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Reid, Bob

Bob Reid
Bob Reid
CEO & President of Edge Philanthropy

As someone born into homelessness, Bob Reid (MBA Class of ‘84) overcame the intense adversity of his childhood and pursued his educational dreams, one of which took the form of an MBA from the Leavey School of Business. He is the embodiment of what it means to achieve success through hard work, strong faith, and a knack for taking advantage of the opportunities he was presented with. The circumstances of Bob's challenging upbringing and the obstacles he has faced made him acutely aware of the power of mentorship and generosity. In both his professional and personal life, he has demonstrated his consistent commitment to philanthropy and giving back to those who are less fortunate. 

Bob Reid is the CEO & President of Edge Philanthropy, which advises grant-making foundations on a wide range of topics including governance, investment processes, grant making, financial management, and family engagement in philanthropic enterprise. Bob also researches philanthropy and publishes his findings on a global scale. In addition to his professional engagement, he has also been a volunteer advisor for United 4 Change Center, a small nonprofit organization that promotes social justice and peace by empowering women and youth to be agents of change in their local communities around the world.

What drew you to philanthropy?

I'm incredibly fortunate. I'm a product of the American dream. I was born to an illiterate, drug-addicted, mentally ill, single mother. As a small child, we were homeless, we lived under a bridge. At times we lived in a boxcar. We were usu ally fed by the Salvation Army. When you're a product of that kind of experience, oftentimes your trajectory is not a very positive one. However, thankfully, many very kind people helped me see something in myself that I would never have known was there. They also challenged me to educate myself. I was on my own from the third grade on. I worked and paid rent to live in a home. Bought all of my own food and clothes. It was a pretty isolated experience from the beginning, but I was given a remarkable number of opportunities. I've been able to graduate from four business schools and come out of that with a tremendous set of opportunities. I knew from a very early age that I needed to give back. I had already had enough expressions of kindness in my life that I was constantly trying to find ways to give back. I don't think God cares about one person over another, I think we're all equal in his eyes, but I was particularly motivated by people who were in the most extreme need because those are my people. Those are the people I identify with. I had a chance to talk to Janet Wallace, from Homeless to Harvard, and we shared stories about what it was like growing up in extreme poverty and in circumstances where no one around us had a frame of reference that could guide us down the paths that we went down and how remarkable our experiences have been. At each junction of our lives, the right person showed up to make a difference and to send us down a really blessed path. For that, I owe a remarkable debt and I will never be able to fully repay it in a lifetime, but I'll never stop trying. So, that is what has motivated me to do what I've done in my line of work. It is what motivates me in terms of doing the research I do with philanthropy, to try to provide insights into how philanthropy can be improved. Lastly, it is absolutely what motivates me to do the valuable work I do with United 4 Change.

How did the Leavey School of Business' MBA program help get you to where you are now?

I developed a close relationship with Barry Posner, my management professor, and who later became the Dean of the business school. In fact, he helped me decide to do what I've been doing for the last 26 years. He became like a mentor to me, offering guidance throughout the years. Santa Clara was a remarkably special experience for me because, first of all, the quality of the education is second to none and that's evidence by the fact that nearly 15 years after I completed my MBA, I had the opportunity to go through a 3-year program at the Harvard business school where essentially we repeated the MBA program for a refresh. I told Barry that there's only one formula I learned at the Harvard business school that I didn't remember verbatim from my experience at Santa Clara. The quality of the curriculum, the quality of the professors, and the quality of the learning experience at Santa Clara were as good as anything I've experienced anywhere else. 

It’s worth noting that in addition to that, there was a soulfulness at SCU that I experienced in two remarkable ways. One was that I remember in the ethics course being reminded that this is not just about business and numbers, this is about real human beings. Long before corporate social responsibility had been coined, we were talking about the ethics of business, the impact we have on people's lives. My focus on the nonprofit, now what we call "social enterprise", environment for applying these kinds of business and management leadership skills was just as relevant as the for-profit side. The second level of experience I had was just the campus itself. The time that I was in the graduate school at Santa Clara was a pretty volatile time in my life just given some of the things I was involved with, some of the controversies that were associated with the project that I was leading, and just the social unrest of the time. Every day at the end of classes, I would go over to the Mission and I would just sit in the cathedral and just meditate and get right-sized in the world again. Remembering that I was up against impossible odds, but I was constantly reminded by just the sort of spiritual ambiance of Santa Clara University is that my responsibility was merely to do what I could do with what was in front of me and there was a higher order that would take care of the rest. I often say, "if you feel inadequate it's because you are. Here's the secret: you were never intended to be adequate". That's part of what I mean when I say "right-sized", I only have so much capacity to contribute towards any particular cause, I have to tap into the universe. Into something bigger than myself. Santa Clara gave me the context for that in a way that was particularly useful as I was studying, but also as I was applying what I was studying, in terms of the social enterprise I was running at the time. With that being said, Santa Clara will always be the shining spot in my academic career, despite the fact that I graduated from four different universities. Santa Clara University is the one that stands out and has made the biggest impact on my life. 

What aspect of your work are you proudest of?

The United 4 Change Center is doing some really important work. We have been working with women in extreme poverty in South America and East Africa and I've gotten to know some remarkable people through this experience. I can tell you some personal stories. Let me tell you about sister Martha who, as the literature suggests, may be the next Mother Theresa. She's an Anglican nun and she is albino. Albinos are at the lowest level of the social strata in a place like Tanzania. She had suffered terrible discrimination as a child. At the age of 14 threw herself off a bridge and into a river to drown herself. She washed up on the shore and when she realized she wasn't going to die, she made a deal with God that she was going to commit her life to help others. Through her and our partnership with her, we have been able to access a lot of women to help them develop microenterprises that would allow them to support themselves. But what's remarkable, and Melinda Gates is right about this, she said, "If you want to change the world, elevate a woman". We've learned from our experience that when we help women to elevate their circumstances when we help them to lift themselves out of systemic poverty, they turn around and change the circumstances for all the people around them. They change the entire ecosystem and trajectory of the children that they're involved with. Sister Martha has a two-room house with dirt floors, no electricity, no running water, barely adequate for her and her mother, and during this COVD-19 environment, she gathered up 20 orphans that were homeless and brought them in. She provided a home, food, clothing for them and we were able to raise money for blankets and food and then they had a rainstorm and the flood wiped out her house. Now, we have several partners in Tanzania that are helping to rebuild her house for just a few thousand dollars that we were able to raise. It's nothing you or I would think is fancy, but it's raised the morale and motivation of sister Martha and all the magnificent women she works with. 

I could tell you the story about Luisa in Bolivia. Luisa had no way to make a living, so she had to work in the mines. They have to walk something like ten miles to the mines, work all day and then walk 10 miles home and work the rest of the night to take care of their families. The conditions are so incredibly dangerous in these mines that when somebody does not come out, they assume that they fell over a cliff and have perished. They do all of this for $0.50 a day. We were able to go in and work with women like Luisa and train them in certain skills so they could do other jobs and make a whole lot more money, but in a much safer environment that would allow them to better engage and care for their families. 

Additionally, 80% of the women in Bolivia never receive prenatal care, so deaths in childbirth and the child morbidity is ridiculously high. We were able to train the women on how to engage in prenatal care and then baby care afterward. We then trained the Bolivian medical folks on how to work with the indigenous populations. We changed that trajectory. Women in Bolivia are typically forced out of education between grades one and two, so they never learn how to read. We taught hundreds of women, like Luisa,  how to read. Can you imagine the difference this has made not just in their lives but in their children's lives? We were then able to train 400 women in economic development and entrepreneurialism. This allowed them to start printing businesses, weave products, such as facemasks, on a larger scale, and open bakeries and restaurants. When we finished with all of this training in literacy, healthcare, economic development, these women felt like for the first time in their lives, they deserved the ground they stood on. I described to you the circumstances that I grew up in before being involved in these kinds of projects, but the difference between these women and me is that I'm not stuck there. That's the difference in this country: I had a wonderful array of opportunities to lift myself out of poverty. In these circumstances, there is an absence of initiative from the outside. They have no chance. But what's remarkable is that with just a small amount of resources and people there standing shoulder to shoulder with them, you can accomplish so much. This is the kind of work a Santa Clara grad should be involved in. If we, as a country, are going to be this wealthy and advantaged, we have a moral obligation to share that and to extend the benefit into places where people don't know the lifestyles that we live in.