Barbara Dyer is president and CEO of the Hitachi Foundation, which works to forge an authentic integration of business actions and societal well-being in North America.
Member Profile October 2010
Barbara Dyer talks about the Hitachi Foundation's Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program.
Years in position: 12
Years in philanthropy: 12
Where is home? Washington, DC
Years in DC region: 30 years
How did you get started in philanthropy? My first experience with philanthropy was when I worked in nonprofit organizations and had to raise funds. I also had been consulting with foundations prior to joining The Hitachi Foundation. When I received a call from the search firm called about the Hitachi Foundation position, it didn't seem like a good fit. But it turned out that my experience in the world of public policy and nonprofit management really prepared me for this in ways that I could not imagine at the time.
What's your favorite part about your job? Overall, it's the opportunity to use my creative instincts, strategic and tactical management skills to achieve something of significance in society. It is also a chance to work with extraordinary people. I also like the challenge of operating in a manner that transcends our apparent constraints. We are a small foundation but "we make no small plans." Instead, we take the position that our financial assets should not limit us; we have other assets that we marshal and we work with terrific partners -- other foundations -- with whom we co-design initiatives and pool our financial and intellectual resources.
We focus on the role of business in creating pathways of opportunity for low-wealth Americans. Our mission leads us to look at how businesses in industries such as health care, manufacturing, construction, the green economy can and do provide quality jobs and ladders up. It has also led us to nurture and shine a spotlight on young entrepreneurs in America who are establishing businesses intended to ameliorate some element of poverty. We've uncovered dedicated business leaders across our programs that are creating value for their firms and value for society. Their stories are a constant source of inspiration, particularly now when things seem so bleak. This position has also been a wonderful opportunity to learn about Japanese culture, and to operate at the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures.
Biggest challenge you've faced: Keeping all the pieces moving forward and in syncopated harmony. We've encountered obstacles as most foundations have these last few years--with a declining endowment. Moreover, a goal to enhance the well-being of low-wealth Americans in this economic environment is a huge challenge. We've seen major changes in U.S. labor markets, accelerated by the economic downturn.
Biggest/most exciting project you worked on in the past year: That would be the launch of our new Yoshiyama program. The old award was a fabulous program, but it was out of alignment with our mission. We decided to bite the bullet and convert it into a prize for young entrepreneurs who create viable, revenue-based businesses that are designed to address a root cause or aspect of poverty. It's been a wonderful and exciting challenge. Our team had to figure out what the social enterprise world was all about, learn what other organizations are doing, where this might fit, and whether it would add something. We spent a good year delving deeply into it and coming up with a design. We just announced the first nine recipients, representing six enterprises. This group will each receive $25K over the next 2 years, along with mentoring and support. So it's a really nice package for them at this stage in their business cycle.
We heard recently that you are now a "Visiting Scientist" at MIT. Yes, I have been invited to MIT's Sloan School of Management and am part of the Institute for Work and Employment Research. I divide my time between MIT in Cambridge and the Foundation in Washington. I am immersed in an environment that is idea-charged and feel quite fortunate to have this opportunity. My goal is to find points where our paths -- MIT's and the Foundation's -- can come together for mutual benefit. It's definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone in a good way.
"When I'm not working, I'm:" I have a wonderful husband and a son who is 23 years old. For this year,when I'm not at the Foundation I'm at MIT. It seems as though I am always on an airplane. But I do have another life. I love to cook, I love to read, I play music, and I love to hike. I also enjoy serving as a Trustee of Clark University, my alma mater.
Barbara Dyer at Washington Grantmakers' 2009 Annual Meeting
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington, DC 20036 |