Podcast

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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Caryl Stern of Unicef Joins Denver Frederick

Caryl Stern says that when she became CEO of the U.S. Fund for Unicef, she replaced its hierarchical “pyramid” leadership structure with “a series of circles” built on teamwork and feedback.  She also details the charity’s wearable-tech venture, Unicef Kid Power, and some of the special relationships it has forged in the business world, and talks about combating donors’ “disaster fatigue.”

The following is a conversation between Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Ms. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF

Denver: There are leaders of major international aid organizations that possess all the skills and talents and managerial capabilities to successfully lead their organization in its life changing work. But there are only a few who not only possess those traits but just  strike you as having been born for the job. Caryl Stern, the President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF happens to be one those people, and she’s with us now. Good evening, Caryl, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Caryl: Thanks! Nice to be here.

Denver: Let’s begin by having you tell us the mission and goals of the US Fund for UNICEF.  And what exactly is the nature of the relationship between the US Fund and  UNICEF?

Caryl: Sure! Well, UNICEF International is the organization that does really whatever it takes to save a child anywhere in the world. Working in 190 countries, 12,000 boots on the ground, under the phenomenal leadership of the Executive Director, Tony Lake. Underneath that, independent of it, there are 34 organizations around the world that enable that work.  I have the privilege to run the US arm of that– the US Fund for UNICEF. We are a 501(c)(3) located in New York City, and we have a tripartite mission. First and foremost, we raise money; it is our job to raise the dollars to help to make UNICEF’s work possible. Secondly, we are the voice of children from around the globe here in the US.  So, a part of my job is to go and bear witness to what’s going on around the globe and come back and talk about it. And then the third part, hopefully, is to raise a generation here in the United States that will do a better job than we have done thus far of saving, protecting and insuring that the the world’s children thrive.

Denver: That’s a great mission. Let’s talk about the current state of the world for a moment.  Perhaps you could do that through the lens of the three emergency levels that the UN uses to classify a crisis. What is the look these days?

Caryl: The UN does classify emergencies.  Obviously, not every emergency rises to the same necessity of response.  So, there’s a level 1, a level 2, and level 3 is the highest level of emergency. And up until about a year and a half ago, on occasion, you’d have one or two level 3s at the same time.  Currently there are five and unfortunately for those who respond… and not just UNICEF…all of the UN agencies that respond, the other NGOs..these are not either/ors.  You can’t say: “Okay, we’ll fund what’s happening in Syria right now instead of funding the response to Ebola, or the response currently to Zika.” They have to be “ands”; you’ve got to figure out how you are going respond to this, and this, and this, and this and this. Its an “and,” and an “and,” and an “and,” right now.

Denver: One of those level 3s is the refugee crisis.  Matthew Bishop of The Economist was on the show earlier this year, and we were talking about Davos.  He said it was the Number 1  topic of conversation there. And I said: “Well, is anybody talking about a potential solution?” He said: “No.”  You have been the leading voice and a strong advocate for the children caught in the middle of this unprecedented crisis. Is the world getting any closer to figuring out how we can handle this?

Caryl: I don’t think so. I think we are responding better, not solving better. Unfortunately, there are more children on the move right now, unaccompanied and accompanied, but more children on the move right now than in any period since World War II.

Denver: That’s remarkable!

Caryl: Really, it is remarkable. And we don’t get to pick where we’re born,  and surely wouldn’t pick poverty or a conflict zone if we had a choice. And the children on the move are really victims of the politics of adults.  These are not the choices they’re making that are forcing them to leave the home they’re familiar with, the community they’re familiar with, the practices and rites and rituals they’re familiar with.  To usually walk, not drive, great lengths for many days in the hopes of finding better space. And we are definitely not equipped around the world to treat the children as children when they arrive on those shores.

Denver: I bet. There have been a lot of recent stories, Caryl, around disaster aid.  Some of them haven’t  been been all that good. Supplies not getting through… and millions and millions of dollars being spent, and not much to show for it. But UNICEF operations are quite distinct from many of the others. Tell us how you’re unique in this regard.

Caryl: UNICEF International is responsible for the supply chain.  Frankly, there’s a huge warehouse. The primary warehouse is located in Copenhagen, and it was a gift of the government there to give us the space,  and it operates there. But there are also a series of pre-positioned supplies and warehouses around the world.  The reason that’s really critical is — you take what happened in Myanmar in Burma. While the world waited to see if planes were going to be allowed to land there when the crisis hit, we had a warehouse there; we had supplies there, and people went right to work.

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Jacob Harold, President and CEO of GuideStar, Joins Denver Frederick

GuideStar is the largest platform of information about data for nonprofits.  In this segment, Jacob Harold, President and CEO of GuideStar, talks about how both individual donors and nonprofit executives leverage the data that GuideStar curates.  He also discusses the danger of “short-termism”– of thinking everything happens on a quarterly basis. He explains that if you’re trying to build a great company, it takes years or decades… and the same is true for social change.

The following is conversation between Jacob Harold, President and CEO of GuideStar, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


135d0bbDenver: It is a bit ironic that at a time when we have more information and data than at any other time in human history, our ability to predict the future and to make sound decisions has never been less. And one reason for that may be because not enough people are thinking about how to make this data accessible, meaningful, and truly useful. That is why the nonprofit sector is so fortunate to have someone like Jacob Harold, the President and CEO of GuideStar…who just happens to be with us now. Good evening, Jacob, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jacob: I’m thrilled to be here, Denver.

Denver: Some listeners may never have heard of GuideStar. For those who have, they may be thinking: “Oh, Yeah, Yeah. The 990 tax form people.” So, let’s start by having you tell us what GuideStar is, and what you do.

Jacob: You bet!  GuideStar is the largest platform of information about data for nonprofits. And let’s just start by saying:  Why do we even care about having data about nonprofits?  And for me, it’s to address what I call “the elephant in the philanthropic room,” which is simply that some nonprofits are better than others.  Some are able to squeeze more good out of the dollars that they spend. It’s not necessarily that those that are not as effective are bad people, but they haven’t figured out the most effective way to do good in the world.

So the challenge that donors face and that nonprofit executives face…and researchers and government officials… is trying to find excellence in the field, to learn from it… to make sure it gets the resources it needs. And so GuideStar’s mission is to help in that process: to provide the kind of information so that the “stakeholders of social change”–the people who have a stake in the work of the nonprofit sector–are able to make good decisions with their time, and with their money,  and with their attention, with their passion. So, we provide data. And historically that’s mostly been, as you said, from the IRS Form 990, the tax form that most nonprofits are required to file. But we realize that that’s a very powerful foundation of data, but none of us would tell our own story through our 1040. And  we need to supplement that with other kinds of information to tell a richer story about nonprofits. And so that’s what we’re really trying to do at GuideStar right now.  And we’re having some success; we have about 7 million people each year who use GuideStar.


I had a chance to work for a whole set of different environmental organizations: Green Corps, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network. And I got to know dozens of others. And it became very clear to me in my early 20s that some of these organizations were simply far more effective. And it led me to a question: ‘Well, okay, how are we going to tackle a great challenge like climate change if we’re not sending money to where it can be most effective?’


 

Denver: That’s right. And you really get into the inner workings of all this data and how the whole philanthropic system works. Where did that come from? What kind of background did you have that instilled this into your DNA?

Jacob: In some ways, it came from the dining room table at the house I grew up in. Both of my parents worked for small community-based nonprofits. My mom worked at an AIDS hospice. My dad worked for Catholic Social Services, providing services to the poorest of the poor in our community. And so over the dining room table, I would hear about the struggles faced by those people who are devoting their lives to try and make the world better.  And these were my parents!

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Roxane White, CEO of the Nurse-Family Partnership Joins Denver Frederick

In this segment, Roxane White describes the mission of the Nurse-Family Partnership, which is to help transform the lives of vulnerable first-time moms and their babies. Roxane outlines how the organization creates a culture of success through mutual motivation.  Through ongoing home visits from registered nurses, low-income, first-time moms receive the care and support they need to have a healthy pregnancy, provide responsible and competent care for their children, and become more economically self-sufficient.

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Roxane White, President and CEO of the Nurse- Family Partnership

The following is conversation between Roxane White, President and CEO of Nurse- Family Partnership, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: Over the last several months, we’ve had on the show the CEOs of the organizations that rate charities–from Charity Navigator to GreatNonprofits. And if you visited their websites to check on how they rated the Nurse-Family Partnership, you would see that it’s been awarded the maximum number of plaudits and stars. And here to tell you why that is the case, is the President and CEO of the Nurse-Family Partnership, Roxane White. Good evening, Roxane, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Roxane: Thank you so much. It’s delightful to be here!

Denver: Tell us about the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP)–what the central mission and purposes of the organization are.

Roxane: Well, what we do is really pretty basic and simple in many ways. We work with moms who are low-income, and we go into the home before they deliver their baby.  We help them deliver a healthy baby; we support the mom to raise a healthy child, and then we help Mom get back on track as well.

Denver: Let me ask you this:  What compelled you to take the CEO job at the Nurse-Family Partnership? I know you’ve been a tireless advocate for fighting homelessness and supporting youth.  Most recently, you served as the Chief of Staff for the governor of Colorado. What inspired you to take on this job?

Roxane: My first encounter with the Nurse-Family Partnership was when I was working with street kids.  I had a young mom who was ready to get off the street, and she was becoming a mom. And I called Nurse-Family Partnership, and I was like: “Yeah, right. Nobody really wants a street kid.” And they took her!  They helped her, and she turned her life around. The second time I was working in child welfare, and I was at an autopsy of a young person who had died. Family had failed: the foster family had failed; government, sure as Hell, can’t raise kids. So,  I was asking our staff,  “What can we do?”   They said, “There’s a program that can reduce child abuse by over 48% and has a track record of doing that.”  And we started working with Nurse-Family Partnership and got much better outcomes for families.

And then when I was Chief of Staff for the governor of Colorado, we were looking at what the heck do we do about Medicaid costs that were completely out of control!  And we brought in Nurse-Family Partnership as a way to reduce the cost to taxpayers of delivering unhealthy babies.

Denver: They made quite an impression on you. Let’s walk through the process a little bit.  Give us a picture of the typical mother you serve–her age, education, race, marital status– things like that.

Roxane: All of our moms are low-income, and all of our moms are at risk for a high-risk pregnancy. So they’re identified by their docs, by pregnancy testing places, by community advocates who say: “Hey, we got a mom here that’s going to deliver a baby.” Often, they are young moms; they may be teen moms. We don’t take any moms generally under the age of 14–but from 14 until about 30. There are moms who are at risk of having a baby born into the ICU unit, a baby being born unhealthy, a mom who’s not prepared to be a mom. So, our most vulnerable moms are the most expensive moms in terms of that delivery. And then we go into the home, and we start working with her.  We’re in the home at least every other week, if not more often before she delivers the baby, to help her deliver a baby on time, at a healthy birth weight.

Denver: Let me pick up on that  teen mom issue– that has always been a big question. Are we making any progress in this country, Roxanne, in getting teen mom birth rates down?

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Andrew Yang, Founder of Venture for America, Joins Denver Frederick

“If you are a smart kid in the U.S. today, you’re going to do one of six things in one of six places,” says Andrew Yang, founder and CEO of Venture for America. Learning how to build a business is not one of those things, and Cleveland and Detroit are not among the places.

What Mr. Yang means, as he explains in this segment from the Business of Giving, is that today’s top college graduates tend to gravitate toward a handful of fields (financial services, management consulting, the law) in a handful of cities (New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco). As did he, going from Brown and Columbia to a Wall Street law firm before realizing it was a bad fit and starting a successful career in start-ups.

Now Mr. Yang brings that experience to bear at Venture for America, a nonprofit he seeded with $120,000 of his own money. In this interview he details how Venture works to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs through fellowships and mentoring and shepherd that budding business talent to cities most in need of an economic boost. He also discusses Generation Startup, an upcoming documentary about the organization, and Venture’s goal to create 100,000 new jobs across the country by 2025.

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The following is conversation between Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO OF Venture for America, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: What would you say about a baseball team that was made up entirely of great field and shortstops? Well, you say they need to get some different kinds of players: someone who can hit, maybe a pitcher or two,  and some people who can play some other positions in the field. Well, my next guest believes that Team America has too many great field and shortstops. So he has dedicated himself to seeing that some of our best and brightest college graduates become engaged in helping to build enterprises in cities across the United States that could really use their talent. He is Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO of Venture for America. Good evening, Andrew, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Andrew: Thanks for having me; it’s a pleasure.

Denver: Tell us about Venture for America. What is the central mission and objective of the organization?

Andrew: Venture for America is a nonprofit that recruits and trains top college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses. We train them for a summer,  and then we send them to work at early-stage growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities around the country that could use an economic boost. Our goals are to help create American jobs through helping early-stage companies grow, and also to train the next generation of entrepreneur.

Denver: Let’s take a look at some of our successful college graduates from some of the very top schools. Is there a default path, Andrew, that they are following– both in terms of careers, and the cities that they gravitate to?

Andrew: Well, I resemble this. When I graduated from college, I didn’t know what to do. So,  I went to law school. My parents thought that was a great idea. And then I came to work here in New York as a Wall Street attorney. And to your point, that’s one of the default paths that our top college graduates have today… and one of the top markets. The default paths today are financial services, management consulting, law school, academia to some extent.  And our talent tends to concentrate in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, and a couple of other cities. One joke we have at Venture for America is: if you are a smart kid in the US today,  you’re going to do one of six things, in one of six places.

Denver: Yes!

Andrew: To your point about having a lot of the same sort of player on the field, that’s a pretty apt analogy.

Denver: Yeah. As you’re talking about trying to build and groom these entrepreneurs, I think the words “entrepreneur,” and certainly “social entrepreneur,” weren’t very commonplace a generation or two ago. And I think that today: with the lower barriers to entry, with the internet, and with social media, you can start a business from your dorm room or your home. And we read these stories about these incredible, successful entrepreneurs. I think most people have this assumption that more people are going into entrepreneurship than ever before. Would that be a correct assumption, or not?

Andrew: Well, the statistics tell the opposite story: Rates of business formation among Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 are down about 65%…

Denver: Wow!

Andrew: …over the last 25 years. And if you think about technology, it’s really a double-edged sword. So I’ll give you an example… People think: “Hey! Like now, you can spread the word about your business; you can do all of these things cheaply.” But on the flip side, the internet has taken a lot traditional, small business opportunities and transported them to the cloud, if you will.

One comparison I make is that Kevin Plank –who started Under Armour– which is now a multi-billion dollar company– His first business was selling flowers. Today there is 1-800-FLOWERS and a bevy of online vendors that would make that initial business probably unsuccessful. So, there are a lot of opportunities that have now been taken away.

Technology is also a barrier for many people because a lot of people aren’t coders. I’m going to guess that most of the people listening to this broadcast right now are not coders.  So, for all the talk and hype about:  “Oh, we need to train engineers and coders…” If you look at the ranks of entrepreneurs, the vast majority are non-technical, non-engineers. There has been a lot of industry consolidation at various levels that makes starting a business today actually more rare than it was 25 years ago.


…if you are a Big League hitter, and you hit 300, you’re excellent… which still means you’re not getting on base 70% of the time.


Denver: Yeah, I guess you have to be better than everybody today, whereas before you just had to be pretty good in your own community. Now, you have to be the best of the best. Do you find that young people have a fear of failure?

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Robert Egger, Founder of LA Kitchen, Joins Denver Frederick

The founder of LA Kitchen and the DC Central Kitchen, Robert Egger, discusses his initial idea to teach homeless men and women basic cooking skills, and how that idea has blossomed into a program with huge impact— from training unemployed adults for culinary careers, to reclaiming healthy, local food that would otherwise be discarded.


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The following is conversation between Robert Egger, Founder and President of LA Kitchen, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: There are not many founders who would build a world class social enterprise, then one day leave it all behind, move 3,000 miles across the country, and start up another one. But my next guest is not your typical founder; he is Robert Egger, the Founder of the DC Central Kitchen, and now the President and CEO of LA Kitchen. Good evening, Robert, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Robert: Thanks. It’s a real pleasure to be on.

Denver: Well, from the time you were a kid, you wanted to be Rick in Casablanca, the character played by Humphrey Bogart, open a night club, and change the world through music. But instead, you started the DC Central Kitchen in Washington. So you pivoted, Robert–long before anybody ever heard that word…outside of a few basketball coaches. Tell us how this came to pass.

Robert: Well, I was, as you suggested, a night club guy. I really dreamed–since I was very young– and wanted to be part of the social movements that I grew up watching in the 1960s. I wanted to be part of something, to contribute. As you suggested, man, I thought music was the vehicle, and I still believe it has power.  But I just ended up like a lot of people in the late 1980s.  The issue of homelessness became so “in-your-face” in DC,  but also in every city. I thought  I had to go out and do something. So one night I went out innocently  to serve people on the streets of Washington and encountered the kind of charity model–which is sadly and often times wrapped up in a kind of redemption for the giver, versus the liberation of the receiver. In short, I was serving food that was purchased at the grocery store to people who were standing outside in the rain.

And so I innocently proposed an idea that eventually became the DC Central Kitchen, mainly because all the groups I went to– to try and give it to them– liked everything the way it was. That’s been a benchmark of my career. It’s that sense of: “what we’re doing is great, but it could be better! Let’s always be open to trying something new.”


I also proposed the cooking program, that in effect said: Let’s teach homeless men and women basic cooking skills… and I don’t mean people right off the street. But, let’s try and be part of a system that would start to create an exit door. And restaurants could donate food. Then they could also help teach, and would have access to entry-level people who could help them make money! Everybody would win something!  That was where it started– this idea of quid pro quo.


Denver: Well, tell us a little bit about the DC Central Kitchen: what your business model was there; where you sourced your food; who you hired;  and what you were able to achieve.

Robert: OK. The first time I went out, I purchased food from a grocery store, served the people outside in the rain. So I said: “Hey, look: restaurants, hotels, hospitals, universities throw away a ton of food every night.” And they hate throwing away food; they just don’t want to be sued. So, if you could find a safe, healthy way to get that food…boy, you could serve more people…better food, for less money.

Denver: Yes.

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Rosanne Haggerty, President & CEO of Community Solutions, Joins Denver Frederick

In this segment, Rosanne Haggerty, President & CEO of Community Solutions, discusses her organization’s work towards a future without homelessness, in which poverty never follows families beyond a single generation.  Additionally, Rosanne debunks some myths surrounding homelessness— she explains that homelessness is not just a “big city problem”, and that it’s more cost-efficient to get people into a stable homes than to maintain their homelessness (i.e. via shelters).

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The following is a conversation between Rosanne Haggerty, the President and CEO of Community Solutions, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. It has been edited for clarity.

Denver: There are some social problems that, as unfortunate as they may be, just need to be accepted. They will always exist to one degree or another. And one of those problems most people have resigned themselves to is homelessness. No matter what we do, it will never be eliminated entirely. But my next guest is not most people. She is Rosanne Haggerty, the President and CEO of Community Solutions. Good evening, Rosanne, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Rosanne: Thank you for having me here.

Denver: You have said that the world is full of complex social problems for which no reliable, cost-effective solutions have been found. Homelessness, however, is not one of them. Explain to us what you mean.

Rosanne: All over the country, we’re seeing communities make profound strides in reducing and ending homelessness for good, among people who are chronically homeless–meaning they’ve been homeless for long periods of time– and homeless veterans. We really misunderstood this issue. There is much to be excited about… in terms of what can be accomplished when cities organize their resources properly. That’s the big “Ah Ha!”

Denver: Tells us about Community Solutions. This is now the second organization that you have founded, albeit, related to the first one– which was Common Ground. What is the philosophy of Community Solutions? What are the goals and objectives of your organization?

Rosanne: We help communities solve the complex problems that affect their most vulnerable residents. And we do that by bringing tools from other sectors that have been effective in solving complex problems–from design thinking, quality improvement, data analytics. So, that’s our mission. We have redefined homelessness as a symptom of the larger problem–the breakdown of community systems.


I quickly saw the young people I was responsible for–their problems were not 30-day problems. They were permanent problems around housing, jobs, families that had fallen apart… The real complexity was not homelessness, but poverty… that had driven them into homelessness.


Denver: You started this work back in the early 1980s, and you were exceptionally idealistic back then. You were really hopeful that homelessness was a solvable problem. But what you witnessed was quite disheartening… and gave you a little less of an optimistic outlook. What did you see back then?

Rosanne: When I first moved to New York, homelessness was a newly-defined issue at the time,in the early 80s. I worked by day at a shelter for homeless and runaway young people, and overnight, once a week, volunteering at a church basement shelter for homeless women. And I think in my naïvete, I was of the belief: “We’ll be enough volunteers and shelters–we can nail this!”

Denver: We can lick this thing!

Rosanne: “It’s a new issue; it’s kind of happened on our watch.” And within a couple of months, in both places, I was just appreciating this huge disconnect. I think I had imagined that there was some larger plan, that if we got enough volunteers to staff the shelters, this was all going to work out. But at the Shelter for Runaway and Homeless Youth, the young people could stay for a maximum of 30 days. And I quickly saw the young people I was responsible for–their problems were not 30-day problems. They were permanent problems around housing, jobs, families that had fallen apart… The real complexity was not homelessness, but poverty… that had driven them into homelessness. And yet, we would discharge them after 30 days. No surprise! Most of them would be back 30 days later.

After a few months, I thought, “What exactly are we accomplishing here? This is certainly not something that’s solution-oriented.” And meanwhile, I’m working as a volunteer overnight with women who would be bused to the church basement shelter…They had been lining up for hours and travelling all over the city before being dropped off…They would just sort of stumble in, exhausted. I was able to sit down and speak with a few of them over tea. And it was clear that none of them had any idea how they were going to get out of homelessness. And no one was talking to them about how that could happen. What they knew and had been instructed on was: when and and where to catch the bus to get to that overnight shelter. And so there I was, as a 21-22-year-old, thinking: ”Wait a minute! Nobody’s in charge here! There are a lot of well-intentioned emergency efforts, a lot of people like me who are trying to pitch in, but this is not going anywhere.”

Denver: Well, I think you also witnessed that the resources were available and, just as you said, people had deeply heartfelt intentions. But, the system itself… was broken. How was the system broken?

Rosanne: I’ll start from the vantage point of 2016. Sometimes it takes a while to understand and really see what’s going on. The dots weren’t being connected. There were people who could not solve their housing needs in the marketplace–who needed something other than just affordable housing in many cases–in order to resolve the overriding problem that was making them vulnerable to homelessness. (more…)

Seeking “One Brave Idea” to End Heart Disease: Nancy Brown and The American Heart Association

Heart disease is the #1 killer in this country, but 80% of it is preventable, according to Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. In this segment from The Business of Giving, Ms. Brown spells out the different programs of AHA devised to reduce death from heart disease and to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans.

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Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer of The American Heart Association

Heart disease is the #1 killer in this country, but 80% of it is preventable, according to Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. In this segment from The Business of Giving, Ms. Brown spells out the different programs of AHA devised to reduce death from heart disease and to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans.

She also discusses how mission-aligned businesses of AHA are generating 9-figure revenues for the organization, and how they and their partners are using crowdsourcing to find “One Brave Idea” to find a cure for coronary disease. Finally, she shares the keys to alignment, passion and camaraderie in a national charity.
The following is a conversation between Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the American Heart Association and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. It has been edited for clarity.

Denver: More than one in three American adults suffers from cardiovascular disease. To provide a little context: more women will die from heart disease this year than from all the cancers combined. So, Americans are fortunate that the person charged with leading the oldest and largest volunteer organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke, has created a culture of innovation. In so doing, she has forged some extraordinary partnerships and is increasing the amount of resources available to help better the lives of all Americans. That leader is Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer of The American Heart Association, and it is my pleasure to welcome her to The Business of Giving. Good evening, Nancy, and thanks for being with us this evening.

Nancy: Good evening, Denver. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Denver: So, tell us about the American Heart Association, a little about your history, and more about the mission and objectives of the organization.

Nancy: Absolutely! I’d be delighted to. As you’ve mentioned, the American Heart Association is actually the world’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke. We’ve been in existence since 1924. At the foundation of the American Heart Association’s work is the scientific enterprise of the AHA–coupled with our grassroots presence in communities throughout America–and our presence in 70 international locations. In these,  we dedicate our resources to help make the world a better place for people, and to prevent heart disease and stroke. We are guided by the organization’s 2020 strategic impact goal: which is to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% by the year 2020, while reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20% during that same timeframe. So this decade-long goal really is the goal that is the guidepost for the work of the organization.

Denver: Let me ask you a bit about heart attacks. I went around to a couple of my buddies this week, and I said, “Do you know what a heart attack is exactly? How does it differ from cardiac arrest?”  I have to tell you, Nancy, the answers were a little fuzzy; they were a bit uncertain. So give us an abbreviated heart disease 101 course if you would.

Nancy: Sure! I’d be pleased to. So, heart disease is, as you said, the country’s and the world’s number one killer. Heart disease is 80% preventable!  What happens when a person has a heart attack, is that the arteries or vessels leading to the heart muscle generally become blocked. They become blocked from atherosclerosis– which happens as we age, and also happens because of a hardening of arteries in individuals who have high blood pressure. When the arteries narrow, or when the arteries are blocked due to atherosclerosis, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen, therein causing the heart, in some cases, to have a heart attack. There is another kind of heart attack called a  “sudden cardiac arrest,” which is actually not a heart attack at all.  That is a misnomer. A sudden cardiac arrest happens when the electrical functions of the heart malfunction, and a person’s heart suddenly stops.

Denver: Completely.

Nancy: And that person can be revived generally through CPR or through a defibrillator, if one is available, or if people are trained in CPR. We can come back and talk about the role the American Heart Association has played in that over time. The important thing– if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or symptoms of a stroke–is to call 911 and get emergency care immediately! (more…)

Kate Roberts of Maverick Collective and the Women-Centric Model of Philanthropy

“Money doesn’t solve problems. People do!” says Kate Roberts, co-founder of the Maverick Collective, an organization that aims to redefine what it means to be a philanthropist.

 

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Kate Roberts, Co-Founder of Maverick Collective

In this interview from The Business of Giving, Ms. Roberts explains how Maverick Collective members invest a minimum of $1 million over three years to pilot an innovative solution for girls and women in the developing world. The organization, co-chaired by Melinda Gates and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, is an initiative of Population Services International (PSI).

The following is a conversation between Kate Roberts, Co-Founder of The Maverick Collective and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

Denver: With the constant barrage of messages, tweets, ads, Facebook posts and the rest, it is extremely difficult for any new initiative to break through and capture people’s attention. But then along comes The Maverick Collective, which has quickly become a hot topic in the world of philanthropy….. and beyond. So it’s a great pleasure to have with us this evening its co-founder, Kate Roberts. Good evening, Kate, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Kate: Good evening! It’s great to be here.

Denver: The Maverick Collective, which is still quite young, has really captured many people’s imagination. What is it?  And where did the spark of this idea come from?

Kate: The spark of it came from being so impressed with watching philanthropists, such as Melinda Gates, who serves as our co-chair. Coming to the realization that she’s leaving so many of her own resources on the table — and having the smarts, as well as money, to create social change. So, personally, I was really inspired by her journey and the great work that she was doing at the foundation. She then started to mobilize billions of dollars for the issue of family planning. So, that really led us to believe that there is an incredible platform for other like-minded, bold women who really do want to use their skills, their resources and their voice to create change…. rather than just writing a check. Go beyond the check…really get involved and amplify your impact as a philanthropist. And then, of course, the sustainable development goals were announced–very aggressive goals.

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Lindsay Levin of Leaders’ Quest and the Philosophy Behind Compassion X

In this interview from The Business of Giving, Lindsay Levin, the Founding Partner of Leaders’ Quest, and the author of Invisible Giants: Changing the World One Step at a Time, discusses how Leaders’ Quest helps build a sustainable, more inclusive world in collaboration with leaders. She shares the philosophy behind Compassion X and tells us remarkable stories of people she has met and the impressive  impact they’ve delivered through their work.

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The following is a conversation between Lindsay Levin, Founding Partner of Leaders’ Quest and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript  has been edited for clarity.

Denver: If you go on to the internet and look for courses in leadership, you will not be disappointed. There are plenty to choose from… whether you want to take them online or in person. But you won’t see too many reviews from those who have taken them that describe their course as “life-changing”  or “transformative”  the way you will for Leaders’ Quest.  It’s a great pleasure for me to have with us this evening the Founding Partner of Leaders’ Quest, Lindsay Levin. Good evening, Lindsay, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Lindsay: Good evening. I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Denver: So, tell us about Leaders’ Quest, founded in 2001.  What is its purpose? And what makes it so exceptional?

Lindsay: Thank you. Sure! Leaders’ Quest is really about bridging divides. Our work is about connecting people from very different walks of life, different industries, different sectors,  different countries… and having people learn from one another.

Denver: Well, I want to go on a Quest, okay? So, who am I going to go with? Where across the world are you going to take me? How long does it last? And what will I do when I’m there?

Lindsay: Sure, we do–broadly speaking–two kinds of Quests. The first sort of program you might join us for will typically be one week long. It could take place anywhere.  It could be here in the US; it could be in the Middle East; it could be somewhere in Africa,  Asia, Latin America. For example, our next program is in Kenya. The program after that is in Cuba. The one after that is in Israel,  Palestine, and the West Bank.

You would be with a real mixed group of leaders from different walks of life–people from big corporations, entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, people leading nonprofits. It would be a very deliberate mix of people from different countries. And in the course of five or six days with us, you would go out and visit with all kinds of leaders and organizations in whichever country we’re visiting. We would deliberately mix in time spent with businesses, innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists and technologists. Time is spent visiting various communities–grassroots, slums, townships, villages–where people are driving change from the bottom up.

Denver: So I would observe, listen and watch other people make change. How is that going to help transform me?

Lindsay: Well, one of the ways I think about our work is that you can feel like you’re looking through a window. You’re looking out at something else, and you discover that it’s not really a window–it’s actually a mirror!  In the course of having these different visits and different kinds of conversations, it’s very mutual. You’re learning, you’re sharing, you’re asking questions, you’re pursuing the things that really interest you.  And in the course of that, what typically happens  is you start to think about your own life.  You start to think about your own way of leading, your own way of relating to people. And you start to notice different things about how you do what you do.

Denver:  It sounds, Lindsay, a little bit like another organization called Roots of Empathy. It teaches children empathy. In Lesson One, a baby is brought into the classroom on a blanket by his mother. And you observe what the baby is trying to do– the frustrations of reaching a rattle, looking for his mother. As a result, the kids begin to talk among themselves. And changes begin in their behavior– as it relates to bullying, inclusiveness, being kind. In watching somebody else try to make change, you begin to reflect back inward on yourself. It sounds similar to the experience you attempt to provide…Correct?

Lindsay: Right! Exactly!  And one of the reasons I started this was I believe we don’t spend enough time engaging with and getting to know people we may think of as “other,”  or different from ourselves.  So, in my view and  experience,  once you’ve met people from a different country,  a different part of your own town, a different neighborhood–and once you’ve actually talked to them about the things that matter to them–it’s impossible to go back to seeing them as “other.”  You form a connection that changes the way that you look at relationships and life.

Denver: Another thing that I think is distinctive–and you just touched on it–is the sense of self-awareness. I think we spend so much time looking at our external environment–trying to win, get profits…

Lindsay: Right.

Denver:  You really can’t be a great leader unless you are self-aware, correct?

Lindsay: I agree. Self awareness — the ability to cooperate and collaborate. The world, on one hand, is very competitive. But it also needs partnership. It also needs collaboration. And I think today, we need that far, far more than we ever did in the past.


Those are some of the things that we try to show people… that the world isn’t just newspaper headlines or what you watch on the internet. The world is full of people trying to do great things every day.


Denver: You started this 15 years ago.. as I mentioned… back in 2001.  Since you began, what we look for and need in a leader has certainly changed dramatically. What are the big differences you have observed?  And how are they  reflected in the way you design and develop Leaders’ Quest?

Lindsay: Right.  I think  the world is changing very fast. That’s not going to slow down–be it  technology, scale,  the numbers of people on the planet,  how we’re all mixed up together — the world is changing very fast. So one of the challenges for leaders is to actually be at peace with that!  To be able to work with vast change, to cope with ambiguity, to cope with uncertainty… And I think for that, you need to be very, very rooted in what you stand for.  You need to understand your own values, what’s important to you.  To have a sense of optimism… see possibility… and work with hope. Those are some of the things that we try to show people… that the world isn’t just newspaper headlines  or what you watch on the internet. The world is full of people trying to do great things every day. And if you connect in with that–and if you build relationships with those kinds of people–you deliver very different outcomes.

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