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Georgia Levenson Keohane, Author of Capital And The Common Good, joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Georgia Levenson Keohane, Executive Director of the Pershing Square Foundation & Author of Capital And The Common Good, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

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Georgia Levenson Keohane

Denver: When the gap between the aspirations of the global community to find solutions to the world’s most urgent social and environmental problems and the resources available to address them is so wide, what are we to do? My next guest suggests it may not simply be a case of more capital, but smarter capital. She is Georgia Levenson Keohane, a Professor of Social Enterprise at Columbia University, the Executive Director of the Pershing Square Foundation, and the author of Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems. Good evening, Georgia, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Georgia: Thank you for having me!

Denver: You know, in the very title of your book, you speak of innovative finance, and one of the key distinctions you make is between that and financial innovation. What is that distinction?  And give us some examples of each.

Georgia: So the distinction between innovative finance– what I essentially define as financial tools and instruments that are used to serve the public good and to solve problems– and financial innovation is an important one. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, Paul Volcker famously said, “The only real innovation in finance that’s ever been useful was the ATM.” And his point was that fancy engineering, shiny new tools in finance… whether they’re speed trading or very complicated derivatives that are really just for efficiency and profitability sake… aren’t necessarily designed to solve problems or to meet the needs of people. And in my book, I explore ways in what I would call innovative finance, which is taking some of the time-tested tools of finance– whether it’s products like insurance or basic lending– and really using them in ways that we haven’t seen to solve problems for the poor and the underserved.

Denver: An important distinction. Well, the impetus for this book came about in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. How did that spur your interest in this topic?

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Georgia:  I was reminded of it when I came down to your studio today in Lower Manhattan. In October of 2012, I had just put my earlier book on social entrepreneurship to rest. That book really explored very colorful, charismatic changemakers – people like Wendy Kopp who had founded Teach For America, or Cheryl Dorsey who was at the helm of Echoing Green – and I was really thinking about social change in those terms. And Sandy, as all of you in the New York area and on the Northeast corridor know, was a really  unprecedented hurricane that in New York City, where I’m born and bred, flooded our subway system and really shut down the entire city… and among other things, put a close on the artery of the city, the lifeline, which is our subway. This massive storm surge in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere inundated the tracks and corroded the pretty ancient wiring, and I was pretty surprised to see… and very happy to observe… that very quickly, the MTA had the subways back up and running.

And what I came to learn afterwards was that actually risk managers in the bowels of the MTA – so not the people you see at the social entrepreneurship conferences, not the sort of Wendy Kopps of the world, but people who are really working day in and day out thinking about risk – had discovered that the subways and the public transportation systems in New York had suffered $5 billion in damage from the storm and were therefore uninsurable in the traditional market. So without insurance, the subways and the busses, the subways in particular, would not have been able to restore service.

What they did was they went to what I would call a municipal finance first, a very creative and innovative use of finance. They went to the catastrophe bond markets, the CAT bond markets, which are typically used as a way to reinsure– not necessarily public transport or even public sector utilities– but really using the private markets. And this got me thinking a lot more. I said, “Wow. This is really creative. This is really innovative. This is entrepreneurial.” and “Are there examples where people are looking to the private capital markets to unlock sources of funds to solve social problems?”

And as you said in your introduction, I eventually came to think of this not just as unlocking more capital in some ways, but really unlocking smarter capital. And what I mean by that are new sources of funding or new financial mechanisms that help us make better decisions and investments for the long term.

Now, we all know that prevention pays. And what I mean by that is that we know, for example, that vaccines are infinitely cheaper than full-blown disease. Tackling even a full-blown disease or an outbreak is infinitely cheaper than dealing with an epidemic or a pandemic, and this is true across a range of issues.

Denver: Well, you started your book with a very vivid example of how this can work in the case of vaccine bonds in the U.K. Walk us through that and the impact that it has had.

Georgia: So in some ways, I went from thinking that “This isn’t just about more capital. This is about smarter capital.” And then I realized maybe this isn’t really about money at all. What this really is about are things like trust, really about things like time and time transfer. So, for millennia, finance has given us instruments that are really about what economists call intertemporal transfer. So borrowing from our future selves… and our hope that we will be able to have resources in the future, and essentially frontloading or bringing that money forward to today to solve problems or pay for needs for today.

Denver: Or to live in my house.

Georgia: Or to live in your house. And the mortgage is a classic example where we’re borrowing from our future selves and our future earnings to make down payments and then pay incrementally over time. Now, we all know that prevention pays. And what I mean by that is that we know, for example, that vaccines are infinitely cheaper than full-blown disease. Tackling even a full-blown disease or an outbreak is infinitely cheaper than dealing with an epidemic or a pandemic, and this is true across a range of issues. This is true if we think about job training versus mass incarceration, if we think about early childhood education versus subsequent job training, or even if we think about  that investments in low carbon technologies are expensive, but they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than trying to deal with the long-term and catastrophic effects of climate change.

Denver: Yes. The ROIs are off the charts.

Georgia: The ROIs are off the charts, but we don’t always have either the incentives or the ability to make those very cost-effective investments in prevention today.

So, interestingly, I came upon an example and I started to look at these… as you mentioned, IFFIm, the International Financing Facility for Immunization, where essentially the UK government partnered with some folks at Goldman Sachs. Actually, I was just in the UK last week and got to reconnect with Christopher Egerton-Warbuton, who was leading the team at Goldman Sachs. What they basically did after 2000 when the world got very excited about  the Millennial Development Goals and ambitious global goals in health and economic development. The world and many countries, including the UK, made these really ambitious and spectacular commitments to solve some of these problems and then said, “Lo and behold, we don’t necessarily have the funding to do this, but can we think about finance?” And in the case of IFFIm, it turned out that there were a number of countries, the UK included, that actually had made very substantial and multi-year commitments to development aid. Some of them… even over 20 years. What the Goldman team with the UK Treasuries sorted out—and these were people who’d really had a lot of expertise in structured finance, that were used to issuing bonds, and used to thinking about how we frontload money—they basically said, “Can we take those 20-year aid commitments and frontload them and issue bonds against them, and come up with a financing facility that allows us to raise bonds against those multi-year pledges?  

They worked with the Gavi Alliance, which focuses on vaccines for the world’s poorest, for diseases that are really preventable. Those diseases have an 18% ROI. And since 2006—it took a few years for IFFIm to get up and running—they’ve raised almost $5 billion for vaccines for some of these global diseases. And parenthetically, that financing facility model is now being considered for refugee populations, for other issues of woman and maternal health. It’s a little complicated to structure, but the hope is that it offers a model for really taking multi-year aid commitments for the future and using that money today.

…it was not just what people were paying for but how they were paying for it that struck me as the real innovation in some ways.

Denver: You’ve also seen innovative finance at work in places like Kenya where maybe about 80% of the country are using mobile money on their mobile phones.  But my goodness! So many people are off the electrical grid and depend upon kerosene for lighting. How has innovative finance played a role in that case?

Georgia: A terrific question. When I embarked on this book, a number said, “Oh, you’re writing about innovative finance. You must be talking about mobile money.” This is really a book in some ways about technology, and we’re assuming that you’re looking at the M-Pesa story in Kenya and now elsewhere. Ten years ago, Safaricom entered the Kenyan market; no one had phones. Now, 80% of the population, as you say, have phones, and about 70% of that group are using those phones for mobile money. They use M-Pesa, which is essentially a payment system. And I thought that was very interesting.

But the more I looked at M-Pesa, something like 40% of the Kenyan GDP does flow through the M-Pesa platform. So digital money is clearly transforming the economy there and what we would consider financial inclusion. And by the way, that’s no longer just remittances – people can pay school fees, people can pay for water, people can pay taxes, people can pay nearly everything. But as I start to look at this more closely, I realized that in fact, it was not just what people were paying for but how they were paying for it that struck me as the real innovation in some ways.

So you brought up the point that maybe 80% of the population now can use mobile money, but they don’t have electricity. So they’re still off the grid, and they’re still using single-use batteries, and they’re using lanterns, and they’re using kerosene for their energy needs. And as you know, things like kerosene are not only toxic and it burns; it’s a huge source of global warming, and it’s very expensive.

Denver: It’s very dangerous.

Georgia: Very dangerous. The only reason people can afford it is because they are buying it in small batches. And there have been huge efforts in the global community to introduce solar and other forms of alternative energy affordably, but the issue is that no one has gotten it down affordably. So if you, for example, are a family in Kenya and you’re paying $200 a year or more– which many are for kerosene– it clearly makes economic sense—and these families know this; they’re rational actors—to make an investment of $199 to install a solar panel. The issue is that no one has $199 up front.

So fast forward, M-KOPA is the first. There are now several and actually at Pershing Square Foundation, we are invested in one called Angaza, which are pay-as-you-go financing companies, mostly focused on solar… although you could do this for really almost anything – you could do it for water, you could do it for books – that allow families to pay as you go, essentially do micro-leasing or installment payments for these solar panels that suddenly allow them to pay in increments for something that was otherwise unaffordable. And by the way, that pay-as-you-go mechanism in this whole field has, in the case of solar, increased solar option by fourfold. But as we were discussing, you could imagine applying this—it doesn’t just need to be solar. You could imagine books that people are sort of paying as you go per chapter. You can imagine it for water and for medical needs. So, again, people have been paying layaway for centuries; that sort of incremental financing is nothing new. But to me, bringing that basic utility of finance to underserved populations– that makes it a real innovation.

Denver: And that’s also happened here closer to home. There’s a similar situation– although different– with MetroCards here in New York City. Now, how has that one been addressed?

Georgia: Absolutely! I thought of it this morning when I hopped on the C train to come down to your studio. So that trip, if I had just walked into the subway, would’ve cost me $2.75. And if you think about most commuters in the New York area, they’re probably doing two of those trips a day… so maybe 500 times a year, and that adds up. That’s a lot money. Of course, for me, I have a monthly pass and my kids have discounted student MetroCards and everything else – and so, fortunately, there is a very substantial discount if you’re a regular commuter.

The unfortunate situation– and exactly analogous to the issue of solar panel installation– is that that discount costs you $116 upfront each month. And by the way, and not surprisingly, that $116—and as we were discussing earlier, the fare is going to go up—that $116 is really cost-prohibitive to many New Yorkers or many people even in the tri-state area who are coming in.

So it turns out—and in the old days, we used to think of intercities and poverty concentrated in the city center. Of course, now, people live far distances from the city and are commuting to work and commuting to school. So, again, ultimately, this is a problem you would imagine that the MTA or other government entities would be dealing with, but you have some very innovative startups. I looked at one called Alice Financial, which is essentially a FinTech startup, but they’re really focused on the needs of the underserved. And I said, “This is crazy! We could essentially come up with a layaway program where people can pay for the discount in weekly increments.” So they don’t need the $116 up front and they can pay us and they charge a little bit of float, but it’s only enough that they can essentially recirculate it and run the company. And again, they let people pay on—you can pay on your phone and you can do most of it digitally. But I think that this sort of pay-as-you-go mechanism, which did grow out of the—it’s one of the cases where we really imported this from emerging—

Denver: Reverse innovation.

Georgia: Reverse innovation. It could be transformative. And by the way, as I said, I was in the U.K. this week. So New Yorkers overpay, in aggregate, $500,000 a day because they’re not getting the discount. I was just in U.K. this week and last weekend in London; it’s even more.  So the same thing. This is a very large-scale problem.

…what IFMR Trust is really clear about is that: it’s this person and it’s the human interface and it’s the trust piece that will actually work with individuals and families to make sure that they’re adopting the right products.

But I do think that we sort of lose sight of the fact that that human connection is really vital to make this all work.

Denver: And with these great, new innovative ways for people to improve their lives and those of their families… they just don’t automatically happen, do they, Georgia? I mean, sometimes you need a person to be in there and try to encourage people to take these actions.

Georgia: Exactly. I think the Angaza and the M-Pesa and even the Alice Financial stories, in some ways… people have said to me, “Wow. What you’re talking about are the technology plays – are you essentially saying that innovative finance is the same thing as innovative technology, and it’s just a technology play?” And I think it’s tempting. We all have these hopes and these aspirations somehow that we’re going to have really technological solutions to all of our needs and all of our problems. And in the course of writing this book and my working out of Pershing, I’ve spent some time with what I would consider some really innovative financial service organizations, both in India, by the way, and here in the US, that have thought a lot about how you use technology to improve financial inclusion.

I’ll tell a quick story about an organization called IFMR Trust, which is in India and works as a microfinance in rural India. They were very much initially into lending business and then got into other products and services, which everyone has hoped that microfinance would do, whether it’s pensions or saving products or insurance products or otherwise. They had a client—this was a few years ago—and she was an agricultural laborer and she had come regularly to IFMR for gold loans. Essentially, she would use her jewelry as collateral and they would give her loans and she would go on her way – a very common practice in India and other parts of the developing world. And she, one day, severely unfortunately, is walking to work and also not all that uncommon, is hit by an oncoming truck and is killed. And IFMR discovers that she had five dependents at home.  So she was supporting her parents; her husband had left her; she had two children, also supporting a sibling. And of course what this woman really needed – not a gold loan – was life insurance, and that’s what her family needed.

In the case of IFMR, they actually had life insurance in their product offering, but they did not fully understand her financial needs. They have since really revolutionized  how they think about offering products and services, and they have a community wealth manager who goes door-to-door. They use a tablet. They collect all sorts of financial information about households.  And then through an algorithm, they’re able to determine what products you really need. The person who’s selling it is paid or compensated accordingly, so they’re not selling the wrong products, et cetera. But what IFMR Trust is really clear about is that:  it’s this person and it’s the human interface and it’s the trust piece that will actually work with individuals and families to make sure that they’re adopting the right products.

By the way, and parenthetically, I was relaying the story of the IFMR case to some colleagues of mine in Columbia, and they said, “Well, you must know Justine Zinkin at Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners in Upper Manhattan,” and I said, “I know a little bit.” And they said, “Go up and talk to Justine.” And Justine told me almost an extremely similar story, which is Neighborhood Trust is a very innovative organization. They’re working with all kinds of underserved populations in Upper Manhattan. They have developed a terrific socially responsible credit card. They have developed an app that helps people save. They are now working with companies to really think innovatively about payroll technology and how you could essentially– almost in real time– make sure people get paid rather than having to wait every couple of weeks… so real innovations that involve technology.

And I asked Justine, I said, “Well, for your customers, for your clients, what do you think is the most popular? You have all these technological solutions. It’s awesome!” And she said, “Well, you know it all hinges on Marisol.” When we surveyed, they said Marisol. And so of course, I have my geeky professor hat and a former consultant, and I said, “Oh, Marisol! That must be an acronym, like measurement, accountability…” And she said, “No. Marisol is a lady who lives in Washington Heights who’s convincing people that it’s okay to take the money out from under their mattresses; they’re not going to get deported, and they can actually engage in the financial services sector in a productive way.”

And so it became very clear to me.. and I call it in the book FITT just because I like acronyms, but it’s “finance, innovation, technology and trust.” There are two Ts there. But I do think that we sort of lose sight of the fact that that human connection is really vital to make this all work.

Denver: The trusted neighbor. We depend on other people’s recommendations before we take an action,  and particularly when it comes to your money.  These things will not sell themselves.

Georgia: These things will not sell themselves.

Denver: Well, let’s turn our attention to insurance. And there’s a kind of insurance entity, I guess, which is owned by the African Union, and it’s called African Risk Capacity. How does that work?  And what are some of the advantages of it?

Georgia: So again, nothing new about insurance. Insurance as a product has existed for hundreds of years, in some cases thousands of years, and we saw that with  Greek shipping fleets had insurance. So not new. I think where the ARC, the African Risk Capacity example becomes very interesting is that for years, the disaster response system—and on the radio, it’s hard to see what air quotes around a word like “system”—essentially meant  if you experience a drought, and let’s say you’re in the sub-Saharan Africa, you’re in the Sahel. And Sahel in the last decade has experienced at least three major and really devastating droughts. And again, it’s like the discussion we had about the investments and prevention, so drought does not inevitably lead to famine and widespread catastrophe, but unless we respond soon enough, it will.

And so again, the “system” for international humanitarian relief when it came to drought—but this is true for all kinds of things including pandemics like Ebola, which we saw a few years ago—was that countries had experienced drought, insufficient rainfall, go to the UN, go the donor community, issue an appeal, and then months later at best, if at all, the donor community would respond. And at that point, often, drought had metastasized into famine and into really widespread hardship.

Two years ago—a few years actually, we’re coming up on the third year—a number of countries in the African Union came together and they said, “There has to be a different way that we can respond to this. And what about insurance? Is it possible, for example, to use a satellite technology in the sky that can help us… and proxies on the ground, help us very early detect insufficient rainfall? And can we put together a pool of countries…” And by the way, it turns out, which wouldn’t have occurred to me necessarily, that countries in the Sahel, their rates of drought are uncorrelated, so you actually can ensure a pool of countries and have it be more diversified than I would’ve thought. And these countries now pay in a relatively small premium in drought insurance.  As soon as the satellite technology indicates insufficient rainfall – and this is an African Union-owned insurance company, so this isn’t a foreign entity – the payouts are triggered, and those payouts shave months off of the response time.

Denver: Makes all the difference in the world.

Georgia: Right. And that’s not like you and me waiting for our auto claims to come back. I mean, that’s really the difference in these situations between life and death.

Denver: And you can’t really depend on these appeals anymore. A lot of the countries never fulfill their pledges. And there are so many things going on in the world, they’re not even getting close to what they’re hoping to achieve.

Georgia: Right. Even if you could, even the best intentions. As you say, there are multiple appeals; there are multiple issues as we saw very tragically in the case of Ebola, for example. MSF in March 2014 sends the alarm about Ebola. The World Health Organization does not declare a medical emergency until August, and funds don’t start to flow until November. Well, just to put it out there, it’s too late or it becomes—it’s like we talked about– hockey sticks in a good way in the investment community.

But the World Health Organization by its own estimate said, “It would’ve cost, had we intervened to try to contain the outbreak, in April, it would’ve cost $5 million, by July, $100 million, and by October, $1 billion.” And again, Ebola is about tens of thousands of lives…it is a human tragedy. I don’t mean to just quantify it in monetary terms, but the value of prevention is clear. And by the way, the World Bank, under the leadership of Dr. Jim Kim who is a physician, has created a pandemic financing facility, sort of based in some ways on ARC.

Denver: Let me ask you about one more of these, and those would be social impact bonds, and we’ve discussed that a lot on the show.  Perhaps you can tell us how they work through the example of the Nurse Family Partnership and the partnership that they have with the state of South Carolina.

Georgia: Social impact bonds, which are, as you know, not really bonds. They’re Pay for Success instruments. They’re basically contracts. The idea, again, comes back to this idea of prevention. So we know prevention pays, whether it’s reducing recidivism, which is what the first social impact bonds were modeled – Peterborough and then Rikers in New York City, and then there’s the New York City State Bonds – so whether it’s sort of investing to keep people—investing in prisoners once they leave jail so that they don’t re-commit crimes and aren’t reincarcerated.  Or whether it’s in early childhood education. Peterborough is in 2010, we now have about 60 social impact bonds globally, and they have moved, in some cases, much further down the prevention continuum. And I’ll get to the Nurse Family Partnership example that you mentioned, but in some ways, that’s the earliest because that’s maternal health or early childhood where the ROI is huge.

But the basic idea is that we don’t necessarily have the incentives or the motivation or the capacity or the dollars to make those early investments in prevention. So here, the idea is that, in the case of recidivism for example, you bring in private investors, and for the most part, those private investors have been philanthropists.  So Pershing Square Foundation is an investor in the New York State Social Impact Bond. But you essentially bring in those investors to frontload– to loan money to the social service providers, who then provide whatever intervention it is. And then if the intervention works, the investors are repaid out of the social savings of the costs averted, whether it’s the cost of putting people back in prison or in the case of maternal and child health, the cost of not needing additional special services– whether it’s Medicaid or specialized instruction and schools.

It’s a very elegant structure. In practice, some of them, they involve very rigorous measurement and evaluation. They are sort of complex and involve a lot of people and entities at the table, but that’s the basic design. And what it means ultimately, two things: I would say one is the taxpayers are only on the hook for interventions that work, so the government and therefore taxpayer money only repays the investors if they’ve actually seen an improvement; and two, it’s really about evidence-based policy making. So what that means is that there are pretty rigorous measures, whether it’s using a randomized control trial for the control population… or just really evaluating in a very serious and earnest way to say, “We really are only going to fund interventions that have demonstrable…”

Denver: A lot of money on the line, right?

Georgia: A lot of money on the line. And the case that you mentioned with Nurse Family Partnership is probably one of the most rigorously evaluated social and anti-poverty interventions in the US. And the idea is you have  home visits to mothers– typically low-income mothers, but it really could be anyone who are first-time mothers– through their pregnancy… and then with the children to make sure that everyone is getting the health interventions that they need, the social and emotional development that they need, and again, the ROI, the return on investment, from those visits are huge.

So currently, in aggregate, we spend about 40 times the amount responding to disaster that we do in investing in prevention in the first place.

Denver: Let us look to the United Nations 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals because that is really where this thing comes into play, I think in a very central way. I think the aspiration calls for about $3.9 trillion a year to be able to meet those goals by 2030, and perhaps the projected amount of revenues coming in are only going to be about $1.4 trillion. That’s a huge gap. How significant a role do you believe that innovative finance can play in closing that gap?

Georgia: I think that was , again, the initial impetus for this book. And I have colleagues at the Rockefeller Foundation who lead something called the Zero Gap Initiative, and it’s very much focused on closing that and other gaps where the amounts of public capital and philanthropy fall short. So the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, serves as the most pronounced example. They don’t even include some other areas. So the sort of urgency is that we do need these types of new innovative finance approaches to begin to close that gap. I think some of it is creating proof points. So once we have an example of Africa Risk Capacity, for example, or successful social impact bonds or other types of insurance mechanisms that demonstrate that these investments in prevention pay and in some cases– not all– that you can actually earn market or close to market rate returns would demonstrate the value in investments and prevention.

So currently, in aggregate, we spend about 40 times the amount responding to disaster that we do in investing in prevention in the first place. So I think that you will see– or we hope to see– and unlock a little bit of shift in the mindset about when we make investments, which is just a little bit more to my “smarter capital, not just more capital” perspective. The other thing is I think really the large sources of capital, the trillions of dollars are in things like sovereign wealth funds and pension funds and big institutional investments. And if we can start to move that needle a little bit and say, “Can we unlock some of those resources to bear on some of these needs?” We do begin to close in on some of those gaps.

In some ways, I just think it’s a willingness on the part of government actors to be involved in progressive and forward-thinking public-private partnerships. So all of the examples we gave, whether it’s the social impact bonds or IFFIm… they were really government coming together with the nonprofit sector and the private sector in partnership. And I think that that, more than any one policy, is the way to unlock some of these tools.

Denver: Is there a role, Georgia, that government or policymakers can play to help innovative finance optimize its potential?

Georgia: I think we have seen in the US, for example, in recent years, we’ve made some significant advances on how we think about fiduciary responsibility and how we make it clear what’s legal and what’s fine versus what’s been a commonplace practice. So that people and investors and investment managers start to feel a little bit more comfortable in realizing in some cases, they’re not in violation of their fiduciary responsibility to make investments for social good. And by the way, parenthetically, in some cases, they begin to understand that if they are over-exposed to things like carbon-intensive industries, they may actually be in abrogation or violation of their fiduciary responsibility.  So it sort of flips it on its head, I think, ERISA and the other reforms we’ve seen– different regulatory reforms– vis-à-vis pension funds and how they can be invested.

In some ways, I just think it’s a willingness on the part of government actors to be involved in progressive and forward-thinking public-private partnerships. So all of the examples we gave, whether it’s the social impact bonds or IFFIm at the top of the hour, they were really government coming together with the nonprofit sector and the private sector in partnership. And I think that that, more than any one policy, is the way to unlock some of these tools.

Finance is a tool, and it’s not something that we should fetishize, and it’s not an end in itself.

…we have to realize that over time, financial literacy and financial education is critical because debt can be crushing.

Denver: Let’s talk about vaccine bonds one more time that you just referenced. Is borrowing on future aid payments to get cash now for this “ounce of prevention strategy”– which sure seems to make a lot of social and economic sense.  But are there concerns that borrowing on the future like this could cause some strains on the system down the road?

Georgia: So debt is an extremely powerful instrument. And it can be an extreme instrument for good. It can allow someone to become a homeowner for the first time. It can allow people to send their children to school and allow for higher education. We also have seen that debt obviously can be crippling. And sometimes that’s because of nefarious activities, so you have people really making bad loans, and you have people sort of in almost a predatory way—finance is complicated, and the compounding nature of finance makes it not only complicated but potentially crushing if you take on too much debt.

And so I think two thoughts: One is that, again, finance is a tool, and it’s not something that we should fetishize, and it’s not an end in itself. So this is not a book celebrating these instruments; this is a book saying, “This is what these instruments can help us achieve and they are means to an end in terms of financial inclusion and shared prosperity.” But that also means that we have to realize that over time, financial literacy and financial education is critical because debt can be crushing. And that is true of a household, and that is true of a sovereign nation that takes on too much debt. And so I’m mindful that these need to be put in place very sensibly.

Denver: Let me close with this, Georgia. Many of the tools that you’ve discussed in innovative finance are time-tested as you’ve said – lending and insurance and credit enhancement. But they’ve only recently made their way to the social sector. Why do you think it took so long?  And why is it happening now?

Georgia: It’s a good question. I think I probably have two or three answers. I think the first is innovation is born out of necessity, and I think that there is a little bit of doing more with less. So I think as we’ve seen in the US in the wake of the financial crisis, we saw governments, particularly at the state and local level– really with their budgets and their sort of coffers diminished, and so you have to, by necessity, start to look to some of these other partners and these other mechanisms. So one of them is a tool of necessity. I think that that’s for sure.

I do think secondly that there have been in the last generation—my first book touched on this—a real shift  in mindset across the sector– so certainly nonprofit sector; I think in the public sector, but also in the private sector. So in the financial services community, at large corporates where people I think are really understanding that business is a very powerful tool and engine for social change. People who work for large banks or people who work for large companies really now have the expectation that those entities they work for have a responsibility and a mandate to also do good in the world. So many of the people I profile in the book went into finance for sort of conventional reasons, but really, I think pretty early in their careers,  recognized the power of their skills and their tools and the organizations behind them. And I do think that we have seen across industries and across the world a very different convergence in the way of thinking about  who is on the hook and who has the ability to solve problems.

Denver: Great point. Well, Georgia Levenson Keohane, the Executive Director of the Pershing Square Foundation, I want to thank you for appearing on the program this evening. The book again is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems. And for people who are interested in understanding what better and smarter solutions are out there to address the challenges that the global community faces, you will not find a better source than Capital and the Common Good. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show, Georgia!

Georgia: Thank you so much!

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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 www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving/.

Phil Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Phil Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Givng on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Phil Henderson

Denver: It was 100 years ago that John Emory Andrus created the Surdna Foundation to make access to opportunity available to one and all.  And that tradition has continued now for five successive generations. On this occasion of their centennial anniversary, it is a great pleasure to have with us this evening the President of the Surdna Foundation, Philip Henderson. Good evening, Phil, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Phil: Great to be with you!

Denver: So, tell us about John Andrus, how this all got started back in 1917, and some of the key milestones of the Surdna Foundation over the course of the last hundred years.

Phil:  Well, it’s exciting to think that we’re at 100 years, but John Andrus is someone that most people have never heard of before. But he was a self-made millionaire back in the late 1800s… into the early 1900s, and he did a couple of different things. One is that he developed an elixir called “peptonoids,” precursor to Pepto-Bismol, made a bunch of money from that.  He developed a lot of natural resources and then decided in 1917 to leave effectively half of his fortune to charity through the Surdna Foundation– which was the inversion of his name “Andrus” – Surdna. And the first thing that the foundation did was to build an orphanage in honor of his wife who had been an orphan.  Then it built a nursing home across the street. Both are still functioning up in Hastings-on-Hudson, just north of Yonkers, on Broadway.

Denver: Well, let’s briefly examine the kind of programs that the Surdna Foundation supports, and they really fall into three main categories. The first is the Sustainable Environments Program.  What you’re doing here is taking a fresh look at our crumbling and old infrastructure. Tell us about this “new generation infrastructure” initiative that you have.

Phil: So we’ve always approached our environmental work from the point of view of how people experience the environment. So, we have not been so interested in wetlands or saving trees in the forest, but really understanding how people and the environment interact. And so that led us to really  think about the built environment around people– particularly in our urban areas where that infrastructure, as you say, has been crumbling– really needs a rethink, a reinvention.  So we’re actually thinking about how we’re building our cities, how we’re building our urban areas for the future. And so we’re using less energy, allowing people to have more walkable lives, allowing people to experience their communities in a different way.

Denver: Water management… and things like that.

Phil: Water management, where they get their food, how energy is produced – all of these things… really thinking toward the future.

Denver: The other thing you’re doing is you’re trying to create Strong Local Communities, and this is probably guided by, more than anything else, your commitment to social justice and equity.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of The Children’s Aid Society

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


Transcript

Phoebe: Traditionally, we were pretty siloed. We’ve reorganized ourselves, as I said, to be thinking about this continuum to make sure that all of our staff understand their roles; what role they’re playing.  I have referred to it as “differentiated responsibility but a shared accountability”. Whether you are a nurse in our clinic addressing a young person’s chronic asthma, you know that that’s going to get that child get back to school and be successful in school. If you are a case manager meeting a child who has just been removed from a very violent and traumatic situation, we want you not only thinking about safety and permanency for that child but their over-all well-being. How do we make sure that they’re being successful in school despite everything that’s going on? How can we bring all of our powers to bear to help this young child?

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Denver Frederick and Phoebe Boyer

Jenny: Children’s Aid Society is an organization that’s over 160 years. We are committed to ensuring that there are no boundaries to the aspirations of young people. Each person here is committed to helping the young people to learn, to grow, and to lead independent, successful lives. And we do that by being connected to these young children every step of the way through childhood up to college age because we know that having a college education will ensure that they’re successful, and I am so proud to be a part of Children’s Aid.

Keyla: The greatest sense of purpose that I get from working here at Children’s Aid is really having an impact on children and families, but most importantly is having the experiences of actually meeting those children and families, having a parent say, “Thank you so much. I’m able to enroll my child in after school now,” or “It’s really made a difference. My child is now socializing with more children.” So, I think that really that doesn’t compare to anything else and I hold that very dear to my heart.

On a more personal note, I think with the theme of really being family-oriented and supportive, as a new mom, I think that it’s critical. I’ve felt that as much as I give myself to the children we serve, that I have the same amount of support for my son through supervisors and colleagues and I think that’s definitely something that is important to me. I feel supported, folks are always making sure that I’m OK. So, that work and life balance is definitely something that I cherish.

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Antonio: Along with the lines of professional development that Robyn noted, something that I think has been a very real attempt at Children’s Aid to refine and practice on professional development is what it looks like when someone is on-board and in the fold of work. And so I think within each varied division, there are separate tracks of leadership and pathways that provide people opportunities to learn, to get certified, to get additional training, both in the work that they do and then also to get scholarships or support to more education for the work that they can continue to do. I’ve been lucky enough to research and be a part of a lot of different professional development workshops through Children’s Aid partnership with Columbia, NYU, the Aspen Institute and a host of other agencies.

Casper: For me, one of the biggest, I guess, joy for me is developing staff, creating opportunities for them, just giving them a chance to grow like it was done for me. I started straight out of college here in the agency and worked my way up. So for me, to open doors and train and develop staff to move on and give them that motivation to do better and find other avenues, that’s very, very important to me, just having staff being able to take it to the next level. So creating those opportunities for the staff is like really the biggest joy for me, to see them grow and develop.

Robyn: Jenny mentioned the I Create Awards and that’s just not something that she just made up. It is really the cornerstone of our values, of the organization. Our staff is introduced to the I Create values at orientation, and we develop a lot of our goals and organizational goals and personal goals in which we do our work and people know that from the time that they’re here and are evaluated on that in terms of their performance.

Dedicated, compassionate, not always fun because we do some very, very serious work. But I think the people that are here really gather and coalesce around the mission of the agency, and that’s what makes us come to work every day.

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Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Ellie Hollander

Denver: Most Americans are familiar with Meals on Wheels and hold it in very high regard, but not nearly as many understand all that they do and the vital role that they play in communities across America. We have with us this evening just the person to help us better appreciate how critically important they are to the health and well-being of so many. She is Ellie Hollander, the President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. Good evening, Ellie, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Ellie: Thank you so much, Denver! It’s a pleasure to be here.

Denver: Why don’t you start by giving us a bit of the history of Meals on Wheels and the mission of the organization?

Ellie: Meals on Wheels actually has existed for decades. The stories tell us that it started actually in Great Britain when nurses were putting meals to be delivered to people of service in baby carriages and were wheeling them across lines. So the concept existed a long time ago. But in the United States, our first history was about 1954 when a small group of Philadelphia citizens began to support their local senior neighbors… to extend their independence and health as they aged by providing meals.  

We envision an America in which all seniors live more nourished lives with independence and dignity. At the end of the day, we all would probably love to have the choice of living out our lives in our own homes for as long as we choose. Meals on Wheels enables that to happen.

Denver: And what’s the mission of the organization?

Ellie: Well, today, we envision an America in which all seniors live more nourished lives with independence and dignity. At the end of the day, Denver, we all would probably love to have the choice of living out our lives in our own homes for as long as we choose. Meals on Wheels enables that to happen.

Denver: Well, in looking at seniors who are hungry and who are homebound…that’s a pretty big issue. How big is it? And how difficult is it for them to navigate this system of ours?

Ellie: Well, today, about one in six seniors struggles with hunger, which is a pretty daunting number, and we know that the senior population is slated to double by 2050. So, what we try to do is have community-based Meals on Wheels programs to be able to provide nutritious meals… and more than just a meal. We actually enter the home and have that important sense of companionship and socialization and a safety check while we’re in the home. And there are 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs across the country that are doing this on a daily basis.

Denver: Give us an idea of how that operation works, Ellie. What’s a typical meal? What’s the average cost? The number of meals you deliver every day?  And how they get delivered?

Ellie: We are a diverse grassroots organization, so there really is a variety of ways that meals are prepared and delivered. If you look in the aggregate, we deliver about one million meals a day. Yes, it’s very impressive, but it’s not enough;  we’ll talk about that in a minute – the need is greater than what we’re able to provide. But these meals are delivered in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country. In many cases, it’s a hot, recently prepared meal that meets one-third of the daily nutrition requirements that we need as we get older.  And for many, it represents one-half of their entire food intake in a given day. So sometimes these meals are warmed and prepared, and sometimes they’re cold or frozen so that the seniors can decide themselves when they want to have the meal.

Denver: Well, we know the importance of a nutritious, high-impact meal that you serve every day, and I think the understanding of most people ends just about there. But as you touched upon before, you do so much more. Perhaps that case is best crystalized in your “More than a Meal” campaign. Speak a little bit more about what you do in addition to just providing a good, healthy meal.

Ellie: We consider the meal as the “entrée” into the home, if you will—no pun intended. We talked about one in six seniors struggles with hunger today, but one in four seniors live alone in isolation, and that number is also going to grow. So having that individual – whether it’s a Meals on Wheels staff, person, or a volunteer – knocking at the door, entering, having permission to cross the threshold into the home is very important to a number of seniors who may only see that  one individual in a given day. So it’s really about that socialization and knowing that there’s someone that cares about you… that’s coming in to check on you.

Often, our Meals on Wheels programs can do additional things while they’re in the home. So they can do a safety check. They may come back with the ability to do some home repairs; could be minor, could be major home repairs. We also can talk a little bit about the fact that many of our clients have pets. So there’s an additional added benefit to Meals on Wheels– coming in to not only provide this nutritious meal and companionship and that safety check.  But we also can do other things for that client while we’re there.

We view ourselves as a critical partner to health care to help improve health outcomes, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.

Denver: Oh, that’s very sweet. And you’ve really become the eyes and ears of the health care system in so many different ways. You’re a big believer in evidence-based results and are always building the business case. And to that end, you’ve worked with the AARP Foundation and Brown University. Give us an idea of the evidence and of some of the cost savings that result from this program.

Ellie: We actually believe that we are part of the health care solution, and that this is not new. We have this existing infrastructure that I mentioned – 5,000 programs– in virtually many, if not all, communities across America. And what we’re able to do is: by just providing a simple meal,  companionship, a safety check, we’re able to help seniors stay out of much more expensive health care settings. Many seniors can avoid unnecessary visits to the emergency room, hospitalizations. They can more rapidly recover from surgery or illness when they are discharged from the hospital. And also, we can avoid premature placement in a nursing home—all of which, as you know, Denver, are very expensive—and help reduce taxpayer dollars, Medicare and Medicaid expenses. So we view ourselves as a critical partner to health care to help improve health outcomes, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.

Seniors are at greater fall risk, particularly when they are malnourished or dehydrated…we know that falls cost this country $31 billion a year, and we know from our study with the AARP Foundation and Brown University that those receiving Meals on Wheels on daily delivery report fewer falls and less fear of falling.

Denver: That’s just great. I think I’ve heard you say that $7 a day — the cost of a meal– is a lot cheaper than $1,300 a day, which would be the cost of hospitalization. I noticed that Brown University, in their study, they said if each state increases the number of older people receiving these meals by just 1%, we would save $100 million. That’s fantastic!

(more…)

“Take Five” with Kyle Zimmer, President and Co-Founder of First Book

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Transcript

Denver: I’m here with Kyle Zimmer, the President and CEO First Book to do Take Five. Are you ready, Kyle?

Kyle: I am ready!

Denver: What idea in philanthropy is ready for retirement?

Kyle: Traditional charitable giving.

Denver: What is today’s most underreported story?

Kyle: The lack of education for our kids.

Denver: What did you change your mind about in the last 10 years and why?

Kyle: I changed my mind about market-driven forces and that small enterprises can shift a whole industry.

Denver: When was the last time you were totally disconnected from all your devices?

Kyle: When I was asleep last night.

Denver: If you could have one gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?

Kyle: It would say “Equal education for all” and it would be in front of the White House.

Denver: What is the one book you would give as a gift?

Kyle: Winnie-the-Pooh, The World of Pooh. It was my favorite book as a kid and I still think the philosophy is pretty sound.

Denver: Given the choice of anyone in the world, dead or alive, that you could have dinner with, who would it be?

Kyle: Amelia Earhart.

Denver: When was the last time you sang to yourself?

Kyle: Probably yesterday.

Denver: To someone else?

Kyle: Probably yesterday.

Denver: What do you do to keep your organization nimble?

Kyle: Always bring in brand-new thinkers. We talk to other social entrepreneurs. We have a steady stream of them that come into the organization and explain their models.

Denver: You pick up a magazine to read. What is it?

Kyle: It is The Economist.

Denver: You started First Book in 1992.  What advice would you give to the Kyle Zimmer of 25 years ago?

Kyle: Don’t be afraid. Be fearless.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of GlobalGiving

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

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Transcript

Jen: We have what we call our “kudos jar” in the common area, and that is filled with different types of candy have meaning to them. So Life Savers are for you to recognize someone that really pulled you out of a bind. Extra Gum is for the times that someone went the extra mile and went above and beyond to get something accomplished. And you go down the list, there’s a bunch of candy that represents different types of recognition that people can have.

Chase: And an example I’d like to give is within the first month of the fellowship, one of the other fellows was getting married in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the entire office came together and crowdfunded our trip to rent cars, rent a place to stay. The office sent out an email request for funds and they handed over an envelope full of cash and sent us up to the wedding. We came back with great stories and great memories, and an even deeper community across the Fellows. I think that’s been kind of one of my biggest embodiments and examples of what GlobalGiving is and what it means to me and what the people here stand for.

Cathy: And if you’re like doing this work with this heavy burden all the time, I don’t think we can sustain the energy amongst us and the positivity for our partners. So for me, I feel like that’s something very sort of GlobalGiving, is that we can be very serious about our work but also we can have fun with ourselves and bring a lightness to how we deliver our work.

Emma: One of the things that I love about GlobalGiving is how everyone is a high achiever and is constantly striving to take their work to the next level and is really committed to self-growth, organizational growth. We set goals, but goals are not kind of the point at which we’re trying to hit. The goals are kind of the starting point. We’re trying to exceed them beyond limits.

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Jen: It’s as important to us that people are hitting their goals inside of GlobalGiving as it is that they are developing themselves personally. And so we spend a lot of time investing in the individual, whether that be having the professional development program that we’ve had where folks have a pool of funds that are available to them, a third of which can be used to pursue any kind of personal goal that they have, all the way to we did a Spirit Week earlier in 2016 where we had basically everyone stepping away from their desks for a couple of days to engage in personal development kinds of activity.

Nick: I think the culture here is one of made up of high achievers. We’re going to continue that, repeating that cycle until it gets where we want it to go. Having that mindset I think is really unique and something that for me and my role, I think really informs how I think about a lot of problems in a way that I might not do as naturally if it wasn’t such an omnipresent part of the way GlobalGiving operates. So that’s something that I think is really unique and that I’m really thankful for.

Jen: That premise is what is infused in just the way that we operate and the kind of person that’s attracted to working here, really questioning what is accepted to be the way that you have to do things and consulting the crowd or your colleague or what you have you to enrich your response or whatever it is that you develop as a solution. And then I think building upon that comes things like, well, we’ve got guiding principles but not hard and fast rules. Or you’ve got to make sure that your people are really quick, smart, high achievers, and able to think creatively about how to iterate on things, learn, and grow in order to keep that essence of the organization thriving.

Chase: I rank in my mind all values equal but if I have to pick a favorite right now, I would also say that my favorite is “Listen, Act, Learn, Repeat” because that relates to transparency at GlobalGiving, which I think in my experience has been something that I’ve never seen at any other organization that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, in a sense that all decisions kind of are crowdsourced in a way at GlobalGiving and that’s something, which is rare, I feel like in other organizations. And not even just like decisions, but failures are not hidden or covered up at GlobalGiving. And this just kind of relates back to “Listen, Act, Learn, Repeat” because a part of that is learning how to fail and fail effectively and fail productively, and failing fast and not continuing to fail and acting like you’re not failing.

Cathy: I’ll also ask instead of like “Tell me about yourself,” and I’m sort of notorious for this question, for the person to describe themselves as either a glass of water, iced tea or orange juice. And there are pros and cons to each of those things but it forces you to think differently about how you’re going to give your response.

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Emma: Those kinds of additional interests and knowledge areas and passions don’t just kind of come into play in kind of the daily work together, but we also do things like today, for example, we had a brown bag where one of our fellows led a session on learning the Cyrillic alphabet and then talked to us a little bit in Russian, and next week, he’s leading a discussion on Russian politics. And we have a guy here whose background is in neuroscience and he’s led some brown bags for us on…we have someone in the office who’s a juggler and he’s taught juggling. That kind of creativity is such an important outlet because we are I think constantly on the move, trying new things, iterating, being really vulnerable and talking about failures and challenges and so having those moments to kind of shift our brains a little bit and let that creative energy out and build relationships a little bit more, I think that’s really important.

Nick: And so someone will hit the bell and stand up and say, “We just got $50,000 donation from someone we never heard of before. Isn’t that cool?” and everyone will clap. And it’s a great way to kind of celebrate just little wins. We also have a gong for really big wins. It happens less frequently, but is terrifying when it happens because it just catches you right off guard. Inevitably, every now and then, someone will accidentally brush the bell and everyone has this Pavlovian response of “What happened?” People will stick their heads out of conference room doors and that person will have to stand there and say something to make them go away. But it’s just another great way of keeping the lines of communication open, sharing successes when they happen, and I think it’s a great little microcosm of what makes GlobalGiving GlobalGiving.

Jen: The Space is intentionally underscoring this flat feeling that we have here where we don’t have executives down a long hallway with office doors that are closed all day long. Everyone’s mixed in at every level of the organization together. It’s very bright and open — lots of sunlight, lots of color, bright orange and green and our brand colors everywhere. Lots of pockets for people to gather on an ad hoc basis. Either in the lounge or in our little island that we call Fiji which is literally like a cubbie with no doors and a hula person with that bobblehead in there with a sandbox. It’s a free open environment to encourage open communication. Lots of collaboration and transparency and if you’re walking by and you hear something that you’re interested in, you’re invited to join in on the conversation and offer your perspective.

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*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

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

Transcript

Denver: Today, we’re going to visit the 88th largest charity in the country, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) who have their headquarters up in Rye Brook, New York. The organization has undergone a remarkable transformation in the recent years under the leadership of their CEO, Dr. Louis DeGennaro, who happened to be a guest on The Business of Giving this summer. We’ll start the segment with his vision of the kind of organizational culture he has looked to establish at LLS and then hear from a number of people who work there. 

 

 

Dr. Louis DeGennaro:  I’ve been CEO now for just under two years. What I’ve established is an environment around a set of values, among which are: collaboration, openness, accountability, and transparency. And I’ve asked the team to live by these values, because it’s in the best interest of blood cancer patients, and it’s in the best interest of our ability to steward donor dollars.

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Dr. Louis DeGennaro and Denver Frederick

Mark: And there’s  something very distinguishing about LLS from the other places I’ve worked and that is we really are curing cancer in real time. I’ve never worked at a place where, literally, the funds you raised, the investments in the science…..and then last year multiple new drugs approved by the FDA and these are drugs for blood cancer. So that cause and effect being so close in, it’s very powerful. And I suspect it brings lots of people joy. I know it brings lots of people joy, obviously, our patients but here as staff and volunteers.

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Pamela: I have seen such change in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. When I first started way back, we were known as the Leukemia Society of America. And the mandate from our boss was “Please don’t attempt to connect with any patients because the life span….they have enough to worry about….youngsters were living maybe six months or so, so leave them alone.” And its brought great pleasure to myself and to my friends to see what has happened and the progression that we’ve made over the years. Where would we be today without our outreach to patients and their families? They’re primary in our fundraising efforts. They, in turn, appreciate being asked because we are helping them and they, in turn, want to help us as such.

Beatrice: My team and myself really need to constantly collaborate among ourselves to make sure that we’re not missing any crucial piece of information. So what brings me joy every day coming to work is how collaborative everybody on my team is. So we take calls, but when we’re on a call, we have ways to jabber among ourselves or exchange emails, and we constantly do that just to make sure that the patient who is at the other end of the line is getting as complete a piece of information as they are going to need. We really want the patients to get all that information upfront because we really don’t know whether they will ever call us back and whether we will have another chance to interact with them.

Andrea: I come in every day knowing that something I’m doing is really making a difference for patients and their families. As a member of the communications team, I have the opportunity to tell our stories every day, whether I’m talking to a reporter or I’m posting something on the blog or in one of our newsletters or even sharing it internally because we do both internal and external communication. So sharing a great story or even telling our colleagues about a media placement that helps raise our awareness, it’s just really gratifying to be able to do that.

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Richard: So I was recommended to this place by a friend and on day one, I was on an airplane headed out to Silicon Valley to visit with some field offices along West Coast. I was so amazed at that first visit in our San Jose office. I thought I had stepped into a rah-rah program at Mary Kay Cosmetics. I’ve never seen so many people so energized about what they do and the funds they’ve raised in so many creative ways. I got to tell you, I had no idea what I was getting into and I was really amazed.  Over time, what I’ve come to appreciate in this organization is every single person here is a fundraiser. I’ve worked in higher ed, I’ve worked in healthcare and in hospital settings – in this place, every employee is a fundraiser.

Mark: I oversee 56 chapters and we have a new leadership in our HR department that brought this, it’s a McKinsey-based product called “nine box” and it’s a way to look at the talent you have and place them where they are in their development, and then bring to them training that meets them where they are. And I say this because just last week, and everybody knew there’s big sign out in front, we had 15 executive directors in. They were our top executive directors who are thriving. So what do they need in situational leadership management that’s focused on them, individually on them. And so I see us doing things at LLS, whether it’s the matrix management or the nine-box personal growth. For 34 years I’ve discussed this in the organizations I’ve been, but I’ve never been in an organization that’s truly doing it. And I give that credit to Dr. Lou and his vision.

Pamela: Yes, we have a culture here. Maybe five years ago, perhaps that would be ‘we’d like to have a culture here.’ We’re all human and we resist change. We dig our feet in and say, “No, it was OK before. Why should we change?” But with the change in our management leaders as such, people have sort of taken a step back and evaluated and said, “If they think change is good, then we should climb on board and embrace the change and such.” And a change that I have seen is transparency. The silos that we had under our previous CEO hopefully have now been sort of torn down and people understand that they can cross lines and cross departments, whatever and such.

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*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of B Lab

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

 

Transcript

Denver: This week, you are going to go inside the New York offices of B Lab which are located on Chamber Street here in Manhattan. What is B Lab, you ask? Well, you will first hear from co-founder, Andrew Kassoy, who will spell out the nonprofit organization’s mission and purpose and then from members of the staff who will share their experiences of what it is like to work at B Lab. 

Andrew: B Corp is a certification for good companies. Similar to fair trade for coffee or leads certification for green buildings but it tells us that a company as a whole is trying to use its business to create benefit for society. 

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Denver Frederick and Andrew Kassoy

Jen: We have a very open office plan here at B Lab in New York. And I think that really helps to create a sense of community and friendship amongst employees. So I feel like all of our colleagues will gather in the kitchen and will have beers after work and spend a lot of times getting to know people outside of their role as professionals, and that for me really reinforces the fact that these people are not just my coworkers, but they’re also my friends.

Amanda: When I first started B Lab, the thing that struck me most about how our layout reinforces our culture is that there is no hierarchy of office and space. So, the co-founders of B Lab sit amongst and with the teams of everyone at B Labs. So they don’t have a larger desks, they don’t have a fancier chair, which makes them really approachable and I think it resonates down to having all of our management be approachable and of ideas flow through out the entire organization.

Alexis: Speaking as an intern, one of the best things I think about working here is that I’m not really treated as an intern. I think at so many companies that they really like stress the separation between interns and full-time employees, and at B Lab we’re sort of treated as just any other worker.

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Holly: I think that everyone at B Labs and everyone who comes to work here who’s successful is very independent; able to think for themselves and create their own space. They also take initiative and have a lot of drive to succeed and they’re all incredibly joyful, fun people.

Jack: “When does the new employee know that they really belong?” And I think the answer for that is very simple, it’s in the first day– maybe the second day. But the community that’s present in the office is really wonderful and opening the door… On your first day of work, you’re greeted with so many [founding faces] and they’re so excited to have you on the team.

Dannie: For as long as I’ve been here– which is just over two and a half years and I think for a long time prior– B Lab has always put out what’s called Friday fun day. Which is an email that goes out at the end of every week, actually pulled together by the longest standing non co-founder employee named Heather. So for about nine years now, Heather has sent this sent this email 52 times a year and basically what it says, “Snapshot of all the funny, silly, goofy, hilarious jokes, things that happened throughout the week.” And it’s [unintelligible] I look forward to and I think it really does build a great sense of camaraderie and culture of the organization and just brings a lot of lightheartedness at the end of the day which usually accompanied by four or five beers in the office.

Holly: And I think that the beginning of [unintelligible] silos ‘cause we were so tiny, but as we’ve grown increasingly I’m seeing evidence of silos. But what I think that’s interesting about B Lab’s reaction to that is that we’ve acknowledged them and we’re trying to deal with them, and really take the initiative to overcome them. And I think that’s kind of indicative of B Lab as a whole; there’s a flexibility and a degree of like nimbleness that we are trying to instill and build into the organization as it grows.

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Amanda: I’ve been at B-Lab now a year and a half, and when I started last year it was three weeks before our annual staff retreat. And one night of our annual staff retreat is a dinner where we hand out awards for folks. What I do not realize then that I’ve realized now is those awards are nominated by everyone at B Lab. So it’s great to have an opportunity to acknowledge your colleagues and your peers on your team and then also watch those individuals be celebrated by everyone else in the room.

Jen: I think my favorite part about working for B-Lab and the people that we have on this team is that we hire just the most amazing individuals. We’ve recently had a staff retreat that was at my house and my mom was there and she came to meet everyone, and she pulled aside one of the co-founders and was like, “I cannot believe how nice the people are that work here. Like everyone is nice and all that, so how do you do it?” I think that that’s really essential to just who we are as an organization is that we just hire really good people, and so those really good people that do really good work, and make a really great family. And so that’s like kind of [unintelligible 10:30] of this organization.

Holly: I think that B Labs culture and the experience of working from B Lab can really be summed up in one of B-Labs principles. And to me it’s really the most important principle. It&’s the principle that it’s quoted the most throughout the organization, which is that we take the work not ourselves seriously. And I think that it’s a perfect example of how B Lab operates and how everyone comes to work everyday. We love what we do. We are incredibly dedicated to the vision on our work that we’re able to achieve. At the same time, we have fun doing it.

Letecia: I think one of the things I was looking for when I came to B-Lab was a place where people were happy with the end goal of what we’re doing. And I think something I’ve observed in other workplaces is that, it’s not the case. I’ve met very few people who were actually happy to go to work everyday before I joined B Lab. And I think that every workplace has different processes and the way things get done is different, but I think that the end goal is something that is really important at B Lab and that everyone really believes in and is very engaged in.

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*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

Kyle Zimmer, Co-Founder and CEO of First Book, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Kyle Zimmer, Co-Founder and CEO of First Book, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Denver: It is always interesting and inspiring to speak with a social entrepreneur who has done remarkable things to make the world a better place. But it can be exceptionally rewarding when what they have done is so simple, yet so meaningful: Put a brand new book in the hands of a child who otherwise would have never known the pleasure. My next guest has had that privilege millions and millions and tens of  millions of times over. She is Kyle Zimmer, the Co-Founder and CEO of First Book. Good evening, Kyle, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Kyle: So grateful to be here! Nice to see you.

What we focus on is the need for physical resources to elevate educational opportunities so that every kid has a chance. We focus on books – that’s the heartbeat of what we do – but we have a broad range of resources that we provide now to over 300,000 sites.

Denver: Despite the extraordinary, some might even say “legendary” success of First Book, there are still a number of people out there who haven’t heard much about it. So give us a quick overview of who you are and what you do.

Kyle: First Book is now an international organization. It’s a nonprofit social enterprise, and what we focus on is the need for physical resources to elevate educational opportunities  so that every kid has a chance. So, we focus on books, of course – that’s the heartbeat of what we do – but we have a broad range of resources that we provide now to over 300,000 sites.

Denver: You got started on this back in 1992. You were a corporate lawyer in Washington D.C.,  and you were volunteering at Martha’s Table. What did you see there that inspired you to set out on this quest?

Kyle: It was a long time ago, of course, and it was a critical period in Washington’s history. It was the middle of the crack epidemic, so the city was as violent as it had ever been. I think during those years, we were the “murder capital of the world.”  I had been raised that you have a responsibility to get out there and to help in the community, so I started tutoring after work at what fundamentally was a soup kitchen at that time. I would go in, and there’d be 50 or 60 kids from the neighborhood, and the kids were doing every single thing that you want them to do. They’re doing everything right. They’re coming in off of dangerous streets. They are looking for adult intervention, and every night I would sit there with them, and I would think, “Boy, I’m not an educator; I’m not a teacher, but I could make these hours so much more meaningful if I just had books.” And that really started me on the journey of beginning to figure out why there weren’t books.

We always knew that with a problem this gigantic that we needed something that would affect the whole nation and that could be scaled. That meant that it had to be on a business model footing that was sound, that was strong, that was scalable, and that made economic sense.

Denver: I always like to speak to social entrepreneurs about the beginning of those journeys, and I would be very curious, Kyle, as to whether when you started out, if you had a vision for the organization, an idea of where you were going and what ultimately it would become?  Or were you simply just putting one foot in front of another… getting a couple of books here, give them to a kid… or to a library… or to the local school…. and  building it out as you went along?

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Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg Talks about Social Entrepreneurs: Getting Beyond Better

Getting Beyond Better, a new book by Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg and noted management strategist Roger L. Martin, explores how social entrepreneurship developed and how it works to disrupt and replace systems that entrench inequality and marginalize large swathes of society.

In this segment from the Business of Giving, Ms. Osberg talks about social entrepreneurs who are challenging the status quo to address the world’s most pressing problems. She traces the four stages of transformation an effective social entrepreneur must undertake and presents vivid examples of how each contributes to building solutions for a better, fairer world.

The following is conversation between Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Sally Osberg

Denver: In 1999, Jeffrey Skoll, the co-founder of eBay, decided to turn his attention from entrepreneurship to social entrepreneurship and started the Skoll Foundation. When he went looking for someone to run the organization with him, he was fortunate to find my next guest– who was also fortunate to find him.  Now we’re all fortunate to have her with us. She is Sally Osberg, the President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation and the co-author of Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works. Good evening, Sally, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Sally: Thank you so much, Denver. It’s a pleasure.

Denver: Tell us about the Skoll Foundation, a bit more about how it got started, and the mission and objectives of the organization.

Sally: Happy to! You’ve already mentioned Jeff Skoll, and Jeff Skoll is an iconic Silicon Valley entrepreneur, renowned for, as you said, co-founding eBay with Pierre Omidyar. Jeff, as an entrepreneur, really resonated to a very special kind of leader who took the discipline and the drive and the disruptive vision to the work of trying to make the world a better place.

So right from the get-go, although neither Jeff nor I had the frame for social entrepreneurship, much less the term, we had a really clear sense of the kind of individual and organization that we thought could really drive the scale of change that Jeff was after for his philanthropy. That was the grounding for the foundation’s mission. It took a couple of years, but eventually we landed on a mission to drive large-scale change on the world’s most pressing problems– by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs and the innovators who help them.

So, that really was the genesis of the foundation. Jeff’s vision for a world of peace and prosperity that was sustainable, translated into a mission, and that really then became our work with social entrepreneurs and their organizations.

Social entrepreneurs are attacking a system that leads to the marginalization or suffering of some very large segment of a society, and it’s that paradigm that the social entrepreneur is really driven to transform… Social entrepreneurs drive equilibrium change on the world’s pressing problems, consistent with the way entrepreneurs do their work with the business model.

Denver: What is a social entrepreneur? I know that was a gist of your piece back in 2007 when you wrote the article about “The Case for Definition.” What is a social entrepreneur and how does that differ from social enterprise?

Sally: That’s a big question, Denver. As we landed on this idea of social entrepreneurship, one of our board of directors, Roger Martin, who is himself renowned for his work and strategy, felt it was really important. In fact, it was our responsibility to come to clarity about the term and what we meant by it. Because we couldn’t really develop… much less execute a good strategy without being really clear about the kind of folks we were looking for and in whom we wanted to invest.

That’s what led to that article you referenced that we published in 2007 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition.” And there, we advanced the idea, first of all, that social entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs, and that entrepreneurs are disruptors. Entrepreneurs really shift a status quo, whether it’s in business – it has to do with a product or service, or lack of a product or service. Think of Larry Page,  Sergey Brin, and the internet before you had Google, before you had search engines. It was impossible to really get the information you needed and wanted from the internet. They created a disruptive service that really transformed the way people use the internet.

Same with social entrepreneurs. The difference is that social entrepreneurs are attacking a system that leads to the marginalization or suffering of some very large segment of a society, and it’s that paradigm that the social entrepreneur is really driven to transform. So that was the definition we put forward:  that social entrepreneurs drive equilibrium change on the world’s pressing problems, consistent with the way entrepreneurs do their work with the business model.

The most transformative changes have really come from either government policy innovation… or they’ve come from business innovation…It’s really about adapting the principles and the practices of business and government in creating something entirely new to the world.

Denver: Where does this fit on the continuum or spectrum of society, Sally? If we have government  on one end, and we have private industry on the other: where does social entrepreneurship fit? And what is its unique contribution? (more…)