Philanthropy

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.

 

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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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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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Shamina Singh, President of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth Join Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Shamina Singh, President of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Shamina Singh © Mastercardcenter.org

Denver: Try to imagine your life if you are completely locked out of the financial system. No banking or checking account, no credit or debit card, no record of transactions or credit score, no access to loans or other financial instruments. And many of the records that help prove that you… are you…well, they would have never existed. There are 2 billion such people in that very predicament around the world. The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth didn’t think that was right, while also seeing them as potential customers. They decided to do something about it. And here to tell us what that was and is, is their President, Shamina Singh. Good evening, Shamina, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

 

Shamina Singh: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.

Denver: What is the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth?  And what’s your main focus?

Shamina: The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth is a relatively new organization that was built to use the assets of MasterCard – technology, money, people, network, expertise – to really look at a very important problem of our time– and that’s income inequality– through the lens of financial inclusion.

Denver: What you’re doing here really plays into your theory of change, which is connecting people to networks. Explain that to us.

Shamina: It’s really interesting. It’s very simple if you start to think about it, but it’s not something I thought about every day. But the truth is that there are these informal and formal networks that drive the modern economy. They’re either social networks like Facebook, like SnapChat, things like that. There are physical networks like water, electricity, Internet.  And then there are these virtual networks like your banking account if you’re transacting online. You’re buying and selling online – commerce. Letters of recommendation and referral. These things that connect you up into possibility, and to what we call productivity, that allow you to maximize your own talents and resources. So if you think about these networks, there are a lot of barriers to these networks. There are a lot of enablers to these networks, and there are a lot of barriers.

So, what the Center is really trying to do is look at these networks in a very scientific way, but also a very real, methodical way to say, “How do we figure out how to break down the barriers to the various networks that stop people from reaching their economic potential?” Or more focused, “How do we help business and entrepreneurs, in particular, reach their full potential as business owners?”

Denver: Interesting. Before we get too deep into the work of the Center, MasterCard is a bit of an enigma to many people. Some people think it’s a credit card company; other people think it’s a bank. Perhaps it’s neither. What is MasterCard?

Shamina: I think it’s a great question to level set for everybody. It’s interesting because I’m somebody who comes out of the public sector. So I spent my whole life working for labor unions, for grassroots activist organizations, for the government. So if you would have told me…I don’t even know 10 or 15 years ago… that I’d be working for a company that basically connects buyers and sellers through technology. I wouldn’t have predicted it in a hundred years.

But again, if you think about the power of that technology, and that’s really what MasterCard is. It’s the rails that connect buyers and sellers who can’t see each other. So for example, if you shop online at any platform company… or Etsy… or whatever, and you swipe that card or you tap that phone or whatever, that information, usually, if you’re using a MasterCard, goes on that network, and they will transfer the information that says, “You’re Denver, I’m Shamina, you have money in your account, you want to get money from his account to purchase a product, let’s go ahead, make this transaction happen.” And it happens in less than a blink of an eye. So, that’s some serious technology, and it’s in 212 places around the world, connecting billions of people with millions of banks and opportunities to buy and sell.

Denver: Speaking of billions of people, as we said, there are 2 billion people who are currently locked out of any form of financial system. What are some of the barriers they face that prevent them from being included?

Shamina: I’ll give you a really personal example. And just to put perspective on 2 billion, by the way, so think about 7 billion people in the world, 2 billion completely cut off, but probably 4 billion who are off and on, inside the formal and the informal economy. That’s important because for me personally, I’m a first generation – my parents are from India.  And when my mother was born, she was born without formal identification. So it’s a little known fact that not every country in the world provides a piece of paper that says, “I’m Shamina Singh, this is where I’m born, this is who I say I am.”

When you don’t have that recognition from a government or from some sort of third party entity, it’s really hard to do things like go to college, go to school, get a bank account, get connected up into a network that gives you access beyond your own geographical space. So that’s what financial exclusion is really about. It’s about the inability and the problems that come when you’re confined geographically to where you live, and you can’t really transact beyond yourself or beyond the person next to you because all you have is a currency – a piece of paper, cash, whatever. So if you’re not included in a financial economy, you’re really living in a world that is very confined.

So that’s what financial exclusion is really about. It’s about the inability and the problems that come when you’re confined geographically to where you live, and you can’t really transact beyond yourself or beyond the person next to you because all you have is a currency – a piece of paper, cash, whatever. So if you’re not included in a financial economy, you’re really living in a world that is very confined.

Denver: Yes. I think in the case of your mom, they use a rope to keep track of her age.

Shamina: Yes. You’ve done your research. Oh, my gosh. Yes. So at that time, for girls in the village, they would tie a knot …around the time you’re born and every year… to try to keep track. But if you think about it– Think about my mother. Just staying with that example for a second.. and this idea for networks.

She was born in a village in India. Didn’t have a birth certificate. Grew up in the village and grew up in Delhi. Married my father. They had an arranged marriage… and which was also very productive because I have four sisters, so that was a good thing. But moving from the village to the city, moving from the city, my father moved to the United States to complete his education.  He moved from an area of, at the time, lower productivity, to an area of higher productivity to reach more maximum levels. He brought my mother over with the children and brought us to a place that allowed us to reach even more of our potential.

So it’s really a human example of how networks drive the modern economy. And the closer you are to networks that allow you to achieve your potential or your gifts or your talents, the more successful you’ll be.

The closer you are to networks that allow you to achieve your potential or your gifts or your talents, the more successful you’ll be.

Denver: Well, a good example of that. Does technology play a role in financial inclusion… getting more people included?  And if so, how?

Shamina: Technology is a massive enabler of financial inclusion. I mean, I’ll tell you, and you know this probably from all of your shows and everything you do that this is an enormous time of change. But it’s an enormous time for opportunity. So there is this enormous convergence of technology with things like data, with things like artificial intelligence, but also this enormous need, this enormous amount of human suffering that’s still happening around the world. We have all the tools at our disposal to solve these problems, or at least address the challenges. So what makes me very interested in this work, and to get back to your question about technology, is that we have an enormous enabler of human potential called technology that exists today, that’s constantly changing.

Technology is a massive enabler of financial inclusion…We have an enormous enabler of human potential called technology that exists today, that’s constantly changing.

Denver: Let’s say I’m illiterate. How can technology help me become part of the financial system?

Shamina: If you can’t read, and frankly, this is something we’ve come across in a lot of our work, you have voice recognition sometimes. In some of our projects, especially with government social subsidy programs, a lot of times, we will allow the registration for the program to include a voice recognition… so that if you want to draw down your benefit, or if you want to make a banking transaction, you can simply dial the number on your phone and say, “Hi, I’m Shamina Singh,” voice ID, and then the money comes straight into your account, and then you can start to transact using either your phone or a card or whatever it is that’s easy for you.

Denver: Very cool. A topic that I know interests you deeply is the cost of cash, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Took me awhile to get my arms around that. What is the cost of cash?

Shamina: I know. Did you ever think that there are costs to cash? Here’s what’s interesting about cash. Cash has no friends. Unless there’s some reason why you want to transact in a way that is without identification or without trace. So in that community, cash has a lot of friends.

Denver: In the sketchy community.

Shamina: Well, potentially. The cost of cash, if you think about it—And we’ve actually done studies to show that from a country perspective, it can cost a country anywhere from 0.05% of their GDP all the way to 2% of GDP, depending on how much time, energy, effort, is spent driving cash somewhere, having people guard the cash, transacting in cash in a way that means, depending on where you are, you have to have an enormous amount of security around that cash. Then you have to bundle up the cash at the end of the day, put it in a bag, or do whatever you’re going to do, and then hope that nobody sees you going to your bank to make that late-night deposit into the late-night deposit box. That’s just one example.

…we wanted to really focus on financial inclusion because at the end of the day, not only do we want to make sure people are connected up into the formal economy, but we want to make sure that MasterCard as a business entity isn’t so focused on the top 1% of the world and then they leave everybody else behind.

Denver: Sure. Standing online. All those things. A lot of time involved.

Shamina: A lot of time involved. If you think about maybe for countries who may get their benefits or may get their paychecks and things like that in more physical form, people spend days waiting in line to get their check or their voucher.  And especially with this refugee crisis, you can only imagine how much time people are spending… and how dangerous it is to get your refugee aid or your humanitarian aid in the form of money. Maybe you’re living in a camp and so you’re surrounded by people who are in a very tough predicament. So there are enormous physical costs to cash and economic costs of cash, and what we found is that 85% of transactions in the world today are still done in cash. Only 15% are actually digital. So if you think of a company like MasterCard, that’s an enormous amount of actual running room in terms of the business proposition, which is also the other reason why we wanted to really focus on financial inclusion because at the end of the day, not only do we want to make sure people are connected up into the formal economy, but we want to make sure that MasterCard as a business entity isn’t so focused on the top 1% of the world and then they leave everybody else behind.

Denver: So your competition really is not Visa, it’s cash.

Shamina: Well, I don’t know about that. But if you think about the enormous business opportunity, it’s a world where you really want people to go digital.

Denver: Well, at MasterCard Center, you set a goal to get 500 million more people included in the financial system by 2020. That is one ambitious goal. What exactly will you do to see that will happen?

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Eric Kessler, the Founder and Senior Managing Director of Arabella Advisors Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Eric Kessler, the Founder and Senior Managing Director of Arabella Advisors, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Eric Kessler

Denver: There are not many harder decisions than to start an organization, see it grow and prosper, and then, while still remaining involved with it, decide to hire a CEO to run it so you can pursue something else that has captivated you. But that is more or less the story of my next guest. He is Eric Kessler, the Founder, and now Senior Managing Director of the Good Food Practice at Arabella Advisors. Good evening, Eric, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

 

Eric Kessler: Thank you so much.

Denver: Tell us about Arabella Advisors, how you got it started, and the mission and work of the organization.

Eric: I started Arabella Advisors out of a personal experience with philanthropy. I came from a very philanthropic family and recognized early on how hard it is to be good at giving money away. Through the frustrations that I faced as a young philanthropist, I decided to build a firm that provided a set of support services to some of the nation’s most significant philanthropists – families, individuals, big corporate foundations, and large institutional foundations. And we as a firm wake up every day to help philanthropists have the greatest impact possible with our resources.

I think that the next decade of philanthropy is going to be all about partnerships between donors.  It’s going to be about different vehicles for getting things done; it’s going to be about market-based solutions.  And thankfully, it’s going to be about a massive influx of resources into the social sector.

Denver: Looking at the future of philanthropy for a moment, are you observing anything now that might provide a window on where philanthropy is headed over the next 5 to 10 years?

Eric: Well, if we look at where it’s been, it’s pretty remarkable the transition that we’ve already made in the last 10 years. When I started Arabella 12 years ago, the words ‘impact investing’ didn’t exist. The Gates Foundation was a small family foundation. Warren Buffett hadn’t really entered the scene as a philanthropist. And the last decade has really seen a huge transformation in philanthropy.

Now what we’re seeing is younger generations getting involved, the blurring of the lines between for-profit and nonprofit, donors thinking about new and creative structures for their philanthropy. It’s not all about setting up a foundation. There are different finance vehicles and different ways to have impact. And so, I think that the next decade of philanthropy is going to be all about partnerships between donors. It’s going to be about different vehicles for getting things done; it’s going to be about market-based solutions. And thankfully, it’s going to be about a massive influx of resources into the social sector.

Denver: Sounds exciting. So as I mentioned, you stepped away from leading the organization and decided to look at Good Food. What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Eric: Well, I stepped away as part of the original plan with the firm, which was, I knew that after 10 years, having no prior experience as a consultant or running a business for that matter, I would have gotten it as far as I could. So I decided early on that at the 10-year mark, my partner and I should really relinquish day-to-day management to somebody who had a different skill set and different perspective and fresh ideas.

That coincided with my growing interest in the food sector, so I had the opportunity to move out of that chair and into a new one that I created, allowing me to work with our clients that care most about our food system. That, for me, came from several years of work with some of the biggest foundations focused in that area, and a real fascination with the notion that our food system is really at the root of so many problems in our society – from immigration issues to human rights issues, to economic development and jobs, to women’s health, to community development and economic development. So, yes, I care about food, but I also care about the impact that our food system has on all of these other deep-rooted challenges in our society.

I had the opportunity to work with a number of clients over the years. It came time for this transition, and I had asked myself:  Am I going to go sailing?  Or am I going to dive into food full time? and I—

Denver: Decided to do both.

Eric: I’m doing both as it turns out. But principally food.

Our food system is deeply broken in many ways. If you look at the entire good food supply chain, from how food is grown and produced, to how it’s picked and delivered and  purchased and consumed, there are serious issues at every step of the way.

Denver: Right. Well, there’s increasingly more and more talk, Eric, about systems change. How you can no longer optimize one part and then optimize another. You first must understand how they relate to one another and how the system works before you can make effective change. So let me ask you: Is our food system broken, and if so, how is it broken?

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Dan Cardinali, President and CEO of Independent Sector, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dan Cardinali, President and CEO of Independent Sector, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Dan Cardinali © Independent Sector

Denver: It is always so interesting to hear from the leaders of nonprofit organizations about the work they do around a particular issue and the lives that are being transformed as a result. But it is also essential to take a step back now and again to understand the dynamics of the sector in which this work is going on and the issues that impact all of these organizations. We cannot find a better person to do that with than my next guest. He is Dan Cardinali, the President and CEO of the Independent Sector. Good evening, Dan, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Dan Cardinali: Denver, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Denver: Give our listeners some of the history of the Independent Sector and of the organization’s mission and goals.

Dan: Independent Sector was founded 37 years ago by a social entrepreneur, John Gardner, who was really a public intellectual. He had been in the for-profit, nonprofit, academia, a chronic social entrepreneur who founded many organizations. He realized that there was this very important role for the founding of the Independent Sector to be an organization that brought philanthropy and nonprofits together into a vital meeting ground where it was non-transactional. It was about understanding where the world was and how civil society can come together and solve problems, build culture, preserve the natural environment, and then to translate that activity into good public policy… So the sector could be a real force for good, but partnering with government and with business in transforming the world.

Denver: Most people, I don’t think, fully appreciate the scope and breadth of this sector in the United States. Why don’t you describe it to us?

Dan: Sure. The name goes — you hear social sector, you hear charitable sector, you hear nonprofit, they’re all basically the same. There are about 1.6 million nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in the United States. They range from the zoos to museums, to the food banks, to churches, to synagogues, to all sorts of wonderful think tanks that produce incredibly important ideas. These 1.6 million organizations make up the nonprofit sector.

I don’t think most folks know that 1 in 10 Americans are actually employed by the social sector. If you think about the 63 million volunteers every year this country has, 1 in 4 Americans is actively involved in this sector. So we generate about $ ½  trillion dollars of economic activity, and if you look at that volunteer time alone, it’s worth almost $200 billion of value. So it is in a robust, dynamic part of American life and American economy.

Nonprofits, small as they may be, provide a really important opportunity for citizens to continually engage with each other, solve problems, and improve the community.

Denver: You just mentioned there are about 1.6 million nonprofits, and I think we have about 320 million people in the country right now – so doing some quick math, that’s about one nonprofit for every 200 people. Do you think the sector would benefit, be more efficient and effective, with a little bit of consolidation?

Dan: I think that is kind of a nonprofit-by-nonprofit reflective question. One thing that you can see is, efficiency does matter when you’re using and stewarding resources on behalf of community. So in so far as you can create efficiencies, and if consolidation enables you to do that, that’s terrific. An organization I used to work with– Communities in Schools– we saw some consolidation over the years when you had a number of very small rural affiliates unable to get the kind of critical mass that an economy of scale by consolidation promoted. And they were able to hire even better staff, build the kinds of technology systems that enabled them to be much more analytical, and then therefore, better services to kids.

However, there’s something in America that’s incredibly important. This notion of association– Individual citizens making decisions about coming together and solving problems or promoting culture or preserving the environment.

Nonprofits, small as they may be, provide a really important opportunity for citizens to continually engage with each other, solve problems, and improve the community. So you want to be careful with a blanket statement, like, “We need to consolidate!” as much as: “What are we trying to get accomplished?  And how do we get an organizational structure strong enough to help us really achieve that vision?”

Denver: So taking the entirety of this vast and multi-faceted and fascinating sector, what is the unique role that the Independent Sector plays and the distinct contribution that you make, Dan?

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Adarsh Alphons, Founder and Executive Director of ProjectArt Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Adarsh Alphons, Founder and Executive Director of ProjectArt and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Adarsh Alphons © LinkedIn

Denver: You get to hear from the CEOs of some of the best known and well-established non-profit organizations in the country most every single week. But there are some newer and lesser known ones that are beginning to have a profound impact and are reimagining the sector in fresh and creative ways. One of those would be ProjectArt. With us this evening is their Founder and Executive Director, Adarsh Alphons. Good evening, Adarsh, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Adarsh Alphons: Happy to be here, Denver. Thanks for having me.

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

Adarsh: ProjectArt seeks to unleash the creative power in libraries nationwide by putting art classes in them and offering studio space to emerging artists.

Denver: You may be the only person that I’ve had on this show, Adarsh, who was, or at least admits to, having been expelled from school at the ripe old age of 7. What in the world were you doing?

Adarsh: It began with a very unfortunate situation of– I didn’t realize that I was going to be sitting here and mentioning– telling this and sharing this with everyone else we have listening, but I was kicked out of school when I was 7 years old because I drew in every class. It’s something that I resorted to because I had a tendency to draw, and I wasn’t understanding what was going on in class. I wasn’t coping, and that drawing was my way of  finding my headspace.  And I got kicked out of school because I wasn’t doing anything but that.

I grew up in India, and this is in Delhi, and the environment was such that didn’t necessarily support arts. But I knew drawing gave me the free space and the liberty through which to find myself and to learn. You know doodling is a way of learning, they found recently.

Denver: Yes. It’s good for the brain, as a matter of fact, I hear. It actually increases blood flow to the parts of the brain which is where rewards are… and things of that sort. But you went to another school, and that is where everything changed for you.

Adarsh: Yes. So having been kicked out of the school, my parents took me to a different school where I got into trouble again. I was taken to the principal. Basically, this would be the last stop before I was kicked out again. The principal said, “Well, you know, Adarsh, look, clearly you like to draw… I have no idea what you’re drawing, but that’s okay. Also, study. Do your drawing, but also study. Draw as much as you want, but make sure you learn something too. I felt validated. I felt I had a license to be myself. Here I was… a kid who had trouble learning and coping, and now, from someone who was authoritative in the school, the principal, I had a license to be myself. My grades went up. I started to draw a lot, and I took to drawing. I took to finishing my subjects on time. Yes, I had radical improvement of grades.

There I was a few weeks later, giving this drawing in person to Nelson Mandela, who has now since passed, so the opportunity will not come again. But I also realized — and I was 10 years old at that time — I realized if I had stopped drawing, I would never have had a chance to meet someone so cool and so great. At that moment, it was just beyond fathoming what it was. It’s like meeting Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It’s insane.

Denver: Wow, so art really saved your life in many ways, and this culminated for you with a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Tell us how that came about.

Adarsh: At 7, I was kicked out of school. This was early ‘90s. In ‘94, Mandela became President of South Africa. It was a big moment globally, so I remember. And in ’95, he was visiting India, so I did these drawings of him based on television interviews and magazine covers just on a piece of paper, showed it to Dad.  Dad said, “Show it to your principal since she’s a fan of your work.” So I said, “Okay.” So I took it to Madam Simmon… that’s her name. And she said, “Oh, Adarsh, guess what! Actually, next month, Mandela is visiting Delhi, and we have some kids from school going to greet him at a hotel, and you should come along with us because we have the best athlete here; we have the best academic student. What we don’t have is someone that is a creative, and we have to show the breadth of what we bring to the next generation. Creativity is a part of it.” So I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

There I was a few weeks later, giving this drawing in person to Nelson Mandela, who has now since passed, so the opportunity will not come again. But I also realized — and I was 10 years old at that time — I realized if I had stopped drawing, I would never have had a chance to meet someone so cool and so great. At that moment, it was just beyond fathoming what it was. It’s like meeting Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It’s insane.

Denver: It’s beyond me right now, as a matter of fact, even as you’re talking about it. Well, knowing how arts can transform a life because it transformed yours — you come to America, and you take a look at the art scenes in the public schools of this country. Let’s start with New York City. How available are the arts across the system?

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