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Ideagen Power 100 Exclusive Interview with the UN Foundation’s Kathy Calvin with Ideagen’s George Sifakis - Part I of the Interview Series

George Sifakis:
Welcome. Welcome to Ideagen, ideas leader radio. Today we have with us an exclusive Ideagen interview with one of the 2016 Power 100, UN Foundation President and CEO, Kathy Calvin.

Kathy, welcome!

Kathy Calvin:
Welcome to you! Looking forward to it.

George:
It’s a tremendous honor and pleasure, especially based on all of the incredible things you’re doing at the foundation, beginning with your bio. My goodness.

First of all, it’s important to note that you’re an advocate. You’re a storyteller. You’re a champion for girls. You’re a motorcycle rider as a side kick, if you may, not the driver but the passenger, correct?

Kathy :
Correct. I have the lucky place on the back seat.

George:
That’s so cool, and also equally importantly, a tri-sector athlete. Kathy’s career has spanned across all sectors and walks of life including public, private and non-profit work. Kathy was made CEO by the UN Foundation Board in 2009 and President in 2013, which has been instrumental for advancing support for the UN mission as well as an advocate for public and private sector partnerships to bring about solutions to issues plaguing the world.

As the President and CEO of the foundation, Kathy works to bring about the inclusion of women into all sectors and opportunities across the globe. To work at the helm of the foundation advocate of the UN and connects people, ideas and resources form all over to help the UN on its many humanitarian missions. Being a public charity with partners, the foundation’s work is committed to decreasing child mortality and to creating a clean energy future using mobile technology and development in improving U.S. and UN relations.

Kathy has received numerous awards and recognition for her philanthropic work including named to Newsweek’s 150 women who changed the world in 2011 and in 2012. Kathy’s on the board of International Woman’s Media Foundation and plays an active role in empowering women via her innovation and leadership.

Kathy, I could go on with the unabridged version of your bio, but that would take up the entire interview spot and there’s so much important work to talk about that you’re working on.

Welcome again.

Kathy :
Well thanks, let’s dig right in.

George:
Absolutely. Kathy, describe if you may the UN Foundation’s unique mission and your work within the international community.

Kathy :
You know, it is a unique mission and it took a unique guy, Ted Turner, to recognize that there was a need for a UN Foundation. It didn’t exist in 1997 when he had the bold audacious idea to make a billion, with a “b,” dollar contribution towards the UN.

At the time he did it, it was before Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and audacious philanthropy, Sean Parker and all the people who have come since to make a really big difference with their philanthropy by thinking big and impacting a major institution, and what he wanted to do was to help the UN by ensuring that the U.S. always paid its dues on time and in full, so we do UN lobbying.

He wanted to make sure that lots of partners from all sectors could work with the UN and enhance the effectiveness around the world. He really believed that average individuals, whether you’re a world leader or a billionaire or a 9 year-old kid could get involved with making a difference as a global citizen, and he wanted to make that possible.

It’s unique and the UN calls us at various times to help them and we take that seriously and we’re honored to be able to share that name with the UN and do that. We try to be like Ted Turner, innovative and bold, and using the power of communication to tell the story about what the UN does around the world.

George:
That’s certainly one incredible commitment and certainly Ted Turner’s vision and boldness is something that I think we all on the planet now appreciate based on all of the impact you have made in such a relatively short period of time.

I must also introduce today our team, Sabrina Parisi.

Sabrina:
Hi, nice to speak with you.

George:
... and Ben Hatchet.

Sabrina:
I do really find it interesting that you say his goal was to be innovative and bold, and so is the UN Foundation. Going off of that inspired you to join the UN Foundation?

Kathy :
Well, I hadn’t worked in the non-profit sector and when Ted and the former president Tim Wirth invited me to join, I thought, “Wow. What do I know? What could I bring?”

I’m not a foreign policy expert, but in the end what inspired me was that I could see something big was happening in the non-profit sector. It was really becoming the place to be ... lots of innovation, lots of exciting opportunities to engage and make a difference. I thought the UN was the biggest brand around and would be a really interesting place to try to promote the partnership idea which was just becoming an idea at the time, about 15 years ago.

Lastly, I realized that one of my strengths and assets is that I’m pretty good at translating. At AOL I translated the new internet world to non-techies. When I was in politics I translated the candidates views to voters.

I love that I can help translate what the UN does on a daily basis to save lives and keep girls in school and ensure refugees have assistance. Those are very important things to be able to tell people about, so I love that opportunity to help change the world by helping translate what’s going on and coming up with ideas and opportunities for people to be part of it.

08/25/2016 04:24 pm ET

AARP’s Kevin Donnellan Exclusive Ideagen Global Thought Leader Interview (Part II) with Ideagen’s George Sifakis

Kevin: I worked on Capitol Hill before coming to AARP. When I worked on the Hill, I
spent a lot of time focusing on aging issues. Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro’s congressional district had one of the oldest aging populations in the country. We spent a lot of time working on aging issues. That’s where I got into aging issues. When I decided to leave the Hill, I was attracted to AARP because of their mission. I have to say, when I got here I thought, I’ll do this for a couple of years and then I’ll try something else. Here I am now, 30 years later, still at
AARP.

The main reason I’m here ... Well, there are actually two. One is, again, the mission of
the organization. It’s a fantastic mission. As I said earlier, I love what I do and I think
that’s important. I think you have to believe in what you do and want to get up and go
to work every day and feel like you’re making a difference, and I do.
Secondly, we have an absolutely fantastic staff here at AARP. Unbelievable
professionals who are all very much dedicated to the mission of the organization and
that makes this a great organization. That’s why I joined AARP. That’s why I was
inspired to join here, and it’s why I’ve been inspired to stay.

George: Kevin, that’s amazing. You know, 30 years later, that’s an inspiration at its best.

Kevin: The gentleman that hired me at the time, I said, “Two years. I’ll give you two years.”
Here I am, 30 years later.

George: That is incredible. A perfect segue again into, how did your role as the chief
communications officer at AARP prepare you to become the executive vice president
and now chief of staff. What key lessons and vantage points helped you to carry out
this successful mission?

Kevin: I think part of what prepared me actually, I guess, to be chief of staff for the
organization is I have worked in and managed many parts of the organization over my
30 years here. I have a very good perspective on the breadth of work, at least I think I
do, that AARP is engaged with. Then again, having been the chief communications
officer, there are certain skills and disciplines that are there that I think are very
successful for me in carrying out this role as well.

There really, I guess, three that come to mind. One is the need to integrate. When I
was our chief communications officer, the group that I helped build there was an
integrated communications team. Most of our communications and communications
related functions in the organization prior to that had been spread out all over the
organization and they weren’t terribly integrated. It was to really build the strong
integrated communications team and to bring it into the 21st century, which I think
we did and we’ve done fairly successfully. So integration’s a big part of that, getting all
sorts of folks to work together.

The other is to really focus on the mission. I am very much a mission-driven individual
and this is very much a mission-driven organization. Making sure that everything
we’re doing is about the mission ... If it’s not helping to drive the mission, questioning
why are we doing it? Should we be doing it? If not, how do we stop it?
The other piece of that, which sort of relates to that focus on the mission, but it’s also
message discipline. As any good communicator knows, you’ve got to be pretty
disciplined in your messages if you’re going to be successful in getting them out, being
clear so that people understand what it is you’re doing.

I think it’s those three skills, particularly that I bring that our helping me in this role
and hopefully making me successful in this role.

Abigail: Kevin, that’s an incredible perspective. I think it’s very interesting to hear how you’ve
worked in so many different parts of AARP. That leads me into my next question
which is, how does AARP effectively reach and positively affect the more than 37
million members?

Kevin: We reach our members through a variety of methods. First of all, we have world class
publications here, the AARP Magazine and the AARP Bulletin. They are truly award
winning publications that have enormous reach. AARP has upwards of 38 million
members and our publications go to all 38 million. According to the MRI numbers,
which is the industry standard for measuring readership, we have a little over 36
million readers of our publications, which is, at least I always find when I really step
back and think about that, somewhat mind-boggling. Those are two very effective
tools that we have to reach them.

We don’t limit with that. We obviously use a lot of social media and web and what
have you also to reach not only our members, but the broader population. We have a
membership, as I said, of a little over 38 million, but we serve the entire 50-plus
population. That’s who we view as the people we serve, is those 50-plus and frankly
and their families. We’re not limited just by our membership.

Our publications, our online work, and then we also do a tremendous amount in
community. AARP likes to view itself not so much as a national organization, but a
nationwide organization. By that we mean, we’re in every community across the
country and we have lots of active volunteers and staff in communities across the
country. We have offices in all of the states and a lot of the major cities across the
country so we do a lot of face-to-face with folks as well.

We reach them basically through the breadth of communication channels. We also
use direct mail and other venues like that. We have a pretty strong brand and we
have a pretty strong trust with our members. When we send them information
materials, they will often ... Not only do they read it, but they act on it.

07/28/2016 02:21 pm ET