Changemaker: Helping One Million People Out of Poverty
A nonprofit created by GSB alumni at their 25th reunion is still working to alleviate global poverty.
“We were at our 25th reunion. There were probably 150 people in the room. I was just sitting there bathed in the sense of ‘There is great work that can be done.’ ”
In this ongoing video series, we showcase Stanford GSB alumni who are striving to change lives, organizations, and the world.
Carol Head is the co-chair of Project Redwood, a nonprofit started by the Stanford MBA Class of 1980. She recalls the moment in 2005 when she told her classmates, “We have extraordinary access to financial resources, to power, to contacts. What if, as a class, we decided that we would band together and create some kind of an entity that would work to make the world a better place?”
That was the spark that created Project Redwood. Today, the organization provides funding, expertise, and networking to social entrepreneurs working to alleviate global poverty. To date, Project Redwood has supported about 60 organizations around the world, helping nearly a million people lift themselves out of poverty. And in recent years, the group has expanded its membership beyond the original 300 members of the Class of 1980.
“The student body at the GSB is now highly attuned to entrepreneurship in the social space and doing work to help make the world a better place,” Head says. “It’s really just part of the air they breathe now. They’re going to be the leaders of Project Redwood in 30 years and we need them to start now.”
Carol Head: I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. My older brother had a number of neurological difficulties, and to watch how he was treated, I just, from a very young age, understood that there were people in this world who are born into circumstances that make life much more difficult for them. I also continued to be shocked that there were things that I was told I couldn’t or shouldn’t do because I was a girl. And I think that set the tone for me to really understand deeply from an early age, that there are people who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own.
I started in 1978, and I think at that time, maybe 20-, 22% of the class were women. It was still unusual for me coming from such a baseline of understanding about business, about power, about how the world works. I had never understood that. And the subtext of the business school was I began to understand. It was in the [inaudible] and that was enormously valuable for me, for whatever I might want to do in my life.
Project Redwood is an organization open to any GSB alums who are interested in working together with other GSB alums on the issue of global poverty. And it came into being because, we’re all at our 25th reunion, which is a big thing, and it was awesome. And there are probably 150 people in the room, and you’re just sitting there bathed in the sense of there is great work that can be done, that these individuals have stepped forward and done.
I kept looking around like somebody’s going to stand up and say, “We got to do something here together as a class.” And nobody did, so I finally did. I’m still the girl in the front row. And I said, “We’re 25 years out from our career. We have extraordinary access to financial resources, to power, to contacts. What if, what if, we as a class decided that we would band together and create some kind of an entity that would work to make the world a better place?” And that was the spark that created Project Redwood.
We look for the best projects where dollars were leveraged to help whomever lift themselves out of poverty. What I’ve been involved with is called Hero Women Rising. It’s in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And it was founded by an extraordinary woman many years ago, who created a school where women, regardless of what education level they have coming in, can learn a trade. These are women who then can go out and begin to earn money on their own. We support farming communities. We’ve provided support to about 60 organizations around the world so far to date. Because we are MBAs, we do analyze this, and it’s pretty clear that we’ve helped almost a million people across the globe lift themselves out of poverty at this point.
The student body at the GSB is now highly attuned to entrepreneurship in the social space and doing work to help make the world a better place. I mean, it’s really just part of the air they breathe now. That number of those current students have joined us, and boy, do we need and want them. And besides, they’re going to be the leaders of Project Redwood in 30 years, and we need them to start now.
I think most of the entrepreneurs that we fund and the organizations that they create, I think those will endure, but I also think there’s always a new generation coming up behind it. It seems to be a basic human instinct. Aside from all the ones that we know about that aren’t so admirable, there’s also one about that human impulse that so many people have to make things better, not so much for themselves, but for the people that they see around them, that’s going to endure. That’s going to endure.
I’m Carol Head, co-chair of Project Redwood.
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