New York City

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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Henry DeSio, the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Henry DeSio, the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


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Denver: The presidential campaign trail–no matter what side of the aisle you may be on– can be a microcosm of changes that will eventually take hold in the broader society. For instance: rapid response to events–never letting a news cycle pass without responding to a charge– started with political campaigns, and is now embedded in the DNA of most every corporation and organization. My next guest served as the Chief Operating Officer of Obama for America in 2008, did a stint in the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President, and is now helping young people navigate the new strategic landscape driven by rapid change. He is Henry DeSio, the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka. Good evening, Henry, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Henry: Thank you, Denver. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

I see social entrepreneurs as everyday citizens who are essentially society’s corrective force. They’re the people who see the gaps in our communities and work to position their leadership, bring their talents, and bring others around those problems… or potential opportunities that can have such a great impact in the world. They are everyday citizens who apply their leadership and their talent to make the world a better place.

Denver: One of my very first interviews on The Business of Giving was with Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka. He is, to many, the father of social entrepreneurship. So, let’s start by having you tell our listeners about Ashoka and its work.

Henry: Ashoka is best known for defining and building the field of social entrepreneurship over the last 40 years. Some people don’t know what a social entrepreneur is, so I’ll just very quickly explain. I see social entrepreneurs as everyday citizens who are essentially society’s corrective force. They’re the people who see the gaps in our communities and work to position their leadership, bring their talents, and bring others around those problems… or potential opportunities that can have such a great impact in the world. They are everyday citizens who apply their leadership and their talent to make the world a better place.

Denver: Before we get to your current work at Ashoka, let’s start with your career in politics. You got the bug, Henry, for politics by watching the Watergate hearings. So tell us how you went from watching Sam Ervin and Howard Baker to becoming the Chief Operating Officer of the Obama for America presidential campaign.

Henry: Well, I grew up in a very rural part of California in the foothills of Sequoia National Park, so you had everything available to you – tennis, baseball, hiking, all kinds of different activities. But in the middle of the day—this is, I guess, 1974—I remember coming in from the hot sun to watch my first reality TV show, and it was the Watergate hearings. And in those days, and particularly where I lived, you had a small black-and-white TV, and the White House just seemed so far away.

And in that moment, I saw  a government and a leadership fail in action, but I also saw a good result for the country. We worked through this; we got through this challenge. But it was in that moment, two of my passions came together. One was leadership, which my dad I think drilled into me, and the other was politics– and later, the political campaign.

I think those two passions seemed to stay with me throughout my life. I was always interested in citizen candidates. I wanted to see everyday citizens break into politics, so I started working on helping everyday people get the skills to build that startup organization that could lead to real change… and could actually unseat the other person. Eventually, that flowed into politics on a national scale… and eventually to joining the Obama campaign

Self-definition: giving yourself permission to solve problems; pursue opportunities; go after the things you’re passionate about; and then delivering on those things — those are all things that are at work in our daily lives.

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Dr. Larry Brilliant Discusses His Latest Book, Sometimes Brilliant

Larry Brilliant has had a career that lives up to his name. In the 1970s, he played a key role in work in Bangladesh and India to eradicate smallpox, personally witnessing the end of “an unbroken chain of transmission that went back to Pharaoh Ramses.” He then co-founded the Seva Foundation, which helps prevent and treat blindness in the developing world. He was the first director of tech philanthropy Google.org, and today he chairs the Skoll Global Threats Fund, tackling issues such as climate change and water security that, like smallpox before them, pose an existential danger to enormous swaths of humanity.

In his new memoir, Sometimes Brilliant, the physician and philanthropist details that remarkable journey, from his youth in Detroit and early medical career, through immersion in the ‘60s counterculture and Eastern philosophy, to his work today with tech moguls like eBay co-founder Jeff Skoll to achieve social change on a truly massive scale. In this edition of the Business of Giving, Dr. Brilliant walks us through some of his adventures as a civil-rights marcher, radical hippie doctor, meditating mystic, and groundbreaker in global health and Silicon Valley giving.

The following is a conversation between Dr. Larry Brilliant, author  of Sometimes Brilliant, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Denver: Back in July, Dr. Larry Brilliant joined us to discuss the launch of an HBO movie he had produced called Open Your Eyes, a compelling story of a husband and wife in Nepal whose sight is restored as result of the work of the Seva  Foundation founded by Dr. Brilliant and his wife. Well, he’s been good enough to come back and join us again… this time to discuss his memoir that will be released on Tuesday and aptly entitled Sometimes Brilliant. Good evening, Larry, and welcome back to The Business of Giving.

Larry: Nice to see you again, Denver. Thank you.

Denver: You have had a most remarkable life, so much so, it’s hard to know where to begin. But I think I’ll start with you sitting in Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan campus on November 5, 1962… listening to a speech. Tell us about that day and the impact that it had on you.

Larry: I think everybody who’s gone to college remembers the sophomore year. It’s a tough year, anyway. And for me, it was tougher because my dad was dying of cancer.  As it would turn out, my dad and my grandfather both died inside of five days.

So, it was a tough time, and I had no inner resources to deal with that. I sort of locked myself up in my room in South Quad in Ann Arbor, and I think I was gobbling down burnt peanuts and reading Superman. That was my high and exalted way of dealing with depression. And I saw a little note in the college newspaper “The Michigan Daily” that said  Martin Luther King was going to be on campus. Nobody really knew who Martin Luther King was. He hadn’t yet given his speech “I Have a Dream.” He didn’t yet have his Nobel Prize. The world outside was filled with the Cuban missile standoff. Bob Dylan was singing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

It was a pretty complicated moment. It was raining and miserable weather, but somehow I took my sophomore ass out of the dorm and wandered into the auditorium.  And hardly anybody came. This huge auditorium that holds 3,000 people, it was hardly half-filled, or even less. The President was embarrassed, introduced Martin Luther King, and he looked out.  Instead of feeling bad, he laughed. He just laughed. And he said, “You all come on up here and sit on the stage; there will be more of me to go around.” And not everybody went up on stage…it kind of crowded the stage, and we all listened to him. And it was not like anything I had ever heard before. I had never heard someone talk about brotherhood. I had never heard anyone say, “We are all God’s children. We’re all in it together.” I had never heard anybody say that there’s a great movement for justice. I had never heard anyone say that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but you and I have got to jump up and help bend it.” I had never heard anybody say, “Join me, and make the world a better place.” He said things that opened up a space for me — a depressed, wonky, kind of pimple-faced kid — something I could do. I could kind of crawl out of my depression, and it wouldn’t all just be about me and the pain that I felt. And, of course, everybody that was on stage with him that day… that was in the auditorium, just began to march. Most went down that summer to Mississippi. Many had encounters that would change their lives. I stayed home with my dad because he was sick, but shortly afterwards I was marching in Chicago.

Denver: Got arrested, right?

Larry: Well, when I went to medical school and had a white coat on, the Medical Committee for Human Rights said, “Come on down to Chicago. Martin Luther King is going to make his march to the city. We want people wearing white coats with their stethoscopes dangling ostentatiously to form a cordon to protect him.”  I marched with Martin Luther King. We were all arrested together. And here’s a little secret: If you are ever going to be arrested — I tell my children — for a good cause, and there are some good causes, get arrested with 200, 300, 400, 500 of your best friends because then they put you in “pretend jail.” And you’re “pretend arrested.” And you can bring a guitar.

Denver: That’s great advice.

Larry: The cops were wonderful. This was not the kind of scene you think of when being arrested. They had to arrest us because we were blocking traffic. We had to go into Grant Park. They had to build a pretend jail, and Martin Luther King was there, and he just kept talking to us. I can’t remember the number of times I marched with him, but it certainly became the organizing principle of my life — the Civil Rights Movement, the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the movement itself. Because as it led into the ‘60s and the ‘70s, my generation, we thought we sensed that right around the corner was a better world… a world that had room for all of us, a room where black or white or male or female or tall or short or old or young… that we were all allowed into this great dream called America. And that was the magic that led to Haight Ashbury and the counterculture… and all rest of it.

Denver: And all the rest of it. Well, that day did have a profound influence on your life. As you noted, you became a doctor, I think, in part  because your father had cancer.  I know you had your own bout with it as well. So I’m going to move to the part of the book which really reads like fiction– not great fiction… because it’s almost too preposterous!  We’re going to start in 1969 at the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay, and it’s going to end in Bhola Island in Bangladesh in 1977. Take us on that extraordinary journey.

Larry: I was in pretend jail in Chicago. It was a real jail in Alcatraz, but I wasn’t a prisoner. I was finishing up my internship at what was then called Presbyterian Hospital; now, it’s called Pacific Medical Center.The treaties that the Indians had with United States of America were breached more often than they were upheld. But there was one treaty called the Laramie Treaty that said that if any land– having been taken from Indians, any federal land having been taken from Indians– is declared surplus, it must first be returned or offered to be returned to the Indians from whom it was taken. It seemed like a fair deal.

Alcatraz was Indian land, and it was seized and turned into a prison, and then the prison was closed in the early ‘60’s. And when the prison was closed, a number of Indians invoked the Laramie Treaty and said, “Give it back!” And the government didn’t want to do that. So, one night, undercover, several dozen young Indians from many different tribes — the Mohawk Indian Richard Oakes was leading, and a Lakota Sioux Indian named John Trudell was later one of the leaders — they occupied Alcatraz before the name “occupy” had much meaning. And they took over, and they would stay on the island for 18 months.  That became a big social drama. Every day in the newspapers and on TV shows in San Francisco, there would be interviews with the Coast Guard, who were ordered to put a ring around it and embargo and quarantine the island.  And somehow there’d be an interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie, who would fly out there, or Joan Baez who would go out there; The Grateful Dead would do a concert on Alcatraz. And they did a scorecard, and they asked people in San Francisco Bay, “Who do you want to vote for?” They loved the Coast Guard… I mean, we do love the Coast Guard of San Francisco. But it was 90/10 for Indians over the Coast Guard.

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Mark Tercek and His Views On True Philanthropy and Nature Protection

Mark Tercek talks about the Nature Conservancy’s collaborative, science-grounded approach to land, water, and climate issues — embedded in the nonprofit’s DNA when it was founded 65 years ago to purchase and protect the Mianus River Gorge in upstate New York.

 

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Mark Tercek, President and CEO of TNC

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The following is a conversation between Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM970 The Answer in New York City. Mark here raises interesting insights about how our differences in approaches, science and data, collaboration, and even criticisms, among other things, can work for getting things done for the benefit of people and nature. Below is the full transcript of the interview:

Denver Frederick:    In a political season where each side appears to be more resolute and certain about the rightness of their cause, finding common ground seems to be more elusive than ever. So, it’s of particular interest that an environmental group has broken through in search of pragmatic solutions that work for all parties involved to protect the environment.  That group is The Nature Conservancy, and it’s a pleasure for me to welcome to the show their President and CEO, Mark Tercek.  Good evening, Mark. Thanks for being with us.

Mark Tercek: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Denver: Tell us about TNC, a bit about its history and the organization’s mission.

Mark:    TNC was born about 65 years ago here in New York. The Mianus Gorge is near the border of New York and Connecticut. Sixty-five years ago, some local scientists decided they wanted to protect the Mianus Gorge for science-based reasons. They were practical individuals. They said:  “What would be the best way to assure it would really endure?”  After considering a variety of options, they said, “Let’s just buy it.” They took out mortgages on their homes. They bought it,  and they were right. Sixty-five years later, the Mianus Gorge, now an independent preserve, is thriving. And that has been the spirit of TNC ever since –practical people driven by science, wanting to get things done in a way that will really stick. That’s a formula that really allowed us to grow a lot. People found it appealing, so we grew state by state across the US.

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