Guest Interview

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

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


 

 

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Deborah Rutter © The Kennedy Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver: They always do.

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

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

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

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

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

Denver: Oh, wow.

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

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

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

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

Denver: Bernstein next year, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Carter Roberts © ImpactSpace

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

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

Carter: Thanks. Great to be here.

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

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

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

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

Denver: Interesting perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

 

Gary Knell, LinkedIn

Gary Knell © LinkedIn

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Denver: No kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary: We actually did drop the word channel.

Denver: Yeah.

Gary: It’s now National Geographic on air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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.

Amy Goldman

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.

 

m-jones-081516-headshot3

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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Glenn E. Martin, the Founder and President of JustLeadership USA Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Glenn E. Martin, the Founder and President of JustLeadership USA, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Glenn E. Martin © JustLeadership USA

Denver: My next guest identifies himself as a formerly incarcerated criminal justice reform advocate. He believes that those who are closest to the problem are also closest to the solution, which is why he helps develop the leadership skills of the formerly incarcerated to reform a criminal justice system that he says is failing in just about every conceivable way. He is Glenn E. Martin, the Founder and President of JustLeadership USA. Good evening, Glenn, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

 

Glenn E. Martin: I’m glad to be on the show. Thank you.

Denver: Give us a quick snapshot of JustLeadership USA and the mission of the organization.

Glenn: Sure. We have the goal of cutting the number of people on the correctional supervision in this country in half by 2030, and we do that by investing in the leadership of formerly incarcerated people all across America as part of the solution to mass incarceration.

Denver: Back in, let’s say, 1980, the prison population was about 500,000 people or so. Today, it’s 2.3 million, and there are millions more under correctional supervision of one kind or another. Flesh out that picture a little bit for our listeners, and tell us: What in the world happened?

Glenn: I’m glad you started with 1980 because a lot of people don’t realize that mass incarceration is a relatively recent phenomenon, although one might argue that this is a new iteration of some previous system of oppression in this country. But the fact that it’s so young means that we can actually put our finger pretty concretely on the policy levers that we used to get here – mandatory minimums, truth and sentencing, three-strikes laws, prison privatization, and a number of others – which gives me hope that we can find ways to roll back our decision to criminalize things like homelessness and poverty and addiction and mental health and so on.

If you take a look at where we’ve ended up… not just in the number of people that are in prison or jail on any given day, but with the fact that 100 million Americans now have a criminal record on file, you have to ask yourself:  How did we get here? and I would argue luckily, it’s such a recent phenomenon — as devastating as it has become– that the research it takes to figure out how we got here and how we get out is really at our fingertips.

Denver: Now there are 2.3 million in jail currently. How many are also under probation or control?

Glenn: An additional 5.6 million are under some other form of criminal justice supervision.

Denver: What does this cost us as a country?

Glenn: $80 billion dollars a year. That’s just the cost of prisons. That’s not even including the cost of police departments and courts and all the other ancillary parts of the criminal justice system.

Denver: Not to mention the opportunity cost of the people who are in prison and what that is costing society.

Glenn: Absolutely, yes. If you care about human capital, there’s a lot of it wasting away in prison. I’d love to tell a story, if we have the time, about someone I met in prison and what it means to have a person like that locked up, based on the sort of human capital he brings to the table.

Denver: Tell us now.

Glenn: I was in New York State. When you move from one prison to the other, sometimes it can take three days to move a person on a trip that might take 10 hours for someone who’s driving Upstate New York, and you stop off in different prisons, and I was held at Auburn Correctional Facility which is: I want the viewers to think of the most antiquated version of a prison they might be able to imagine, with dark walls and tall guard towers, and so on. I get into a cell, and we know we’re there for three days because I got there on a Friday, and the correction officers opened up the windows so that it would become really cold in the cells.  And it was the middle of winter in New York, so it ended up being about 45 degrees in that cell.

By the second day, I began to catch a cold, and he said to me, “Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?” Here we are trapped in this cell together, and I just sort of laughed. I said, “How? Sure. Go ahead, make me a cup of tea.” He grabs a plastic bottle and fills it with water and uses a string to tie the bottle to the light fixture in the cell… and then lights a small flame using the toilet tissue and a lead pencil in that cell, and the bottle began to spin and the water began to boil, and he ripped open the collar of his prison outfit and grabbed the tea bag and put it in that bottle and made me a cup of tea.

I hold on to that story because I think you don’t get to the point where you criminalize 100 million people until you’ve dehumanized them first. I think we forget because of the labels we use to refer to people in prison – convict, inmate, prisoner, and so on – that they are also fathers and mothers and uncles and sisters and brothers.

So when I think about trying to get to a tipping point on this issue, I think part of it is the policy which I just mentioned.  But another big part of it is Americans getting to the point where they say, “This is not how we treat other human beings.”

Denver: Yes. An incredibly resourceful guy, no question about that. You think what he could be doing on the outside. Well, picking up on that a little bit, you said that if we don’t get to the issues that undergird this criminal justice system, we’re never going to get to the bottom of this and create meaningful reform. We’ll be tinkering around the edges forever. What are those issues?  And do you think we’re getting to them?

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