Jennifer Buffett: Concepts Worth Sharing

In 2011, I wrote this piece about Jennifer Buffett and her foundation, NoVo. Five years later, the organization improves women and girls’ lives through a variety of initiatives that support marginalized and oppressed women in girls in indigenous communities and communities of color. A few examples are NoVo’s development of a farm to table program for urban food deserts in New York City, impact in policies that addresses sex trafficking, and organization of spaces where indigenous women take the main seat at the table. Additionally, NoVo recently announced a $90 million dollar investment to expand the academic opportunities of girls, while also ensuring the safety of girls as they go to school. In reflection, this piece demonstrates the actions that organizations and individuals can take to grow and flourish. Because with that, even more individuals can be lifted and flourish.

Jennifer Buffett will change the world. You may not know her now, but when all is said and done I believe she will own the title, The First Lady of Women’s Social Change Philanthropy.  Jennifer is the life size symbol of NoVo – to alter, invent.  The NoVo Foundation she created with her husband Peter is based on the premise that if you give a girl an opportunity, she will become a successful woman who will in turn create successful communities, businesses, and families. Jennifer’s story is just that.

After deep examination of the focus of their philanthropy and a personal examination of her own expression of her values and influence, Jennifer is speaking around the world sharing her personal story and experiences. She and her husband Peter spent years examining the interrelation between systems, culture, and relationships to determine place of impact and opportunity for change before launching the largest foundation serving women and girls, the NoVo Foundation.   Jennifer has incredible perspective to offer activists, social change drivers, and philanthropists and after hearing her recently, I distilled these ten concepts that are worth sharing; 

  1. Look at the roots of the problems, examine patterns and themes and find the programs and the stories that rule the world and which ones make sense. When dealing with our indigenous women and girls’ program, it was imperative to look at the impact that colonialization and government intervention had on the community. Once this history is recognized and processed with the community, take stories and experiences to create create strategies for change.
  2. Acknowledge two conflicting truths:  1. Girls and women are the primary drivers of change.  2. Cultural attitudes and systems put girls in a vicious cycle; blaming them and affirming that they are not valued.   The girl effect demonstrates that if you invest in a girl, her family thrives, she contributes to her community, and eventually her country succeeds.
  3. Invest in places where value is held and not yet recognized.  Note: there are 600 million adolescent girls living in the developing world who are currently ‘undervalued assets’.
  4. Value balance and partnership and affirm feminine values. This is particularly important for our “Promoting Local Living Economies” initiative. Often times, skills women possess are feminized and hold no economic value. Creating value for these skills deconstructs the position of female work and gives women the income they deserve from this work. Additionally, sustainable local economies just ignite larger economic opportunities as capital and products are developed.
  5. Encourage women to use their voice, say what is want and needed, take credit, and invite men to join as equal partners and co-creators. The oppressor must claim responsibility and step back in their positions of power and privilege. NoVo paired with A CALL TO MEN to invite and encourage men to recognize their role in dismantling oppression of women and girls. We called on them to create solutions to problems such as violence against women.
  6. As a woman, choose to be seen and heard and work to change the course of the boat named Earth Community. 
  7. Improve gender dynamics by recognizing that the qualities in the masculine ‘toolbox’ - force, hierarchy, punitive, and a focus on head not heart - are learned, normalized, and internalized. 
  8. Honor and showcase the characteristics found in the feminine toolbox; listening, connectedness, experiential learning, honoring innate cycles and rhythms, and wholeness. 
  9. Establish learning environments that allow for inquiry and participation. Our “Advancing Social and Emotional Learning” initiative draws on the feminized characteristics (empathy, deep connections, etc.) that women often are demeaned for in society and academia. Normalizing these feminized actions in these spaces and applying them to both genders creates a more comprehensive education and stronger communities. Additionally, it breaks down the gendered stigma around behaviors and emotion.
  10. As conduits of feminine energies, allow the most precious qualities of clarity, strength, knowing and vulnerability of yourself to come into full light. 

Seven Areas an Executive Director or CEO can Focus on for Success

Lately I have been getting calls from people who are starting in a new leadership position as CEO or Executive Director of a social sector organization.  Typically these organizations are called “nonprofits”, but l am purposely reframing this label to “social sector organizations” to better reflect the true bottom line work of social change and community betterment with our communities and people’s lives changing as the ‘profit’.  Many people are coming into this sector from the ‘for profit’ arena and are unsure about what they should focus on to be successful in fundraising.  Here are the tips I have been offering that may be of help for all social sector leaders – new and long serving.  As I put these thoughts together, I realized that these suggestions are relevant for both for profit and social sectors – only the language changes from funds/donors to sales/customers!

  1. Embrace relationship building. This is the crux of good fundraising – getting out of the office and being with people. Listening and asking for input on why they value the work of the organization.
     
  2. Assess your own prosperity work. I strongly believe that people who are out engaging with people to give to a charitable endeavor are more successful when they have addressed their own relationship with money.  Be sure to examine your own class background and your own beliefs about legacy and where and how you give so you can have an honest, transparent conversation with people with all types of resources.
     
  3. Create a top 100 list.  The database is the organization’s biggest asset.  Spend time reviewing lists and asking questions about how queries are done and what groupings have been identified in order to cull the top people so you will be able to focus your stewardship and relationship building efforts. 
     
  4. Answer the questions, “Why you?” and “Why now?”  Your story, especially for new leaders, is critical for donors to hear.  Why did you take the position, what are your ideas for honoring the current work and/or transitioning the organization into its 2.0 or 3.0 version.  Being able to articulate what the urgency of the organization’s work and what will be different with  gifts that range from X to Y is critical.
     
  5. Get testimonials from funders. Invite institutional funders and donors to write a note of support or testimonial to build credibility as a new leader and to build potential support.  Use these with proposals, on the web site or on case statements to demonstrate the breadth of the organization’s support and the reason others associate with the organization.  
     
  6. Build your ‘posse’. Find people who you respect, who you can be honest and transparent with and with whom you can confide for personal support and reactions to your ideas. 
     
  7. Be patient. Know that building your dream team takes time.  Whether it is your Board or your senior management team, it will take time to get the right people and have them click together.    

How to Get Athlete-Level Confidence at Work

Every time I lead a retreat, questions come up about embodying leadership. “How do I keep feeling confident when no one uses my ideas?” or “What do I need to do to have my presence as a leader felt?” Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code brought science and depth to the conversation on confidence. And some of the lines they share, many athletes know first-hand: “We have control over our confidence,” they write. “We change our brains and rewire them to be more confident. Confidence is essentially a kind of energy that allows us to move forward wholeheartedly. By taking action, we create confidence.”  ...