OIA chats with Kim Meredith about her trajectory from the corporate world to the non-profit sector and how PACS is influencing scholarship and research from Arguello Way to China.
The Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) has grown tremendously since June 2009 with Kim Meredith at its helm. From her corner office in an unassuming modular on Arguello Way, Ms. Meredith deftly manages the growth of Stanford PACS and works closely with faculty co-directors, Rob Reich, Woody Powell, and Paul Brest, to chart the Center’s course with the skill of an expert corporate strategist.
Q. How did you make the shift from corporate America to the non-profit world?
My story is very similar to many people who made that leap. I was an undergraduate student at Stanford and studied economics and broadcast journalism but really wanted to learn business and work in corporate America. During recruiting, AT&T came to campus to recruit business school students and a few undergraduate students. I was fortunate to be hired into their management development program that is equivalent to some of the top management training programs of today. I had a wonderful 10-year career at AT&T moving within the company and geographically throughout the US.
While living in Los Angeles in the mid-80’s, the LA Times was leading the way on their reporting of teenage pregnancy as the greatest contributor to girls dropping out of high school. For me, it was a compelling message and I started volunteering at Planned Parenthood, the Junior League of Los Angeles and the Children’s Hospital. At Planned Parenthood, we created a program called Postponing Sexual Involvement that was accepted and approved by the Los Angeles Unified School District and spent Saturdays teaching girls in middle school reality-based age-appropriate sex education.
I started as a volunteer in Los Angeles, became a board member in Northern California and then was appointed board chair where I led the merger of three affiliates to create the six county Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, which was now a large organization that needed a COO. Recruiters approached me and suggested that I step down from the board and put my name in the pool for the COO position. My experience at AT&T, pre-divestiture, during divestiture, and post-divestiture would be invaluable to Planned Parenthood; the pulling apart and putting together of a non-profit is similar from an organizational strategy with the same challenges and complexities as a for-profit company. I served as COO for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate for nine years before heading to New York in 2006 to work with Planned Parenthood Federation of America then joining Stanford PACS in 2009.
Q. What do you see as the mission for PACS?
Stanford PACS is a research center where scholars, leaders and practitioners come together to explore ideas for social change. We are the publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), and we are fully interdisciplinary, funding PhD students and undergraduates in 5 schools (H & S, Law, GSB, Education, Engineering) and 20 departments at Stanford. We actually believe that complex social problems require complex solutions and that is where the interdisciplinary lens is vital. We talk about cross sector solutions, which means that we believe you need to bring together civil society (non-profits and philanthropy) with government and business if you really want to open up the conversation and effect social change and why we engage scholars, practitioners, and leaders. We’re in the business of knowledge creation through research, knowledge sharing and community building.
Q. How do you see the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) as part of your growth strategy?
In the fall of 2009, it became clear that GSB wanted to move SSIR out of the business school so we presented them with a full proposal bidding against two other organizations, one within Stanford and another outside the university. We needed to put together a financial package so that we could feel, not only within the Humanities and Sciences but also within the Center, that if we took this on that we wouldn’t drain funds. With the help and initial leadership of Paul Brest of the Hewlett Foundation, we brought in the Rockefeller Foundation and that expanded to gifts from the Office of the President at Stanford, in addition to Gates, Packard, Kellogg, and Moore Foundations and the Carnegie Corporation. The institutional philanthropic community and our Advisory Board enthusiastically jumped in and said that it was important for the field to push out ideas and discussion through a publication such as SSIR We brought on a dedicated part time academic editor, Johanna Mair, whereas before a group of faculty would come together quarterly. Ms. Mair is a European scholar who has brought a global context and lens to SSIR. Additionally, having a well-known scholar associated with the journal has attracted more faculty and scholars to publish in it. While not an academic journal, it has a very strong reputation and now we have about four to six scholars publishing per issue to an audience of practitioners and leaders.
Q. Your growth has expanded to the Stanford Center at Peking University (SCPKU). How did that come about and what is the strategy in China?
As a result my work with Stanford PACS in New York for the past few years, I developed a friendship with Selig Sacks, a law school alumnus who was arranging a trip to China. He and Steven Rockefeller II invited me to represent a philanthropic lens and social responsibility with a delegation accompanying Steven Rockefeller II for the opening of the Rose Rock Capital and NASDAQ in Beijing in March 2011. Prior to and after the trip, I met with Jean Oi and Andrew Walder to debrief them about the trip and a few weeks later the Stanford PKU facilities manager asked if Stanford PACS wanted an office at SCPKU. I consulted with Faculty Co-Directors Rob Reich, Woody Powell and our Advisory Board who all agreed that that we should really look at this opportunity. No one is an expert and everyone is trying to learn how to build the field of philanthropy in China. The timing seemed right so at an advisory board meeting in June 2011 we decided to proceed and plan events to coincide with the opening of SCPKU in March 2012.
We held our first workshop under the heading of Emerging and Historical Perspectives on Philanthropy in China. Dr. Meng Zhao, who had been a Visiting Scholar in 2009-2010 at Stanford PACS spoke using the recent SSIR article “The Social Enterprise Emerges in China” to anchor our discussion. Steven Rockefeller III also addressed the group providing the historical context of Rockefeller philanthropy in China. Additionally we hosted Steven Rockefeller II at an event that honored Joy Chen, a venture philanthropist and president and founder of the Torch of Love Foundation. The foundation works in the Sichuan earthquake area planting roses and providing jobs for thousands of poor women, from growing roses to manufacturing products for distribution—a great example of effective social enterprise. Income for these women has tripled since the program launched in 2008. It’s a fascinating model that incorporates human capital, intellectual capital and financial capital. Stanford has a unique opportunity with PKU and PACS wants to be a part of that dynamic community as it evolves. Our goal is to fund a visiting scholar, or a PhD or post doc at Stanford PACS-PKU there on a regular basis.
Q. What is the current state of philanthropy in China?
Everyone is interested in the topic in China -- whether it is scholars, individual philanthropists, social innovators, government officials or business people, everyone is asking how will philanthropy and civil society develop in China. In Premier Wen Jiabao’s March 2012 state of the union address he mentioned that the government would “push for innovations in administering rule of law and social management, and put in order (or rationalize) the relationship between government and civic and social organizations.” We have every reason to believe that as the government transitions in November 2012, that this direction will continue to be a priority.
Western China still has a high degree of poverty and 52% of people live in western China. According to Scott Rozelle, Faculty Director of the Stanford Rural Education Action Project (REAP), 66% of children grow up in rural areas and many of those children don’t have access to Internet. The Chinese have challenging issues related to health, education, and jobs. They need to bring all resources to bear otherwise there is the possibility of instability. In a country with a large population they need to find solutions to keep their young people educated and employed. Stanford, from an academic perspective, has been able to participate with ideas through Scott Rozelle’s REAP and Jim Leckie’s program for environmental sustainability. Hopefully Stanford PACS brings the perspective with how philanthropy, civil society and social innovation can impact social good. Interestingly, 85% of philanthropic contributions come from corporations, as opposed to the US where 5% of contributions come from corporations. We also have opportunities to learn from the Chinese, and we need to draw the right lessons from China to learn how they lifted so many people out of poverty in the past two decades. It’s an incredibly exciting time for PACS to be there using the Stanford Center at PKU as an anchor to facilitate our work!
To learn more about Stanford PACS, visit their website or attend their next event on Jan. 17, 2013, Asia’s Democratic Transitions: Civil Society and the Philanthropic Sector with The Asia Foundation's David Arnold and Stanford University’s Larry Diamond.