By Keely Savoie
Changing the world is not for the faint of heart. It takes conviction and courage—and, above all, the willingness to follow your beliefs and do things a little differently.
That was the message Robert Forrester, president and CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation, delivered to a group of Mount Holyoke students on April 9.
“You have to follow your true north of motivation,” said Forrester, who oversees the foundation that turns 100 percent of profits from the sale of Newman’s Own food products into charitable donations. “The human spirit—that’s what philanthropy is about. Loving humankind.”
Forrester spoke to an audience of students, faculty, and staff to discuss the field of philanthropy and his own career path that has spanned more than four decades and several continents.
“This is a chance for our students to meet the CEO of one of the leading philanthropic organizations in this country and to learn from his experience,” said Liz Lierman, director of the Career Development Center, which coordinated the event along with the Office of the President and the Dean of Students. “It’s also an opportunity for students to think about philanthropy and the nonprofit sector as they consider their own career paths.”
There are currently more than 11 million charitable organizations in the United States, accounting for about 5 percent of our gross domestic product, said Forrester, noting that philanthropy plays an important role in bringing about change in the economy.
“It’s hard to have a civil society without the philanthropy sector,” he said, noting Americans in particular have the public spirit and desire to help “baked in” to the culture.
When Paul Newman started Newman’s Own in 1982, the idea that a salad dressing could change the world was not readily accepted, Forrester said. It was Newman’s innate sense of charity—a character trait, rather than a philosophy—that propelled the company forward, along with an unstinting commitment to quality.
“Our motto is ‘Do good by doing well,’ ” said Forrester.
The innovative strategy worked better than anyone predicted, Forrester said. Since its founding with just a single olive oil and vinegar salad dressing, the company has grown to sell more than 220 products. During the same time, Paul Newman and Newman’s Own Foundation gave away more than $435 million.
“I was really surprised that they donate all their profits. It is such a great achievement to give back to society wholeheartedly,” said Fei Wang ’16, a statistics and international relations major from Wuhan in Hubei province, China, noting that the talk shed light on how philanthropy can be combined with business.
Newman’s Own Foundation focuses its grants in four main areas—children with life-limiting conditions, nutrition, empowerment, and encouragement of philanthropy, Forrester noted, adding that whatever an individual’s interests are, where there’s a need there’s a way to change the world for better.
“You really can be part of helping make our world a better place,” he said. “Whatever your passion is—health, education, international relief, rescue, the arts—there’s such a wide diversity of areas where you can apply your interests to improve conditions for humanity.”
In Mount Holyoke’s own backyard, South Hadley, for example, Newman’s Own Foundation supports The Discovery Center, which promotes leadership skills among middle-schoolers. Mount Holyoke students support the effort as part of ongoing community outreach.
Another nonprofit funded by Newman’s Own Foundation is Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Nairobi, Kenya. There, in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, SHOFCO built a school for girls, which promotes female empowerment and education in a region where girls and women are often undervalued and underserved.
The organization went one step further to ensure that the entire community benefited from the project. It linked desperately needed community services to the school, funding everything from a health clinic to literacy classes to water sanitation through the modest tuition fees from the school.
“It’s a way to have the whole community invested in these schools, and it’s been a great success,” said Forrester, showing a brief video of the project.
Newman’s Own Foundation supports approximately 750 other charitable organizations annually, all with the purpose of generating positive differences in the world around them.
Change your world. Start here.