Finding 'Em and Funding 'Em 
by: James Higa, Executive Director

Forbes magazine recently published their 2015  30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list.  It is a group of inspired young entrepreneurs who are leveraging their business savvy to solve the world's most pressing problems.     


We were delighted to discover that of the 30 on the list, PVF has known, funded, and mentored three of the awardees.  When Jonny Dorsey was an undergraduate, we funded his work on college campuses across the nation to raise funds to fight AIDS.  He has since gone on to found Global Health Corps, and is now a White House Fellow in the Department of Education. 

PVF's Executive Director, James Higa (standing), meeting with the SIRUM team.  
Photo by Craig Sherod
We first met Kiah Williams as a
Tom Ford Fellow in Philanthropy at the Haas Center for Public Service.  This fellowship program, founded by PVF, took Kiah on the road to work at the Clinton Foundation and then to start SIRUM, which PVF funded with an early seed grant.  SIRUM takes the billions of dollars of unused medicines that go to waste every year and applies technology to distribute this surplus to those in need.  Kiah describes it as "like the for unused drugs." 

We tracked Fagan Harris' journey as a student activist leader, a program officer at College Track, the Chair of the National Outreach for The Dream is Now at Emerson Collective, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and now an Echoing Green Fellow and the founder of Baltimore Corp.  Baltimore Corp. is reinventing and revitalizing the city by recruiting young leaders to perform impactful roles in it's leading nonprofits, social enterprises, and government agencies.


PVF's CEO, Bill Somerville, and Executive Director, James Higa.
Photo by Craig Sherod

We are delighted to celebrate the success of these leaders and we also take pride in them as a validation of our core philosophy to Find 'Em and Fund 'Em.  We want to be the first to find you and we want to be the first to fund you.  We want to be there in those early days when no one wants to take a chance on you because it's too risky or you are too small or unproven.  We are maverick grantmakers, unique in the field of philanthropy. Recent media coverage of PVF describes that our approach to grantmaking - in which we take more risks - brings about greater innovation and impact. A key part of our risk-taking approach is finding and investing in people instead of problems.     


Fagan Harris explains it this way:  "PVF created space for me to grow into the leader and person I am today. They exposed me to people and organizations changing our world for the better, and helped me to understand the qualities of authentic and effective leadership. Despite my young age, they never made me feel anything less than fully capable and empowered. PVF truly saw my potential before I understood it myself, and for that I am forever grateful."


This is why we do what we do at PVF.  There is nothing more exciting than finding the emerging generation of leaders in our communities and giving them a chance to soar.  The risk-taking dollar is the entrepreneurial dollar in philanthropy. 


We Find 'Em and Fund 'Em.

There are some exciting things happening in Richmond. One of them is Pogo Park, a project spearheaded by Toody Maher to renovate small pocket parks in the heart of the iron triangle, an area known for drug dealing and crime. The first park is complete and is an exceptional example of people coming together as a community to serve children, to rejuvenate an area, and to motivate others to join in.  


The Pogo Park team is now tackling a strip of land abandoned by a railroad running through the city. This has attracted artists in metal sculpture, wood carving, and mural painting, all of whom want to contribute to their community and create positive change from the ground up.


Years ago Philanthropic Ventures Foundation was an initial funder and now it is a current supporter with an immediate grant for discretionary use.


Toody recently described her first experience with my find 'em and fund 'em approach: "You are a central part of a story I tell over and over: how, when I was first starting out, Pogo Park needed a $5,500 match to secure a $30,000 grant. Fifteen minutes after meeting us and hearing what we were doing and what we needed, you just blurted out 'We'll give you $5,500!' and the check came a week later."


About PVF
PVF is a demonstration foundation practicing unique forms of grantmaking and innovative philanthropy. Our primary interest is in the creative and significant use of the philanthropic dollar.
About the Editors
James Higa
Executive Director
Bill Somerville

James Higa brings 28 years of executive experience from Silicon Valley, working with Steve Jobs to change the face of technology. He was at the birth of the personal computer revolution as a member of the original Macintosh team and was deeply involved in the creation of many products and services at Apple over 3 decades. He has a long history of public service as a board member of Stanford's Haas Center and in grassroots relief efforts.
Bill Somerville has been in non-profit and philanthropic work for 50 years. He was the director of a community foundation for 17 years, and in 1991 founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation where he serves as President. Bill has consulted at over 400 community foundations, on creative grantmaking and foundation operations. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker.