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February 2009

Date: 
Mon, 2009-02-02

President's Perspective

What You Can Do for Your Country

I am wary of sounding a partisan note, given how strongly I feel about the need for us all to put country ahead of any party. But I must acknowledge that I was far more moved by President Obama’s Inaugural Address than by any other political speech I’ve heard in decades. I was especially moved by the leadership qualities I saw on display—and by my sense of what’s at stake. More »

 

Investor Update

Youth from VPP Investment Partners Participate in People’s Inaugural Project Celebrations

Young people from a number of VPP investment partners joined with participants from around the country to celebrate the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama through the multi-day People’s Inaugural Project, hosted by VPP investors Earl and Amanda Stafford. Of the numerous festivities in Washington, DC, over the Martin Luther King holiday and inauguration day, the People’s Inaugural Project brought together hundreds of disadvantaged people and volunteers from across the nation to experience and actively participate in the historic events.  The three-day series of activities enabled underserved and distressed individuals, who demonstrated a positive example for others and would not have otherwise participated in inaugural-related events, an opportunity to share in the first-class celebrations.  More »

From the President

What You Can Do for Your Country

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world.”

—President Barack Obama, January 22, 2009

Mario Morino

I am wary of sounding a partisan note, given how strongly I feel about the need for us all to put country ahead of any party. But I must acknowledge that I was far more moved by President Obama’s Inaugural Address than by any other political speech I’ve heard in decades. I was especially moved by the leadership qualities I saw on display—and by my sense of what’s at stake.

I believe the President did the right thing to opt against oratory eloquence in favor of a stark, spare message. His words illustrated that he grasped the enormity of the challenges facing America and the world. He proved wise beyond his years when he spoke not in terms of “I,” as a would-be savior or conquering leader might, but rather in terms of “you and we.” As he spoke of our great history and the promise of what could be, he was clear that with this promise comes a price. That price means embracing a new ethos of responsibility. He put every one of us on notice that we are going to have to share the burden of getting out of this mess we created.

It’s clear that many Americans are ready to respond to President Obama’s call for individual and collective responsibility, but let’s not kid ourselves. Of course, we are going to have early, eager, idealistic adopters—like the hundreds of thousands of citizens who turned out this past MLK Day to volunteer in their communities. However, we are also going to have many people who are in no mood to add responsibilities on top of what is already on their backs. In the words of University of Chicago Professor Marvin Zonis, “It will be impossible to understand the world in 2009 without understanding three fundamental psychological processes now at work: Humiliation, Anxiety, and Mistrust.”

I have seen all three powerful emotions up close. An executive recently told me he feels shame and deep regret because the bank at which he worked has failed and hurt many families. Members of my extended family in Northeast Ohio find it hard to reach out and help someone else when the uncertainty and injustice of this economic crisis limits and threatens their own future. One family member is scared to death he will be out of work when the next round of cuts is announced at his company. Another relative, whose family has lived by the rules and within their means, is absolutely livid about all the bailouts for those who made bad decisions—bailouts for people who bought a home they couldn’t afford and bailouts for big banks that made terrible investments.

I’m no shrink, but it’s clear, even to me, that one of the best medicines for these feelings is not to turn inward—but rather the opposite. At a time when so many things are beyond our control, we can take actions that remind us that we have the ability to make a difference in our own lives and those of others.

Every day, each of us makes hundreds of decisions. President Obama offered a few good examples of how some citizens have chosen to use these daily decisions in a way that will have a positive impact on others, such as the decision to take in a stranger when the levees break or cut one’s hours to save a friend’s job. Let me offer just a few other quiet decisions we can make that can add up to significant change when multiplied by 300 million citizens.

Be more productive in your job, whether your organization asks you to or not. Don’t let your job description or union rules restrict you from lending an extra hand. Forget the words “It’s not my job!” Literally go beyond the call of duty. Make suggestions. Do more to help your co-workers.  The Associated Press recently ran a wonderful story that illustrates one aspect of what I’m talking about. In Muskegon, MI, the lead server at a family-owned pancake restaurant asked her colleagues if they would be willing to work a shift for no salary (tips only) to help out the owner, who was struggling and had more than once dipped into his own pockets to meet payroll. Every one of the 31 servers, busboys, dishwashers, cashiers, and hostesses said yes. “This is a wonderful business,” the lead server said. “We want to see it succeed.”

If you’re a CEO, especially one who is handsomely compensated when your business is struggling, lead by example and share the pain. Take a salary cut or forego a bonus—and don’t buffer your action with behind-the-scenes perks. I certainly never achieved the levels of success of many of our nation’s business leaders, but in my own way I tried to set an example when I was running the high-tech firm I co-founded. My business partner and I held our salaries down, and we purposely avoided “executive perks.” We didn’t do this to be altruistic. We did it because we felt it set the right tone and conveyed the values we wanted for the business.

Let me offer an even more radical idea. If you are CEO of a small or mid-size business, consider putting a small portion of your compensation or your bonus into a pool that could fund services to help those families who lost their jobs. I did this in the mid-1990s, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Give something—no matter how small—to help others; the needs in our communities are growing. If you have been giving a lot as a major donor, try to hold firm to your commitments as best you can. If it doesn’t hurt to give a little more now, do it. The same is true if you have little to give. I recently heard a story about a woman in Seattle who uses her passion for coupon collecting to get great deals on personal-care items like toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and razors and then brings these items every week to a homeless shelter in her community.

If you can’t give money, give something of yourself. Everyone has something of value to share with others. If it is something you love doing, your enthusiasm will be contagious. A good friend of ours has been a long-time advocate for using chess to help children learn. Recently, on top of his day job as a teacher, he began offering a chess program at libraries in the evenings and on the weekends. He targets young people of low-income families, in circumstances similar to the ones he lived as a child.

Write your own journal about the ways your actions have an impact on others. Doing so will help make you accountable to yourself. I call my journal, which I recently started, my “GB Log,”—G for “good” and B for “bad.” Every day, I note what “good” things I did for my family and others, even small actions such as returning a call from someone looking for advice, a connection, or sounding board. And then I note the opportunities I missed—that is, the gestures or actions I could have taken to help someone or, more bluntly, where I failed as a dad, husband, family member, friend, or professional.

Help rekindle the concept of “barn raising” as a means to help everything from schools to early childhood development centers. Let’s put the b.s. of bureaucracy, union turf, and formality behind us. Organize people to take on small and big projects, or just go do something on your own. I vividly remember a situation in the early 1970s when a large government agency was installing a new computer system. It was late in the day, and installation came to a halt because the guys working to install the water-cooling systems didn’t have a t-joint for the plumbing. So here was this multi-million dollar project hanging on a $1.50 pipe joint! Instead of falling back to “protocol” and “procedure,” one of the guys said, “Screw this!” and walked to the nearest hardware store, bought the fitting, and came back to finish the job.

Share your voice more. In a world with blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, social networking services, and other new and more traditional communications tools, we citizens have power to make our voices heard like never before. So don’t stand pat when you know something is wrong. And don’t express your anger only to yourself and then go silent with those who need to hear it. Look at what is going on around you and speak out more, challenge more, demand what is right, what is just.

When mayors, congressmen, or aldermen blow something, get others who share your beliefs and show up at their offices to let them know—and, just as demonstrably, let them know when they did something you think is right. When your local paper or broadcast station is too sensational or has overlooked the facts, write a letter to the editor or station head and post it to blogs and on social networks—and when their coverage improves, praise them for it. Let’s start holding everyone—including ourselves—accountable, doing so constructively, fairly, and without recrimination.

Do what you can to respect, honor, and support the men and women of the Armed Forces. Here’s a creative example: In 2005, two young sisters, Rachel (10) and Kelsi (8), came up with the idea of creating a national treasure hunt to raise money to help the families of service members. With their parents, they launched ThanksUSA, which has now awarded 1,750 scholarships to spouses and children of active-duty U.S. military service personnel. But you don’t have to start a new organization in order to make a difference. Just saying thanks when you see a service member at the grocery store or at a ballgame means a great deal.
 
The list above barely scratches the surface. What quiet decisions have you made or witnessed that affect others in a positive way? How have you or others dug a little deeper or gone beyond the call of duty? How have you or others “shared your strength,” to borrow my friend Billy Shore’s famous construction? How have you or others countered self-indulgence with sacrifice?

Yes, we’re in for a mess over the coming months and years. And things are going to get worse before they get better. But we’re in this together. Or we should be. Because together—whether at the national level with Democrats and Republicans putting aside petty differences or at the neighborhood level with parents working well with the teachers at a school—we can build a much stronger spirit of shared responsibility. Despite the enormous challenges before us, if we can find our collective purpose and band together, we will find that our best days are still ahead.

- Mario Morino

FROM VPP


Youth from VPP Investment Partners Participate in People’s Inaugural Project Celebrations

Young people from a number of VPP investment partners joined with participants from around the country to celebrate the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama through the multi-day People’s Inaugural Project, hosted by VPP investors Earl and Amanda Stafford. Of the numerous festivities in Washington, DC, over the Martin Luther King holiday and inauguration day, the People’s Inaugural Project brought together hundreds of disadvantaged people and volunteers from across the nation to experience and actively participate in the historic events.  The three-day series of activities enabled underserved and distressed individuals, who demonstrated a positive example for others and would not have otherwise participated in inaugural-related events, an opportunity to share in the first-class celebrations. 

An opening event, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Luncheon, was a reflective and inspirational tribute to Dr. King’s legacy, highlighting his vision, the historic achievements of the civil rights movement to date, the realization of equal opportunity, the promise of hope in President-Elect Obama and America’s vision of change.  Michelle Miller, CBS News Correspondent and Master of Ceremony, referred to the Inauguration as a “moment in time, a moment in history” and to the luncheon as a “perfect opening to this point in history.”

The young people from VPP’s investment partners were not just attendees at the luncheon but a critical part of the program itself. The nearly 1,000 guests celebrated as they listened to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington Ensemble and the Los Charlys Band from CentroNía (see related article below).  Another VPP investment partner, Friendship Public Charter School, had their school color guard present the colors to initiate the luncheon. 

Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year Tory Myles introduced the highly anticipated keynote speaker, Martin L. King, III. Mr. King referred to President-Elect Obama as a “visionary change agent” and the inauguration as an historical moment for celebration.  Nonetheless, King proclaimed that “We must all roll up our sleeves and help Obama…America has so much promise, potential, so much to offer the world.” 

Carol Thompson Cole, luncheon co-chair and VPP President and CEO, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ” ’Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness,’” and then said, “Earl heard a call, and he answered it, and here we all are on this incredible occasion, a gathering whose proportions are as historic and unprecedented as the inauguration we are here to celebrate.”

The Staffords also hosted three balls—one for children, one for youth and one for adults.  Some of the young people from VPP investment partners were able to attend the youth ball. Myles reflected upon the events: “I will cherish the unique experiences I had during Inauguration weekend with the Stafford Foundation and VPP…. I especially enjoyed the teen ball that I attended because it's not every day that a teenager gets the opportunity to dress up for such a remarkable occasion. I truly am thankful to be a citizen of the United States because it's moments like this that remind us of how fortunate we really are!” 

For more information, see the January 21 story from the Washington Post and the Stafford Family Foundation website.

Investment Partner Updates


Management Changes

SEEDSEED Welcomes Development Leader to Executive Management Team
Thanks to Jason Friedman, Director of Communications, for this update.

The SEED Foundation announced the hiring of Amy Kant to lead the organization’s development team. In her role as Chief Strategy & Philanthropy Officer, Kant will direct all fundraising, communications, marketing, and branding activities. She joins a highly successful fundraising organization that has raised more than $55 million over the last 10 years.

Kant brings deep experience and a proven track record in development and marketing. Prior to joining SEED, she provided nonprofit clients with business planning, marketing, sales, and fundraising expertise at AEK Consulting. Her experience also includes serving as Director of Marketing at Elkus | Manfredi Architects, Ltd. and overseeing fundraising as Director of Campaign and Development for Hebrew Senior Life. She also held development positions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and at Simmons College, where she received her MBA.

Announcements of Note

CentroNiaCentroNía Takes Part in Inauguration Festivities
Thanks to Brenna Casey, Communications Manager, for this update.

The Charlys, a merengue and bachata band made up of members of CentroNía’s Youth Program, performed on Monday, January 19, as part of the People’s Inauguration Project.  Band members Juan Carlos King, Carlos Alfredo King, Carlos Miguel King, Nelson Cruz, Roger Sanchez, and Kelly Edward Hendres played three instrumental songs for a crowd of more than 1700 people as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural Arts Luncheon held at the JW Marriott Hotel and sponsored by the Stafford Foundation. 

“I love all [The Charlys] music because it is heartfelt, humble, and great to dance to,” says Timothea Howard, CentroNía’s Community Schools Director who attended the event.  “And it was clear everyone at the luncheon did, too!”

“It was just really good,” said band member Nelson Cruz. “We met people from different states and representing different schools.” 


The Charlys perform at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural Arts Luncheon.

The Charlys formed during CentroNía’s Summer Youth Program and now meets weekly for band rehearsal.  “They’re making and recording their own beats,” said Manny Mendez, an after-school teacher who works closely with the group.  He reports that the band is working to create a compilation CD they can share with friends and fans.  

“We are delighted to be represented at "such an historic moment by these young men who have made all the right choices in their lives,” BB Otero, President and CEO of CentroNía, said.  “They are talented, self-taught, and can entertain us to boot!”

 

AALEADAsian American LEAD Answers National Call to Service
Thanks to Rick Chen, Manager of Development and Communications, for this update.

January 19, 2009, marked the 23rd anniversary of recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s pioneering work in civil rights. Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) promoted the change that Dr. King spoke of in his famous “I have a dream” speech at their Maryland and DC locations.

In Maryland, AALEAD students from both the Middle and High School After-School Programs came together to work with volunteers from the community and celebrate AALEAD Maryland's first MLK Jr. Day of Service. On the agenda for the day was assembling packages of health and sanitary items for homeless and low-income shelters in Silver Spring and DC, creating cards to be attached to donated books, and gathering toys for the children's wing of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.

In AALEAD’s DC office, more than 50 volunteers from across the country participated in the Day of Service. After a brief set of introductions, volunteers and high school youth formed small groups to discuss different perspectives for the future. Each group came up with an acronym to summarize their session. AALEAD youth gained valuable advice from a diverse group of people.

LAYCMMYC Students to Stage Original Play
Thanks to Lori Kaplan, Executive Director, for this update.

The Maryland Multicultural Youth Center, a division of the Latin American Youth Center, has teamed with Roundhouse Theater to produce an original play entitled, Telling Your Own Story. The partnership was initiated by the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County with the purpose of pairing arts organizations with nonprofits that serve youth in the county. The relationship between LAYC/MMYC and Round House Theater has grown into an ongoing partnership.   

For almost a year, a diverse group of 12 youth, ages 17 to 19, has been working on the creation of a play.  These youth were first brought together three years ago as part of the Tanglewood Apartments Anti-Gang Shield (TAGS) program which targeted youth, living in Silver Spring communities, who faced obstacles to success.  Initially funded by Montgomery Works, the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, and the Montgomery County Collaboration Council, LAYC/MMYC committed to find ways to offer these youth continuous opportunities to stay engaged.  

In this current program, the young people have developed a script from their own life experiences and candid conversations with people in the community. The stories they tell revolve around the themes of “Love, Family, and Money.” Twelve scenes focus on different aspects of the “teenage world” and how love, family, and money influence their lives. The play is appropriate for all ages.

Telling Your Own Story will be performed on February 12, 6:30p, at the Round House Theater, Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road. Refreshments will be served at 6:00p.

Mary's CenterMary’s Center Celebrates Approval of Children’s Health Insurance Program
Thanks to Lyda Vanegas,Advocacy and Communications Officer, for this update.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization Act of 2009 includes a provision that legal immigrant children and pregnant women will no longer have to wait five years to receive medical attention, allowing Mary’s Center clients better access to critical health care services.

“In this economic crisis, the approval of this bill brings hope to our families who have been neglected to receive health coverage due to the five-year waiting period,” Maria Gomez, Mary’s Center President and CEO, said.

As advocates for the bill, Gomez and other community leaders participated at a National Council of La Raza press conference on Capitol Hill to urge the US Senate to include legal immigrant children in the legislation. On February 4, Gomez attended the White House ceremony as President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.

The provision, known as the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), gives states an option to enroll children and expectant mothers, lawfully residing in the United States, into Medicaid and CHIP. The bill that passed on January 29 will also expand health coverage to four million more children.

Mary’s Center will begin identifying families who will benefit from CHIP to ensure that the Washington metropolitan area has healthy children who are ready to learn.

“For the last three years I’ve been paying the medical bills out of my pocket and this law arrived at a moment when our finances are weakening,” Ana, a Mary’s Center participant, said.

From the Field

Atlas Corps Launches Third Year of Two-Way Volunteer Corps

Atlas Service Corps, Inc. (Atlas Corps) is launching the third year of its international fellowship program for midcareer nonprofit leaders.  Based in Washington, DC, the organization runs a one-year, overseas fellowship program for mid-career nonprofit leaders with three to nine years of experience.  The signature program is like a "reverse Peace Corps" and brings nonprofit leaders from the developing world to volunteer in Washington, DC, at organizations including CentroNía, Ashoka, the Grameen Foundation, and Population Action International.

Atlas Corps is seeking new host organizations in the Washington, DC, area interested in having a nonprofit leader from the developing world volunteer at their organization for one year.  Candidates are recruited for the host nonprofit based on a job description provided by the host.  Atlas Corps will find at least two candidates who meet the criteria of the host and take care of the visa, flight, health care, taxes, living stipend, housing, and other program logistics.  The host organizations pay a cost share that covers about half of the program expenses and receives the Fellow for one year (from September to August). 

Atlas Corps is also looking for mid-career US nonprofit leaders to apply to participate in its fellowship program in Bogota, Colombia. Candidates must have three to nine years of nonprofit experience, a college degree, and be fluent in English and Spanish. 

For more information, please visit the Atlas Corps website.

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