ELPIS talks to the President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, Kathy Calvin

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One of Newsweek’s, “Women Who Rock the World”… a philanthropic innovator… one of Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women”… and let’s not forget the President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation.

Kathy Calvin is truly a woman to look up to. One for others (especially women) to be inspired by not only thanks to her vast personal, professional accomplishments but, especially, on account of all the successful and seemingly unstoppable contributions she’s made to everything from global women’s issues, to multi-sector problem-solving (which, yes, is as impressive as it sounds!).

This was why, when Ms. Calvin agreed to grant ELPIS a virtual five minutes in which to tap the tip of her career iceberg they were overjoyed and are now thrilled to share their discussion with this lovely lady with you here…

1. In the Huffington Post last year, you wrote, “We are living in a new era of philanthropy.” What did you mean by that? In your opinion, how has philanthropy changed and why?

The “rules” of philanthropy are being re-written: We’re moving from charity to change, and it’s opening the doors to profound progress on our toughest challenges.

First, philanthropy is being democratized. Long associated with millionaires, philanthropy now belongs to everyone. People want to be change-makers, not just check-writers. They understand that resources are important, but they also want to be deeply engaged, learning about the issues and donating their time, ideas, and voices, too

The UN Foundation brings people together to support the UN. Our partners include everyone from parent bloggers who use their platforms to raise awareness about lifesaving vaccines, to teen girls in the U.S. and elsewhere who write their elected officials to pass legislation addressing child marriage, to faith groups and students who donate $10 to send an anti-malaria bed net to a family who needs it.

Second, there is a focus on problem solving. Instead of focusing on just where to give money, more and more people and organizations are focused on identifying problems and working toward solutions. This focus, combined with a new wave of philanthropists, has led to a surge in innovation in the international development sector.

2. In the next few years, what do you see as the United Nations Foundation and its partners’ greatest challenge and which the most pressing priority?

The year 2015 is critical to humanity’s future. There are two important processes happening: the creation of the next set of global goals to follow the Millennium Development Goals and negotiations on a new global climate agreement. World leaders must seize this opportunity to be bold in putting the world on a path to end poverty, provide opportunity for all, and protect our planet.

While developing global goals and agreements are not easy, we’ve seen through the Millennium Development Goals that finding common ground is possible. We’ve also seen that when the international community takes action, progress is achievable.

The Foundation will continue to support the UN during these processes and work with the UN and partners to raise awareness of our shared global agenda and solutions to achieve it.

Above, in Kenya with Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

3. How did #GivingTuesday come about? Will you be doing anything differently this year (its 3rd year running!)? Were you surprised by #GivingTuesday’s resounding success and do you think that there’s room for improvements and/or growth in the movement?

#GivingTuesday was created by the 92nd Street Y in partnership with the UN Foundation. Every year after Thanksgiving in the United States, there is “Black Friday,” a day dedicated to shopping, so we created #GivingTuesday as a day dedicated to giving.

#GivingTuesday, which will take place on December 2 this year, has resonated with people around the world, and we’ve watched it expand beyond the United States to countries from Brazil to the UK. The great thing about #GivingTuesday is that it does not prescribe how you should get involved; instead it lets you engage in whatever way works for you, whether donating money to the charity of your choice, volunteering, or raising your voice on social media.

The growth of this movement is evidence of people’s desire to get involved in creating change. We’re excited to welcome new partners this year and to use technology, from apps to educational webinars, to engage even more people.

4. You champion women’s and children’s health issues and rights, including supporting Every Woman Every Child. In your experience, what are the most critical issues facing women and children today in Europe?

Issues vary from country to country, but when you look at the global picture it’s clear that women’s and children’s health needs to be a top priority. In 2013, an estimated 6.3 million children died of mostly preventable causes (including vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and pneumonia), and 289,000 women died of complications from pregnancy and childbirth.

The UN, through the Every Woman Every Child movement, has put women’s and children’s health on the global agenda. We have solutions to save lives, but we need to do more to make them accessible to people worldwide.

The UN Foundation supports the UN and partners to address a number of global health issues, including:

•         Working with the UN to expand access to vaccines to protect children from pneumonia, measles, polio, and rotavirus;

•         Working to expand access to voluntary family planning services and information, which will reduce child and maternal deaths;

•         Using mobile phones to provide vital health information to new and expectant mothers;

•         Sending bed nets to Africa to protect families from malaria;

•         Supporting the creation of a thriving market for clean cookstoves so fewer women and children have to breathe dangerous smoke from rudimentary cookstoves; and

•         Helping more adolescent girls have the chance to stay safe and healthy.

The good news is that our efforts are making progress, and both child and maternal deaths have nearly been cut in half since 1990. But we must keep the momentum going.

Above, during International Women’s Day 2011 celebrations in Liberia

5. We see few women and minorities in leadership positions at nonprofits and foundations – any suggestions on how these numbers can be increased?  

The UN Foundation believes that to succeed, we must tap into the talent, perspectives, and ideas of all people. Our staff is diverse across the levels of the Foundation, and we are stronger because of it.

To increase leadership opportunities for women and minorities, mentorship is key. We must invest in our employees and provide professional development opportunities. It’s also essential to listen and make sure the voices of employees are heard. I regularly hold open office hours so any employee can talk to me about her or his job and career.

6. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career, be it at your current position or elsewhere?

Approach work as a marathon, not a sprint.

7. What do you consider as the milestones of your tenure at the UN Foundation?  What do you want your legacy to be?

The Foundation is continually working to grow the constituency of supporters committed to working with the UN to solve global challenges, and this is one of my top priorities.

Additionally, throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to focus on issues that matter to girls and women. One of the most important projects the Foundation works on, which is a personal passion as well, is helping the UN and partners put girls at the top of the global agenda. If we can empower adolescent girls everywhere, we will leave the legacy of a better world for generations to come.