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Not feel-good change, but sustainable change.

An interview with Ali Gregory

December 27, 2016

The John F. and Mary A. Geisse Foundation focuses on sustainable alleviation of extreme poverty in the developing world. Since 2012, iDE and The Geisse Foundation have partnered to transform the lives of people across the globe by leveraging the power of entrepreneurship to solve poverty. 

iDE’s relationship with Geisse is built on accountability, trust, and flexibility. Geisse is an accelerator funder, which means their investment in iDE can be applied to the areas that deliver the greatest impact, and is not limited to a specific program.

Ali is the granddaughter of John and Mary Geisse, and the Program Officer of The Geisse Foundation. She shared her beliefs on philanthropy with us, explaining why she invests in sustainable development.

What does philanthropy mean to the Geisse family? 

I view philanthropy and effective altruism as the responsibility to using funds entrusted to the foundation efficiently, while increasing measurable impact within the sectors we support. It is the movement away from just what “feels good” to what actually creates change—and that can be a difficult balance and decision from the donor perspective. Ultimately we (both donors and NGOs) disempower people when we do for them what they are capable of doing for themselves. That is why the Geisse Foundation focuses on sustainable development (not aid); because we believe charity cannot cure systemic poverty.

“Ultimately, we (both donors and NGOs) disempower people when we do for them what they are capable of doing for themselves.” 

How would you describe your relationship with iDE? 

There are many NGOs out there with wonderful intentions, and it can be difficult to find an organization that fits your philanthropic beliefs while being effective in their programs. While I cannot take credit for discovering iDE, I can say I am proud of our partnership. iDE models innovation, creative capacity building, and proven sustainable (and measurable!) methods of breaking the cycle of poverty through their effective programming. Their staff has always taken the time to meet and answer my questions, and their door always feels open. It truly feels like a partnership. 

What factors do you take into consideration when deciding what nonprofits to partner with? 

Not an easy question, and still something I am trying to figure out! Currently it is a balance between many factors: fiscal responsibility (low overhead and efficient fundraising), development over relief, sustainable results, and measurable impact (both to assess our own grant success but also shows me that the NGO is able to make changes in their programming to make as much impact per dollar as possible). A big part of what we like to look for in a possible grant is the opportunity for capacity building and ability to leverage the foundation’s funds.

“We won’t leave a nice and neat mark. Our legacy will look different, our impact specific to the relationships we formed.”  

What kind of mark does the Geisse Family hope to leave on the world?

Still working on that! We are a unique foundation in the sense that our focus is quite broad: sustainable alleviation of extreme poverty in the developing world. Since we are not tied down to any one sector or specific geographic focus, this leaves us with the flexibility to make different types of grants from one organization to the next. In a way, we won't leave a nice and neat “mark” on a certain sector like many foundations may have as their end goal. Our legacy will look different, our impact specific to the relationships we formed with each organization we partnered with over the foundation's lifetime. Within each of those partnerships, we hope to be able to show measurable and sustainable change created in the lives of people across the globe. 

What is the most memorable experience you have had with iDE?

I have only been working for the foundation for a year, so I haven’t had too many experiences yet. Getting the results from our last grant was memorable because it was such a great success and the outcomes were even better than we had anticipated. Another organization our foundation supports is modeling a new program based off our grant at iDE because of its success.