This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I interview the President and CEO of Newman's Own Foundation, who is carrying on the philanthropic tradition started by Paul Newman back in the '80s.

You may be familiar with Newman's Own - the salad dressing, food, and beverage company that now offers more than 300 products. It was started 35 years ago by actor Paul Newman, who was also a humanitarian, and entrepreneur. What you might not be so familiar with is the philanthropic business model at Newman's Own that has led the way for other businesses in the social enterprise sector. What's more, you probably didn't know that the company actually funds organizations that help underserved communities around the world and in the U.S.

In fact, Newman's Own gives back 100 percent of its profits (after covering operating costs) to its foundation, which gives the money to charities that empower today's entrepreneurs. I talked with Bob Forrester, President and CEO of Newman's Own Foundation, who described the work and effort that goes into the business model that has contributed more than 485 million dollars to grantee recipients so far.

Choosing Who to Donate to

As anyone in philanthropic work knows, there's no shortage of charities and organizations all over the world that need funding. When it comes to choosing who and what Newman's Own Foundation (NOF) will donate to, there are four "lenses" that help the foundation decide. They look for organizations that:

  • Encourage the practice of philanthropy: The target nonprofit funds organizations that have a significant part of their business dependent on fundraising.
  • Help children: The prospective grantee works with children who have life-limiting conditions, whether the issues are medically based or involve child slavery, for example. These can be domestic or in other parts of the world.
  • Focus on nutrition: This often includes nonprofits that create access to fresh food for disadvantage populations. Since 2014 alone, NOF has provided more than $11.5 million to support organizations implementing solutions to increase access to fresh food and nutrition education in underserved communities, whether they be in rural or urban locations.
  • Have the ability to empower: These organizations reduce barriers separating organizations or people from their potential. For example, NOF has given more than $13 million in grants to military nonprofits helping service members and veterans since 2010.

Besides these four, there are also subsections that help determine who the foundation donates to. Forrester says the NOF team factors in how the Newman's Own brand might help recipients in the future.

"We're not in the business of telling people what they have to do. We're in the business of saying, 'Okay, now it's up to you. What do you want to do with it? It's your business, it's not ours.' Where can we, as a funder, have an impact beyond just some dollars? We'll give them our brand, or allow them to use it, which tends to attract other funding," says Forrester.

Different Ways to Help the World

Although there are other wealthy and powerful business owners and entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who are known for their charitable efforts, their model is completely different. Because they have so many resources at their disposal, they tend to approach philanthropy differently than Newman's Own.

"I have to be careful here because I can't step into their shoes," says Forrester. "It's almost like they're able to say, 'I have to solve the world's problems from the top down.' And we just happen to have a different perspective. One, we don't have that money but we don't have the hubris to think that we can do it. We think there are lots of other people out there doing it. It's our job to, you know, try to do it from the bottom up and help those people doing it. I think both ways are necessary, but I just can't fathom (that much money)."

What's Ahead for Newman's Own

Forrester and his team are particularly proud of a sanitary toilet program they've funded in a slum in Kibera, just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Forrester says it's another example of how the Newman's Own brand can make a huge difference for recipients of the company's grants.

"They came to us, the folks that started the program, and asked, 'Would you please let us name a building for you because you've been so generous?' We said, 'Well we just don't do that.' They said, 'Well it's very important, because when other people come to visit us, just to see the name Newman's Own, it will encourage them.' We let them name the toilet. So now we have the Newman's Own toilet. We actually have 56 toilets called the Newman's Own toilet in a slum in Kibera.'"

In addition to successes like the efforts in Kibera, Newman's Own Foundation gave away almost 30 million dollars to various organizations in 2016. What began as a single product back in the early 80s is now an organization that has given more than 485 million overall. Forrester says in 2017 this will pass half a billion, all while sales of Newman's Own products continue to grow too.

Forrester says granting to promising organizations will become a bigger part of how "social good" companies operate in the world. More than 25 other companies have modeled their businesses after Newman's Own by granting money to companies all over the world too, he says.

"It's going to be a test by which the true, honest, social purpose of a company is tested as opposed to a company just doing something because it looks right if you get my distinction there."

If you like stories about entrepreneurs helping out underserved communities, check out some of the other stories in the series. Meet the entrepreneur who got Lebron James involved in his reality TV show. Meet the the entrepreneur who started a reality TV show featuring Lebron James in an effort to boost small businesses in Cleveland. Or, meet the man in San Francisco trying to solve homelessness one person at a time.

Published on: Feb 15, 2017