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Chairman's Corner

Chairman’s Corner: December 2005

December 12, 2005

Giving Thanks for Hope and Inspiration

by Mario Morino, Co-founder of VPP

During the past year, we’ve all been bombarded with horrifying images—devastating natural disasters across the globe and on our shores, war in Iraq, and continued terrorist incidents. Here at home, we have our own mounting struggles as we face increasing global competition, poverty, hunger, the prospect of a flu pandemic, and more, all wrapped up in a bitterly divided political system. All of these wreak havoc and exact their cost on society.

These painful images, thrown at us by newspapers, a continuous stream of news and talk shows, myriad blogs, and an unrelenting flow of emails, are enough to cause us to question whether there is any real hope for civil society. Why go on? What’s the use?

Amazingly, amid all of this, hope and inspiration survive and thrive, as true gifts to humanity. And juxtaposed against the horrors are the many people whose lives and acts, big and small, inspire the rest of us.

One of those individuals was Peter Drucker, a truly inspiring man and one of the great minds of our times, who passed away in mid-November. Although I did not really know Drucker, in the mid-90s, I had the great privilege of spending three days with him thanks to philanthropist Bob Buford, who invited me and 12 other “social entrepreneurs” from around the world to Claremont, California. Not only was I completely awed by Drucker and his remarkably clear insights, I was struck by the many pearls of wisdom he shared, and by one comment in particular. After three days of stimulating private session discussions and an articulate summary by Drucker, one of my co-participants asked if Drucker could change things, what would be the one thing he would do? He responded pensively and without hesitation, “Civilize our cities.” And, so, in three words, this business leader, this believer in free markets and business enterprise, this advocate of excellence in management brought the discussion down to the core of our lives and challenged us to civilize how we live our lives and how we live with each other.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, my thanks to some individuals in the National Capital Region who inspire and give us hope by doing things to help others and, in their way, “civilize our cities.”

Thanks to the wonderful group of leaders (past and present) of the organizations we are proud to call our investment partners—Eric Adler, Sandy Dang, David Domenici, Will Gunn, James Forman, Maria Gomez, Donald Hense, Dennis Hunt, Lori Kaplan, Barbara Fox Mason, Darin McKeever, BB Otero, Vin Pan, JB Schramm, Pat Shannon, and Raj Vinnakota—and to their boards and staffs for what they do every day, big things and small, to improve the lives of children and their families, and for making this region a better place. They are true leaders, driven by purpose and a desire to make an important difference in the lives of others. And thanks, as well, to their support networks of community workers, mentors, tutors, daycare workers, teachers, and volunteers for their time and skills.

Thanks to the children, youth, and families who work with and benefit from the services provided by our investment partners, for demonstrating the will to improve their own lives and for creating their own hope for a brighter future—students working hard to earn an education and go on to college; young mothers making sure their sons and daughters are healthy and happy; New Americans building a future.

Thanks to all of the great folks at VPP. To our investors, especially my co-founders Governor Mark Warner and Raul Fernandez.  To each member on our board, for their strong conviction about our work and our community’s future. To our Executive Committee—Jack Davies, Terri Freeman, Charito Kruvant, Billy Shore, Les Silverman, and Ken Slaughter—for their sage counsel and constancy in ensuring that we stay the course in our work. And to our board advisor Lynn Taliento, legal counsel Bob Boisture, auditor Fenando Murias, and management advisors Bob Templin, David Bradt, and Rich McDonnell, who add greatly to our work.

Last, and most personally, thanks to our team at VPP. To Managing Partner Carol Thompson Cole for her remarkable leadership; to our talented Partners Shirley Marcus Allen, Fred Bollerer, and Eleanor Rutland; and to the other committed and dedicated members of a truly great team—Marta Craig, Courtney Dunakin, Manon Matchett, and Suzy Twohig, Victoria Vrana and the team at the Morino Institute—who, together, are making a difference in this community. And to the countless others with whom we are privileged to work who care greatly about what we do and how we do it.

All of these people and organizations strive for excellence in their work, heal the wounds of our cities, and contribute every day to “civilizing our cities.” And they recognize that the best gift they can give is to inspire hope in our children and help give them the opportunity to grow into healthy, productive adults who will, each in his or her own way, contribute to the strengthening of our social fabric.

Despite the work of countless people in our community, it’s still easy to despair over the enormity of the challenges we face. When I start to feel this way, I think back to something Billy Shore shared some years back. I was astounded that Billy was taking on the seemingly insurmountable challenge of eliminating hunger. I remember saying, “Billy, this can’t be solved; it’s a never-ending challenge…how can you possibly succeed?” He answered, “You may be right, but I don’t look at it that way. I just know that each day I and the others at Share Our Strength have to do whatever we can do and hope that others will be inspired by our work, do their part, and, in turn, more and more people will focus their efforts on eliminating hunger.” After years of unrelenting effort, Billy’s organization announced last year that eliminating hunger in the United States was now within reach and could actually happen within the next 20 years. That’s the power of inspiration and hope, complemented by a dose of strong leadership.

So, I wish everyone a great holiday season. And my personal wish for 2006 and all the years to come is that the leaders of our portfolio of nonprofit partners continue to inspire their own organizations, our communities, and most of all, the children.