EMpower President Cynthia Steele recently connected with Jim Valone, EMpower Board Director and Partner at Wellington Management, to discuss his engagement with EMpower and about how the finance sector and philanthropy has changed to incorporate sustainability and community solutions. Check out some of the interview below!
CS: You began supporting EMpower back in the day—2004. What was it that attracted to the model?
JV: There are several factors that attracted me to EMpower. First, I really liked the mission: the fact EMpower targets at risk youth made a lot of sense to me. It also gave me a way to give something back to emerging markets in a way that could really help their development over the long term.
Second, it was a convenient and easy way to give something back. As an investor, I travel all the time to EM countries, so I understand they have enormous development needs. But it’s really hard to identify how to help out. To have an organization that was doing the due diligence and the research to identify some very worthwhile grantee partners was very attractive to me (call that laziness!). The lazy part of me really appreciated that a strong professional staff was doing the really hard, but critical, leg work.
I had complete trust in EMpower’s purity of mission and focus and that the organization was structured for success.
CS: Given the fact that you’ve been a donor for ~17 years, what has struck you about EMpower’s evolution?
JV: The evolution has really been remarkable and EMpower has changed in a lot of different ways. But probably most visibly is just the scope and reach of the organization in terms of the number of countries and its span across geographies. Also, the sophistication of the work that is done to identify grantee partners has evolved quite a bit.
My perception of Empower has also changed substantially. Initially, I thought of EMpower as a fund of funds that would go out and identify some worthwhile grantee partners and direct money in their direction. Over time, I realized that it’s much more than that. EMpower is structured much more like a private equity or venture capital firm,
and funding is only a component of what the organization is doing to help achieve the mission. There is also advice, sharing best practices, and direct engagement with the grantee partners that makes them better. The organization has obviously gained a tremendous amount of wisdom over a couple decades and it is now sharing that wisdom with its grantee partners …so it has become much more than a source of funding for them. Summing it up, EMpower’s reach and impact is much bigger then I initially envisioned, and its reach and impact has grown continuously over time.
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