Interview with Gretchen Buchenholz

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NEW YORK – Where can the interests of the Private and Non-Profit Sectors coincide? The Association to Benefit Children, a multimillion-dollar non-profit based primarily in East Harlem, is the archetypical example of an organization providing comprehensive care that works. Gretchen Buchenholz, executive director and founder of A.B.C. – recognized as a pioneer and authority at the forefront of the fight for social equality – spends her career navigating the intersection of humanitarian aid and corporate interests. She offered some behind-the-scenes insight into this point of overlap:

Where do the interests of the private and non-profit sectors meet? Where is the “common ground”?

“My worry is that as inequality grows, it’s harder to have those interests meet – as the worlds of the haves and the have nots become more and more segregated, these connections will be harder and harder to facilitate, especially without concerted orchestration. However, I have yet to meet the person who wouldn’t seize the opportunity to help, say, a child who is hungry or in pain, if they knew how they safely could.”

What are some specific tactics for the successful integration of private businesses and humanitarian efforts?

“Custom-tailoring what we ask the private sector for – to what they are able to offer, i.e. are there specific areas of expertise they have and are they interested in getting involved in their area of expertise or outside of it. A range of ways to get involved means that folks from the private sector aren’t presented with a cookie-cutter ‘one size fits all’ opportunity so, we are putting some thought into who they are, what they represent, and in what way they might want to get involved.

Face to face direct encounters are always the most powerful so when that’s possible, that makes the most sense. Photographs with narratives help but you need their attention first. Films and videos are also pretty powerful if they are well produced. Compelling spokespersons – but again – you need a forum way to get their attention.”

Why should the private sector engage in humanitarian aid, domestic or abroad?

“Self interest – there are negative consequences to extreme inequality, abject poverty, low levels of educational attainment, not just to the dispossessed individuals themselves but also to the larger society  so it makes sense to invest in the common welfare.

Nation building/civic society – in order for us to build a strong civic community with an engaged citizenry (writ large), we need to ensure that our community’s members have the tools and resources they need to participate fully, to have a voice, to be engaged.”

What is ABC’s model that successfully makes that connection happen?

“What we have done at ABC is created an array of opportunities for the ‘business/corporate sector’ to enjoy with us, shoulder to shoulder so to speak,  directly with the children and families in great need whom they get to know. From that springs the simple and honest human desire to feed, clothe and to know and love and worry about and make life better for that child… the humanitarian impulse.

The pleasures and privileges of participating directly: I believe that’s how we engage the corporate / business sector. They, in fact, engage themselves.”

 

The Association to Benefit Children sets its self apart from much of the non-profit world in that it is not reliant on ‘convincing’ people to write a check but rather provides a framework for which the “humanitarian impulse” has a chance to take place. Corporate support develops from direct interaction with those in need. The question that arises from globally-minded individuals is “can ABC’s private/non-profit integration model be applied to foreign aid efforts?” Is there a way to augment the, “pleasures of participating” for the private sector in assistance beyond our borders? We know at the least that establishing dialogues and sustaining relationships overseas helps connect the corporate world with global efforts.

– Davy Gardner

Sources: Gretchen Buchenholz (8/14/2013), Association to Benefit Children

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