. He went through one of these financial opportunity centers; he came out of it in 24 months, and this guy was in a job where he was making $42,000 a year. That in and of itself was impressive, but what was most impressive is when you talked to him and you heard him say, “I got something to lose now. I got a daughter and I can help my daughter achieve…” It transformed his life. It wasn’t just about the job. It was about this guy becoming a new being. That works, right? What our country has to do is invest more in that, and they also have to stick with it. The one thing I will say about this work is it’s patient work.

Denver: This is not a quick fix.

Maurice: This is not a quick fix. These are not quick fix challenges that we have. But boy, there are things like that working all over the place. Affordable housing, same sort of thing. So, yes, there are solutions out there, and we see them, and we’re a part of them. We’re trying to make sure that we can scale them across more communities.

Our belief is that the most important assets for opportunity are at the local level where people live. So we first and foremost try to find local partners. It includes both nonprofit and for-profit. It also includes non-government and government. We got to have all of them at the table.

Denver: Give us an example of one. As you said you’re in 31 urban centers around the country, not to mention the rural ones. But you’re in Buffalo and Flint, Duluth, and Chicago and Boston and Houston and Jacksonville and Indianapolis, and so on. Tell us how you go about this work as you’re entering into one of these communities… and where you invest… and the impact that you’ve been able to have.

Maurice: In general, the keys for us are fine, good, local partners. What I mean by local partners are developers who are interested in developing affordable housing in a community or workforce trainers who are interested in developing equipped talent in that particular community. So the first key is: you’ve got to build on the local assets, right? Our belief is that the most important assets for opportunity are at the local level where people live. So we first and foremost try to find local partners. It includes both nonprofit and for-profit. It also includes non-government and government. We’ve got to have all of them at the table. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing we do is we invest money and blood, sweat, tears, and time in building the capacity of those local partners. I mentioned those financial opportunity centers. What we do is find a local enterprise that’s already doing some elements of this and invest in their transforming into becoming a full-fledged financial opportunity center.

Denver: You do not recreate the wheel. You make the wheel better.

Maurice: We do not recreate. We make new stuff. We actually go in and help the assets that are there transform into becoming more effective, more impactful.

Denver: A very smart approach.

Maurice: The third thing we do is: we have to invest money. We are investing grants. We are investing loans. We are investing technical assistance. And we’re investing them in enterprises themselves, be it developers or businesses. We’re also investing in infrastructure. By infrastructure, I mean, it could be, if you’re talking about a commercial facility, building, helping people take buildings that have been offline, or dilapidated, and basically bringing them back to life, putting them back on the market, helping people restore streets. Rehabbing homes. So the infrastructure that you need.

In addition to that, what we end up doing is making sure we’re working to bring together on a high-functioning team.. all these players to get projects done. We are often herding cats, but it works. That sort of combination of investing, aggregating resources, being a backbone to help implement, investing in local capacity, it works. It’s a formula that works in urban areas, it’s a formula that works in rural areas.

You have to become a part of the place that you’re trying to be helpful to. You have to build relationships; you have to know the capacity; you have to know the weaknesses and the strengths; you have to own it. You have a stake in it.

Denver: The missing piece so often is that backbone function. Everybody wants to fund the program but nobody wants to fund the backbone, but the backbone’s what makes things work.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of ANDE

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: Tonight we’re going to go down to One DuPont Circle in Washington DC to the offices of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs. Their global membership network of organizations that propel entrepreneurship in emerging markets. We’ll start with their Executive Director, Randall Kempner, and then hear from some other members of the team.

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Susannah: I think that one of the ways that we build culture here is a little unusual. We have a Whatsapp group — where it’s a kind of an international texting app — where all the staff were on it all around the world. And because we do have staff in seven different countries around the world, sometimes timezones and things we’re working on can mean we’re not always talking to each other everyday. And so, by using this Whatsapp group, we’re kind of in constant communication.

Stephanie: I think the fact that we send professional shout-outs as well as share photos from vacations shows that we genuinely like each other and care about each other as well. I think that that represents our value; one of our values of working hard and having fun. We worked with a consultant to define some of our values and not just the ones that go on the website. What does the staff think of? What matters to us working here? And so that was actually one that came up sort of across the board because of the idea of working hard but having fun and also valuing diverse opinions.

IMG_2571Stephanie: I think that in terms of what our meetings say about us, I think we try to be really conscious of other people’s time. We’re really good about not having meetings just to have a meeting. It’s fine. It’s a kind of if someone sends you a meeting request to just feel like: Hey, is this something that maybe we can do quickly over email? Just not forcing to be there who don’t necessarily needs to be there. So I think that always an open discussion and dialogue and I appreciate that.

Brianna: What I would say is really the wow factor about ANDE is how much we do with so little. The organization isn’t even ten years old; it was founded in 2009. And it’s just been amazing to me to see the network that they’ve been able to build. The sort of tools that they’ve been able to put in place for members. It’s funny because we do have this goal of elevating countries out of poverty. It’s not just something we write. It’s something you can feel in the organization. There’s really a sense of urgency about it, but we don’t necessarily take ourselves very seriously. We have a lot of fun while we’re doing it. We take the work that we’re doing very seriously and you can really feel that. I think that’s one of the things that initially really surprised me coming on board, but it’s just how much we get done in so little time with so few resources. That’s something that continues to impress me that I’m really proud to be a part of.

IMG_2570Susanna: Speaking of silos, our physical office is moving and we are one of over 40 different programs at the Aspen Institute. It is kind of an umbrella organization but we’re a part of that culture in a sense that the Aspen Institute has many programs have different issue areas that they’re working on. But ultimately, often the goal is around bringing people together who should be talking to each other but aren’t and kind of providing these forums where people can have these non-partisan discussions where there is an equal playing field for everyone. ANDE does that in the context of small and growing businesses in developing countries. So our offices themselves are moving and in that move, we had the opportunity to kind of create a new space. And so, they engage everyone within the organization within the Aspen Institute to understand: Where are the silos? How can we help break them down? How a space plays a part in that? How does technology play a part in that?

IMG_2566Brianna: We also have weekly check-ins in which it’s basically like: Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s how it’s going. Here’s where I could use your feedback. I found this to be extremely helpful. But one thing that I love about Genevieve, my supervisor, is that she’s able to be very honest and say, “How was your workload?” And I feel like I can very honestly be like, “It’s not good right now” or “I’m actually feeling okay” That’s been one of my favorite thing — to feel that not only management cares about my work-life balance but be able to honestly talk about it. I think we are all very ambitious and try and do a lot with a little but not being burned out is in everyone’s best interest and I loved that. ANDE really tries to recognize that.

Randall: One is our sort of external focus, and that is very much of a kind of a customer service mentality. And the kinds of people that thrive in ANDE are people that recognize that we are in a member service organization and you got to like to ask the question: What can I do for you? People who like to ask that question and get a thrill out of actually accomplishing that are going to be a good fit here.

People make a company. People make an organization. And what makes people tick and creates an environment in which people can thrive or not is the culture in which they’re working.

IMG_2562Randall: Here’s a term which I like, which may be different. It didn’t make it to our official list of values, but it was close, and it’s “celebrate irreverence.” That is very much my perspective. I would like people to not necessarily take the status quo. I want people to challenge. But irreverence kind of in a soft way, right? It’s not disrespectful. It’s saying, “Well, you know what, we’re going to do things in a different way. Like we’re going to be informal, we’re going to try it. We’re not going to do it. We’re not going to wear tie because people have to wear tie.” I really want that to be the vibe. Again, it’s not about whatever every other NGO is doing. It’s not about the traditions of Washington DC and the formalities supposed to exist. It’s about being creative and celebrating that and not having to agree all the time.

Randall: The second thing I would say is that we have become a place where we recognize that if you want to treat people the same, then you treat them differently. What I mean by that is that the way I want to treat someone the same is to recognize that every individual is different and is going to have a different need. If we can let the person that wants to work from home more, work from home more, great. The person that wants to work in the morning instead of the night, great. The person that wants to have their vacation as three consecutive weeks versus a bunch of different weekends, great. The person that they want to move and work in a different community. We want to try to find those things that reflect the particular needs of people so that everyone feels like they’re getting a special deal, and the special deal becomes the quality across the numbers, or across the staff. We’re not perfect. The way I want to treat someone the same is to recognize that every individual is different and is going to have a different need.

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Denver: I would like to thank those who participated: Randall Kempner, Stephanie Buck, Brianna Losoya-Evora and Susannah Eastham. You can listen to this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the offices of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs just by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of HarvestPlus

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: One of the 8 semi-finalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition is HarvestPlus and as you might suspect an exceptional organization like HarvestPlus also has an exceptional corporate culture. So I made my way down to Washington DC to check it out. We’ll start the segment with their CEO, Bev Postma, and then hear from some of the other members of the team. 

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Beverley: Well, first of all, people have a work ethic off the scale. My challenge is telling people to go home in the evening because they’re so passionate about what they do. But we have a very good work-life balance. We celebrate—just yesterday, we had our regular “Celebrate the new babies day.” We’ve got five new arrivals in the last few months. What we do is we celebrate family. We celebrate our extended families. We know that our families are our support system in HarvestPlus, so we make sure that they’re welcomed into the organization. Whenever we have events, we invite extended members of our staffs’ families and we consider ourselves all really working towards the same goals.

Adewale: At HarvestPlus, as you can see, diversity is its key strength of HarvestPlus and biofortification is our language. Biofortification itself is diversity. [Begin] different crops to work together, to bring more nutrient and a diverse of nutrient, and that what’s you can see in the strength of talent at HarvestPlus as well. And I can remember the first time I was interviewed for this job. What I like the most is that everybody was involved in my interviewing process, so people ask me different questions. Everybody raised their concerns and I was able to openly address them. I could see that I am coming into a family and that’s what you can see at HarvestPlus. We have a lot of groups of small teams, so you can feel like you belong to a family or a group of friends. And that’s exactly how we work at HarvestPlus.

Jose: What I love in HarvestPlus is the fact that they provide you all the resources to tackle the specific problem. And you connect with your staff based in Colombia, based in Uganda through Whatsapp. We have Whatsapp groups. We post questions and people are over-passionate about the questions we pass. I feel like I have so many degrees of freedom when I come everyday to HarvestPlus to answer these specific questions.

Peg: Said to me that our founder and at the time CEO, she had never in her six years at HarvestPlus once heard him raise his voice. And I thought that that can’t be true; that’s superhuman. But it was true. His personality has really permeated our culture. He was someone who had an idea that people said was too good to be true and would never work. They said it wouldn’t be possible to include extra vitamins on plants. They said, “Even if you can do that, no farmer will grow them. Even if that happens, nobody will eat them because Vitamin A can turn the crops orange. Who’s going to eat orange food? Well yes, you can do that, but it won’t be cost effective.” It turns out, it is. He spent years and years just persisting in his humble way and now 26 million people are growing and eating the stuff. And last year, he won something called “The World Food Prize”. He inspired us. He talked about how it was we who had done it not him. His first reaction when he won was to say, “Oh gosh, they really should have also given it to the person who’s the head of our crop reading.” That was his first reaction. So that was something that is really unusual and has truly affected our corporate culture.

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Brittany: Nearly every single one ask me: What are my opportunities for growth here? It’s generally for administration job, so people want their foot in the door at an organization that’s doing international development. I love when I get that question because I love being able to answer it by telling them that the great thing about HarvestPlus is how accessible everyone is and how multi-disciplinary we are. If you want to know more about agricultural economics, if you want to know more about advocacy, if you want to learn more about the gender work that we do, there’s opportunity to engage with and speak conversationally with someone about that.

Jamie: To speak a little bit about the hiring process, I initially thought: Wow, this is kind of intense! I went through several rounds of interviews with the team and with HR and various people I would be working with. But I think it actually really speaks to the level of dedication that the organization has for– a fit not just technically but also culturally, also personality wise. I see a lot of dedication to building that kind of family environment. Because we’re such a culturally and professionally diverse organization, there is the potential for that to be a great asset, but also an insurmountable hurdle. I think the hiring process and that level of dedication given to making sure the fit is there is really important to building that bridge and steering the diversity that we have in the right direction.

Benjamin: And one thing that has helped me track my progress and development as an employee throughout that process has been the review and feedback mechanisms that we have within this organization. There are standard protocols and processes for evaluations of employee work, setting of goals, and also staff development is a part of your annual work plan. Also in addition to these more standardized feedback mechanisms, I have found a lot of value in the fact that managers from all the way in the top of organization across a number of different countries and all the way to even our consultants who assists us on things we don’t know are always willing to provide candid honest feedback on an ad-hoc basis or in the moment. I found great value in people’s willingness to help me to grow as an employee as I have transitioned from an entry level employee throughout my career with this organization. It has really helped me both learned and also set a trajectory for my future in terms of how I envisioned myself developing with this organization in the future.

Adewale: Outside HarvestPlus, people think HarvestPlus is an organization with like 1000 employees. We do so much but we are very few. But one thing that is so unique about HarvestPlus in terms of our culture, is the fact that when there’s a task on the table, everybody come and put the hand on the deck and the job gets done. And that’s exactly what’s going on now with some of the high-priority level task that are ongoing on the organization. Everybody’s hands are on the deck right from those in the field and to those on the headquarters. And this is what you see in a confident leadership.

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Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece: Peg Willingham, Brittany Leoboldt, Benjamin Uchitelle-Pierce, Adewale Oparinde, Jose Funes and Jamie Leidelmeyer. If you want to hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants in the HarvestPlus offices, you can find them all at denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, check my full interview with Bev Postma, the CEO of HarvestPlus.  


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