Monday, May 30, 2011

Women and Children First! (When it comes to short-sighted budget cuts)

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, led by Share Our Strength board member Bob Greenstein, has posted on their website an analysis of the impact of proposed cuts in the Women, Infant and Children supplemental nutrition program @

The 2010 agriculture appropriations bill unveiled last week includes proposed cuts in WIC funding that would turn away between 325,000 and 475,000 eligible low income women and young children. Participation levels are likely to decrease as food prices increase.

It doesn’t require much imagination to realize that these are among the most vulnerable and voiceless of our fellow Americans. They belong to no organizations and have no lobbyists. It’s hardly a fair fight. And perhaps worst of all, there has long been a bipartisan consensus that the WIC program works and improves health and nutrition outcomes for women and children. So the legislation is not about cutting waste, fraud or abuse. Rather it’s about ideology prevailing over decency, and the expediency of short-term interests prevailing over the long-term needs of the next generation.

Excerpts from commencement speech at Mass Bay Community College

Thanks for the many requests for my commencement speech at Mass May Community College. Excerpts follow below.

Bill Shore

Commencement Address

Mass May Community College

May 26, 2011

Thank you President Berotte Joseph and congratulations to each of you.

Because of the pressing business at hand, I will say only three things to you this morning about my experiences and your opportunities, and then sit down.

First, as much as I appreciated that generous introduction, you should know that while everything that president Berotte Joseph said is true, that is not who I am. At least it is not, and of course could not be, all of who I am. Yes it is true that I worked in government and started Share Our Strength and that we’ve raised more than $300 million and that I was included as one of America’s Best Leaders in U.S. News and World Report, but that is only part of who I am.

I am also the son of a loving mother who died from a drug overdose. I was a principal architect of three losing presidential campaigns, one of which spent more than four years paying off its debts. And after graduating law school I failed the bar exam. Twice. I tell you this not for sensationalism’s sake or to gain sympathy, or even to get and hold your attention, as desperately as I’d like to do that for the next ten minutes.

I tell you this to persuade you that no life, not even a successful life, perhaps especially not a successful life, is lived as an unbroken string of successes. And indeed the shortcomings, failures and even bad luck that are an inevitable part of being human need not hinder your success in the least if you know what to take from and do with them.

Second, as diverse as you are in your intellect, appetites, energies, appearance and ambition, you share in common these world-changing powers: to share your strength, to bear witness, and to be a voice for those whose voices are not heard.

Share Our Strength was built on the belief that everyone has a strength to share, sometimes a gift that you may take for granted but that can be deployed to benefit others. I’m talking about something more than writing a check once you are financially successful, or volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter. I’m talking about giving of yourself, of your unique value added, as chefs have done by cooking at food and wine benefits or by teaching nutrition and food budgeting skills to low-income families. In the same way we have engaged authors, architects, public relations and marketing executives, and numerous others.

As a result we have helped to build the emergency food assistance network in the country, distribute 2.4 billion pounds of food, add millions of students to the school breakfast program, and made a life and death difference in places like Haiti and Ethiopia.

You also share the power to bear witness. Whether you graduated magna cum laude or by begging your professors to pass you, each and every one of you has this gift in equal measure. The power to bear witness is the power to go, see, feel, and share what you have felt.

I went to Ethiopia during a famine, to New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina, to Haiti after the earthquake. What I really wanted to do was to go and see for myself what had happened and how the victims were coping. I wanted to go and see and allow myself to feel things about what I’d seen, and then share what I’d felt. I had less of a sense that I could effect change than that I would be changed by the emotions - sadness, sympathy, despair, anger, outrage, and ultimately hope - that are the inevitable response to such a situation.

That is what it means to bear witness. You “bear” witness because what you experience weighs on you. And one way to accommodate such a weight is to redistribute and share the load.

When something affects us powerfully we often say we have been moved. The literal implication is having started out in one place and ending up in another. In this way being moved means being transformed and personal transformation is what powers social change. It’s what Gandhi meant when he said “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Bearing witness has always been the essential prerequisite for changing society’s most grievous conditions, for righting injustice, for reaching out to those in need. In the 21st century bearing witness is destined to become an even more powerful tool for advancing social change.

You also have the power to be a voice for the voiceless. And the need has never been greater. We have 48 million Americans living below the poverty line for the first time in history, and 19 million of those are living in “deep poverty” below half the poverty line, meaning a family of four living under $11,500 a year and a family of three living under $7500 a year. 44 million Americans are on food stamps and 22 million of them are children.

You leave here today with a degree, and an education, and the support of a community, that gives you a voice. But you also leave with a choice. Will you raise that voice only on behalf of your own interests, or on behalf of others whose voices are not heard.

Third and finally, I hope you will leave here with a sense of urgency. Martin Luther King once said that “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is the thief of time. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood, it ebbs.”

To me these have always been more than eloquent words. I went to Ethiopia during the onset of a terrible famine there in 2000 and 2002 and met a 13 year old girl at a school we were supporting, and where we were trying to build a hospital next door. Her name was Alima Dari and we stayed in touch for several years, exchanging letters, and pictures. But one day a colleague of mine went to Ethiopia on a trip I couldn’t make and I gave him a letter to give to Alima but then didn’t hear from him for many days. He finally wrote to say “ I hate to tell you this but Alima died of cerebral malaria. She’s been misdiagnosed with Tuberculosis and by the time they realized it was malaria and got her to Addis Ababa it was too late.” And there again were Martin Luther King’s words.

But you don’t have to go all the way to Ethiopia to find and meet your Alima. Alima is in Boston, and in Washington, and Denver and St Louis and wherever kids are at risk, vulnerable and voiceless.

No one spoke more eloquently about the need to share our strengths than the poet Gwendolyn Brooks who wrote:

We are others harvest

We are each others business

We are each others magnitude

And bond.

I have learned that these words are true. Whether you are a banker on Wall Street or a baker on Main Street we are each other’s harvest.

Whether you are an engineer, entrepreneur or an educator, we are each other’s harvest.

Whether you design video games for next year or cathedrals that last centuries we are each others harvest.

Thank you and congratulations.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sharing Strengths to Support Community Colleges

Last week I had the privilege of being the commencement speaker at Mass Bay Community College, one of 15 community colleges in the state. It gave me a new appreciation for the vital role of community colleges and how many are sharing the strength’s to help them succeed.

Mass Bay Community College is 50 years old. I met many faculty members who had taught there for three decades. Most have PhD’s and a lot of options in terms of where they could teach, but wanted to work with students who might not have the advantages and the opportunities of others who attend more elite schools. The board of course is all volunteer. And their extraordinary president, Carole Berotte Joseph, when inaugurated in 2005, was the first Haitian American college president in the country. She was born in Port au Prince, grew up in NY, and we met at a lunch hosted by the Haiti Fund of the Boston Foundation. This is her last year in Boston as she has been recruited by the City University of New York to become president of the Bronx Community College.

Some of the students are going on to four year colleges; others are heading to work in fields ranging from nursing to automotive maintenance. Some are single parents, and some of special education requirements. Many are of modest financial means and have overcome significant challenges to make it all the way to graduation. They have a refreshing sense of appreciation for what they’ve earned more than a sense of entitlement to it. For me it was an honor to be able to challenge them to share their own strength’s, to bear witness, to be a voice for those whose voices are rarely heard, and to have always seek to have the imaginations of unreasonable men and women.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Our Six Keys to Sustaining Success

This month saw us in Los Angeles, New York, Omaha, and Seattle among many other places. Cooking Matters was awarded $1.7 million by the Colorado Health Foundation … CBS correspondent Scott Pelley, on the eve of being named anchor of the CBS Evening News, spoke at a record-breaking Share Our Strength dinner at the Four Seasons in New York … we presented the No Kid Hungry strategy to a meeting of First Ladies sponsored by the National Governors Association and hosted by ConAgra Foods, as we also did at Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles … Groupon became a new corporate sponsor… and successful Taste of the Nation events took place from Portland Oregon to New York.

Something is going right at Share Our Strength and as a result we are in a stronger position than ever before to lead powerfully in the effort to end childhood hunger. But we need to be sure that things continue to go right. And that of course won’t happen of its own accord but only if we are careful and purposeful in taking specific steps to sustain our growth.

In a previous posts I described the ingredients responsible for our success and growth over the past several years. The memo sets out six of the keys to sustaining that growth.

1. “Stuff that works, stuff that holds up” (courtesy of singer Guy Clark): An old friend with whom I once toiled in politics used to say that the hallmark of losing campaigns was a culture of “Try something, and if it works, try something else.” It is easy to get complacent or even bored with what is working, or to take it for granted and start to think about doing something else. But while we will always be a dynamic and entrepreneurial organization, we must have the discipline to stick with the philosophies and strategies that led to our success in the first place including: celebrating food, delivering measurable value back to corporate partners, designing creative ways for individuals to share their strength.

2. Embracing humility through the power to persuade. One additional lesson from my political days. The most important book I read in political science was Richard Neustadt’s classic called Presidential Power. Neustadt argues that presidential power is the power to persuade. Contrary to popular perception a president can’t just command and expect things to happen. The other institutions of government have their own constituencies and their own sources of power and the president needs their cooperation to get things done. To get that cooperation the president “must persuade others that what he wants is in their best interests as well.”

If that is true for presidents it is certainly true for us. No matter how big we get, how much money we raise, how many governors, Academy Award winners, or network news anchors come to our events, at the end of the day we are dependent on volunteer organizers, local partners, and others with whom we must be prepared to listen, compromise, accommodate, motivate, and ultimately inspire by virtue of our vision and strategy. All we have earned, and must continually re-earn, is the right to try to persuade them of our views. It is precisely the time that we need humility the most.

3. Working As One. Our board member Sid Abrams recently sent me a book co-authored by Deloitte’s global CEO, Jim Quigly. It is called As One and represents years of studying effective collaborations, identifying 8 archetypes of leadership that can be used to create such collaborations. Without getting into the books details though, you can get the main point from the two word title: how do we recognize the individual power in each of us to achieve collective goals.

As we become larger, as each of our departments become more robust, and under more pressure to be accountable for achieving its goals, it becomes more difficult but more important than ever that we each act to put the interests of the larger organization ahead of the interests of any one department, group or individual. There is no possibility of success except as part of a team that is committed to Share Our Strength first, and its own department’s needs second. Senior leaders and department directors need to model such behavior.

4. The Restorative Power of Bearing Witness: As organizations grow larger their own organizational imperatives absorb more and more time and energy – hiring and managing staff, reacting to external requests, crafting budgets and measuring outcomes. And while all of these serve our mission in indispensible ways, the time and energy devoted to them often comes at the expense of feeling close to and connected to the mission itself.

The most powerful remedy I have found is regularly reconnecting with the impulses that brought me to the work in the first place – and that is by having those impulses anew by going to see, first hand (and not always comfortably) the people and places that need us the most, whether it’s the food stamp registration program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital or the UNICEF in Haiti. You should too. There’s a ‘Get out of the office free” card waiting for anyone who desires to bear witness in this fashion, especially if you share with the rest of us. Your renewed energy and commitment will more than make up for a day away.

5. Doubling Down on Transparency: It also follows that the larger we get, the less our stakeholders can know as intimately as they once did. And as the number of stakeholders grows, they won’t be able to assess us based on our character or friendship, but rather on how efficient and effective we are. The disaster that has befallen THREE CUPS OF TEA author Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute is a good example of a probably good man (I don’t know him) who left himself in the position of having no metrics but only good intentions with which to counter devastating accusations about the way in which donor dollars have been spent. Because we go to great pains to ensure that our financial reports are accurate and thorough, and because we are working hard to go farther than most organizations in measuring the outcomes we achieve, we should take the offense in conveying our transparency.

6. Longer Time Horizon: We need to plan farther ahead than we ever have before. We’re not an ocean liner yet, but we’re not a nimble sailboat either. We can no longer turn on a dime or expect our colleagues to do so. We need strategic planning that focuses at least three years out, more multi-year partner, and early identification of investments we will need to make in the future.

With each passing day and with each accumulated success, large or small, we raise expectations that much higher. That fuels the momentum behind the “flywheel” and brings us closer to achieving an end to childhood hunger. It also means we’ve got a greater obligation than ever before to be analytic, thoughtful and deliberate in how we sustain that success. If we are, we won’t have seen the last of months like this one.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ingredients of Successful Growth: Learning to Collaborate and Compete

Nonprofits need to be more intentional and purposeful about competing – understanding that to compete at any level you must compete at every level. We are not just competing with other organizations to deliver the best outcomes. We are competing to attract and retain the best people, to ensure that we work not with whatever left over resources may be available, but with the best resources available. This may mean foregoing pro bono services and instead contracting with marketing firms, law firms, etc.  It will definitely mean paying competitive compensation so that you can recruit not only the best talent in the nonprofit sector, but the best talent wherever it is found.

Share Our Strength board supports capacity building

The Share Our Strength board met in NY last week, hosted by Danny Meyer at the offices of the Union Square Hospitality Group the morning after they had won three James Beard awards, including for Best Restaurant for Eleven Madison Park. Needless to say, we enjoyed a terrific lunch. But there were other important highlights.

We began with our auditors presenting a clean and unqualified opinion about our 2010 audit and the board approving that as well as our IRS form 990. Everyone was encouraged by our significant financial growth, and how well our financial records and information are organized.

We also had an in-depth discussion about our child hunger strategy, led by Chief Strategy Officer Josh Wachs and board member Scott Schoen. It included discussion of how our grant-making fits into the strategy, how we intend to set targets and measure results, along with some preliminary ideas about measurement from Community Wealth Ventures’ Amy Celep.

Most important, the board pushed us to think ahead to how much capacity and infrastructure we need to support continued growth. The Share Our Strength board understands how capacity equals impact and rather than constraining management as some boards do, they wisely coax and coach us to invest in our enterprise, to “put our own oxygen masks on first” so we will be better able to assist those who depend on us.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Real Dilemma for one sympathetic to The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men

A health official in Nigeria says that more than 300,000 children die from malaria annually, in Nigeria alone, yet some advocates insist that we can reach near zero deaths from malaria by 2015. 63% of all hospital attendance and 70 percent of illness in children under five are due to malaria according to an article that can be found at @

Some leading anti-malaria advocates insist that we can reach near zero deaths by 2015, which seems optimistic given these statistics in just one country, and the fact that 800,000 children died from malaria in 2009.

On the one hand such optimistic advocacy can rally and inspire. And those behind it surely and authentically believe it will come to pass, or perhaps believe that asserting it will help it come to pass. I understand that approach and at times, with other issues, have deployed it myself. But so many scientists who are deeply involved in malaria are doubtful – because of drug resistance, the limitations of bed nets, and the lack of vaccines, that it gives one pause and raises the specter of disillusionment and reversal if the law of unintended consequences comes tragically into play as a result of such optimistic assertions. It’s a real dilemma for one sympathetic to the Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, many of whom I profile in my new book of that name.

Serendipity or the power of bearing witness?

On Friday I had the privilege of keynoting the 13th Alexandria Business and Philanthropy Summit It’s a community with impressive philanthropic leadership – and sets an example for many to follow. While there I observed some acknowledgements of the City Manager’s last day. His name is Jim Hartmann.

During my talk I referenced Scott Pelley’s recent 60 Minutes piece on homeless children in Seminole County, and the opportunity we’d had to have dinner with Pelley, and hear him speak, just a few days before. As soon as I finished Jim Hartmann walked over and introduced himself. He’d just taken the position of County Manager in Seminole County, was starting in 3 weeks, had seen the 60 Minutes segment and wanted to make a difference for those kids.

In a follow-up e-mail Hartmann said “How serendipitous that you were speaking to community leaders in Alexandria on my last day as their city manager and you spoke of the problems in Seminole County where I was appointed County Manager a week earlier. What are the odds of that happening?

I know Jim asked it rhetorically, but when I thought about it I realized that actually the odds were pretty good. Dedicated public servants like Jim Hartmann go where the need is. They accept the tough challenges not the easy ones. And when someone like Scott Pelley bears witness, or even beforehand in this case, someone like Jim Hartmann acts.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Newly named CBS Evening News Anchor Scott Pelley, Bearing Witness with Share Our Strength

In New York on Monday night at a Share Our Strength dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant, and on the eve of being named the new anchor of the CBS evening news, Scott Pelley spoke movingly of the 60 Minutes piece he did on hungry and homeless children in Florida. “When we shot that story in November, there were 1,000 homeless kids in Seminole County Schools. Today, there are 1,750 homeless kids, an increase of 70 percent. On the positive side of the ledger, so many thousands of people called us the Monday after we broadcast the story and said, ‘How can we help?’ We know the answer to that question: it is Share Our Strength.”

Pelley demonstrated for all of us yet again the power of bearing witness. We raised a record amount of funds to help bring our No Kid Hungry campaign to New York – and he told of his hope to do some follow-up stories which could help childhood hunger assume its necessary place on the national agenda. Look for a link to his talk here in the near future.