When You Are the One Receiving the Thanks

27 May

photo-2Last week I traveled through Nicaragua and El Salvador visiting our programs, chatting with our staff and making preparations for our new Feed The Children brand, which will be nationally launched on June 16th.

Last Thursday in El Salvador, I helped to dedicate a new water project providing water to over 250 families, a school, and churches.

Every time I travel overseas, there’s a speech I hear often from those families we serve. And it always begins with “Thank you.”

“Thank you for giving us hope that our children can stay in school . . . ”

“Thank you for providing our children with nutritious meals we couldn’t provide for them. . . . ”

And, “Thank you for remembering us, Mr. Kevin and coming to visit us today. . . . ”

Whenever I hear these words I feel overwhelmed because I know that it is not on my effort alone (by any stretch of the imagination) that has led to these thank you statements.

But yet I am the one saying, “You’re welcome.” I’m the one who everyone wants in their pictures. I am the one who makes the long voyages to remote villages because it is my job. People want to thank me. And I’m glad to meet them.

It would be easy I think, for this praise and focused attention to go to my head.

(And I know now why so many CEOs in positions like mine get in trouble, thinking that the great successes in the field are some how all about him or her).

But I don’t want it to. I want there to be a better posture in which to receive “Thank you!” I want to humbly honor this responsiblity given to me.

This is what I know after almost 2 years of being in this role: I don’t want to be “the” face of Feed The Children.

photo-1I want to be “a” face because this is a team effort of monumental proportions.

I want to be “a” face because I believe in our team and the importance of their faces too.

I want to be “a” face because I know I am only one of the many who ensure our mission of no child going to bed hungry is the forefront of what we do everyday!

It takes the work of many and countless hours to come along side communities to help them build capacity to take care of themselves. When I show up, it’s the conclusion of a long process of development work.

And so when I’m now out visiting field programs, I encourage our photographers to take pictures more people than just me. I graciously can accept a thank you, but I want to do so with other leaders beside me. I want to cut ribbons with other leaders right there.

At my core, I am merely representative of all the amazing FTC staff globally that put their own comfort on the back burner and sometimes their lives on the line to serve a higher calling to help those who want desperately to change their life conditions.

And if I forget, I have my wife to remind me– my life partner who never lets my head get too big . . . ever.   

The Gift of Conflict

8 May


Sometimes people say I am crazy, but I don’t believe that conflict is a bad thing.

Maybe it is because I spent nearly a decade managing national conflict resolution programs at the United States Postal Service. Or maybe it is because I’m the kind of guy that has never been afraid of a challenge or possibly because my life story has been shaped by some powerful experiences of reconciliation.

But whatever reason it is, this is what I know: conflict can actually be very positive. Conflict raises important issues to the surface.  It is how you manage conflict or don’t manage it that can make it a problem.

Most of us want to be happy. We want to live and work in an environment where everyone likes us and where our contributions are valued. We want to walk away from our family life, our jobs, and our friendships feeling better for them and vice versa.

So when conflict arises—whether it be because of miscommunication, differences in personality or a multitude of other reasons—so many of us try to avoid the conflict instead of addressing it head on.

We’d rather live in denial than to have our circumstances be made worse (we think) by bringing up the conflict.

And it is this fear of conflict, especially for those of us in positions of leadership, from which deeply embedded problems emerge.

This is what I know: leaders who can’t deal well with conflict will not have long tenures in whatever place they are seeking to lead.

So for all of you conflict haters out there, here are some of my suggestions:

1. Do not be afraid to talk to the person with whom you have the difficultly. Clear the air. Take them to coffee. Seek to find common ground. Sometimes the worse thing you can do is fill the void of conflict with silence. Making an effort can go a long way to the ultimate resolution.

2.  When you can’t find common ground, do not talk badly about this person to others. Though it could be very comforting to belittle, demean or judge the person with whom you have a conflict in group settings—don’t. Remember what your mama said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

 3. Consider your own personal responsibility in the conflict. Oftentimes our first reaction to a dispute is to blame the other person, taking ourselves completely out of the picture. But, don’t. There are always two sides to every story, two perspectives to any situation. So spend some time in self-reflection with a willingness to say that you are sorry for your part of the blame.

4. Keep the end goal in mind: new understanding. One of the best gifts any relationship can be given is conflict. For conflict can be a catalyst for deeper connection, stronger appreciation and mutual admiration for what is outside the norm of your own experience. You might actually walk away from a contentious discussion with greater respect for the person you might have once hated.  This all can happen if you are committed to the process, no matter how long it takes!

Bottom line: conflict is not bad.  It’s all in how you deal with it!


Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

6 May

photoLast week at Feed The Children we went One Day Without Shoes to bring awareness to the fact that shoes can save children’s lives by preventing debilitating diseases. All our staff in Oklahoma joined together with our partner, TOMS to go shoeless and remember stats like this: Over 270 million preschool-age children and over 600 million school-age children live in areas where these parasites are intensively transmitted. They need treatment and preventive interventions.

One condition, called podoconiosis, is very debilitating, causing extremely painful swelling of the feet and legs. Podo affects more than 4 million people in at least 15 countries. (Source: WHO, 2013)

Podo can be prevented by wearing shoes and practicing good foot hygiene. Feed The Children gives shoes along with health education to children at risk of podo.

It was even more moving because I’ve met the precious child that I walked in honor of. Meet my buddy Oscar in the picture above. Because of donors like you, he gets shoes. I know because I’ve put them on him myself. Oscar just began school recently in his community in Honduras.

Last time I saw him, I heard from his mother that she’s so proud of him. He’s doing great in school, getting high marks on his papers. His mom said she’s so thankful for the impact that Feed The Children has had on his life. Though spending one day without shoes of course will not solve the great problems of the world– we have so much more work to do– I am glad I participated for the second year in a row. My feet were quite dirty by the end of the day but in my house I had clean water to wash them in.

When I woke up the next morning, I thought twice about the blessing that my shoes were to overall health and wellbeing. And I said a prayer for Oscar. If you want to know more about what you can do to get involved with this wonderful campaign, follow the updates over at TOMS. We’d love to have even more organizations, individuals and corporations join with us next year in one day #withoutshoes

Global Conference

16 Apr

Did you know that Feed The Children has a blog where we tell all kinds of stories about what is going on in our organization? Check out Beyond today!

Here’s a portion of my latest contribution over there to the Leader’s Corner channel.

It was exciting to be in the Feed The Children offices in Oklahoma City last month. The world came to Oklahoma as we hosted all of our international regional and country directors for our annual Global Conference.

Over the course of 8 days we shared stories of our work, we discussed our plans to add and expand programs, and we challenged one another to grow together in professional development. Most of all we dreamed together about how we could serve even more children and families—truly fulfilling our mission that no child goes to bed hungry.

We kicked off the week with an historic event: the international leadership of Feed The Children and World Neighbors, our newest partner, sat in the room together and planned collaborative work to help build self-sufficient communities around the globe. It was the first time since World Neighbors became a Feed The Children subsidiary that our respective teams joined together in such a dialogue. I felt so privileged to witness this talented and motivated group gathered in person around a common table to talk about how we could build a more cohesive organization as a global family. And the synergy that exists between the work of these two organizations was amazing to witness!

To read more click here

Working Space Inspiration

4 Apr

What does a President of a large international relief and development organization get for a gift?

After all I’ve seen and experienced in my travels around the world, I’m convinced that I don’t need a thing.

However, it is good to have a comfortable office space in which to work, but it is even more important to work in a place that inspires you and reminds you why you do what you do.

Several weeks ago, my staff who was tired of coming into my office and looking at  blank walls decided that it was time to put something on those blank walls – this large display behind my desk. I couldn’t believe how wonderful it turned out.

What joy these faces are to my wife, Elizabeth and I as many of them are kids we’ve met during our travels around the world!

What responsibility we feel to make sure we are doing everything we can to help no child go hungry!

What hope these faces give us for the future!

Look at their beautiful smiles!

I loved my gift!

Attachment-1Now, every time I look at this large display, I think to myself ….. I love my job.

I think about how thankful I am to have such a supportive partner in my wife Elizabeth, who works (without pay) within in our Public Relations and Communications Department because she believes so strongly in our mission.

I think about how my life has been changed by the faces of these children– the hands that I’ve held, the hugs I’ve received, and the meals we’ve shared together.

And I pray that my heart continues to stay open wide for this incredible journey and for all that is to come.

So, until my next trip, I’m surrounded by this working space inspiration.

Going to the Field

14 Mar

photo copy 3One of my favorite and most important things I do with my job is travel. Though there are a thousand tasks calling my name regularly at the office and sometimes folks lined up outside my door with questions, I know I need to regularly get out of the office and into the field where our programs are located.

I need to see with my own eyes the impact our feeding, education, water and sanitation and livelihood development projects are having within the communities.

I need to be able to shake the hands of the field staff– some of the greatest saints I know who are changing the lives of children every day.

I need to be able to hear the cries of mothers who are pleading us to do more for their babies.

Because of all of these experiences, I come back with a different kind of leadership focus. I want to do everything I can to do right by those under my care.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador and Honduras. It was my first time in El Salvador since becoming the President of FTC and I was impressed with the good work I saw, particularly the innovation.

It was wonderful to see the water project we have going on in El Guayabo. In this community, fathers, brothers and uncles are gathering together to help Feed The Children build a water line through their community that will provide 2,500 people clean drinking water for as long as the pipes hold up (which should be at least 40 years!). This clean drinking water will assist 600 children, all of which are a part of our school feeding program.

Men often get a bad rap in some parts of the world as being lazy or unmotivated, but not in El Guayabo! These men were working hard providing not only a better life for themselves but for their families too. They even got me involved in the action as seen below. In a couple of months it will be finished. I can’t wait to travel again and see the progress!

photo copy 4


Then, when we arrived in Honduras, one of my favorite things awaited me. I was given a couple of hours with the boys of Casa del Nino. This home is the orphanage that we run for 38 boys aged 6-16 in La Ceiba.

I love these boys as if they were my sons. And what a privilege it was to take the whole group to dinner at the boys’ favorite restaurant, Pizza Hut. We laughed, we smiled and I was able to introduce them to Tom and Phil, two of our new international staff that recently joined our Feed The Children team. See Phil below being silly with two of our boys.


These boys have such joy in their life, even with all of the challenges they’ve faced. All of them come from communities with little food security. Most of them have lost one if not both parents. Many of them came from the streets or abusive situations. Yet they smile and they tell me, “Mr. Kevin, I love it here at Casa del Nino. Thank you for being my family.”

How can your heart not melt at this?

My goal is to visit one or more of our field programs once a quarter. Sure others on staff could visit (and some do), but I go not only to see and experience our programs and encourage our staff, but I go for myself. I go to find energy for the big tasks that lie ahead. I go to get my spiritual boast that this truly is God’s work and I’m just one instrument in the larger mission of what we’re seeking to accomplish together. I go to come back and work even harder.

Hope for the Future

4 Mar

Last week, Forbes Magazine came out with an article by Phil DeMuth called, “Death of the Big Charity” with the basic hypothesis that younger philanthropic givers are skeptical of large institutional charities.

DeMuth writes: “While their parents were happy to write elephantine checks to the “American Big Disease Association” or the “Big City Cultural Institution” or “Ye Olde Ivy College Foundation” or the “Mainline Church Denomination”, the kids (and by kids here I mean from age 18 through their 30s) have little interest in outfits like these”

Our name wasn’t mentioned but it could be inferred that Feed The Children falls in this category. We are a big box charity. In fiscal year 2013, we distributed 98 million pounds of food and supplies with a total value of $215 million to over 10 million individuals in the U.S.  Internationally we distributed 21 million pounds of food, medicine, and essentials valued at $129 million to children and families in the 23 countries we serve. Our reach is large. It would be easy for folks to be skeptical of us, especially those in the age category that DeMuth mentions and in women, the age of my wife as who wrote about her skepticism here.

But I don’t believe DeMuth’s argument is completely true. And it is because of young adults that I meet when I am traveling in the field, like the one I met recently, James Williams.

37a2c05James is a 20 something in Washington DC who several years ago had a dream of making a difference for families in the developing world. He could have allowed his age or fear of the unknown or even the fact that he was still in school to keep him from pursuing his dream but he didn’t. After a friend went on a trip to Africa and came back with a custom made hoodie, James and his soon to be business partner had an idea.

What if these hoodies could be made by master tailors in Kenya and sold in the US? They loved the hoodies and thought others would feel the same.

James took a solo trip back to Kenya and pursued the project. His dream was to positively impact the lives of families in need in a community. The project would be called Udu.

Yet, James knew his business would need a larger partner. Through mutual connections he began a conversation with our Regional Director in Kenya who told James about Feed The Children’s focus on livelihood development. James decided to partner with us. During his visit and through continued virtual conversations, James taught the women and men in our programs in Nairobi to make his product. Today, these hoodies are sold through James’ website and at our Feed The Children store in Oklahoma City. (From what I hear the hoodies are selling out like crazy!) The profits go back into the local community in Kenya. I couldn’t be prouder that James and Udu has a partnership with us.

I know James is not the only young person passionate about big global issues like poverty, hunger and economic development. I know there are other James out there who are already working with us and we just haven’t had the privilege of meeting yet. I know there are more amazing ideas and projects like Udu yet to be discovered.

Meeting people like James give me hope for the future of big charities being able to connect and be relevant to the next generation – we aren’t dead. We are thriving and growing and hoping that people like you will partner with us soon.

We Need a Common Language

27 Feb

There’s something unique that happens when you are building a transformation driven culture in an organization– folks arrive at your doorstep speaking all sorts of different languages. And by this I don’t mean actual languages as in spoken in different country (well that happens sometime too especially when you are running an international non-profit). No.  Folks arrive as new employees at your organization, transplants from similar places and the words they use aren’t your words.

Over the past year at Feed The Children we’ve had new employees decide to join our team from other non-profits such as Heifer International, Food for the Hungry,  World Vision, Compassion International — just to name a few and we’ve also included the organization World Neighbors in our family. These new team members are passionate and excited about furthering our mission with their gifts and talents. They came to join our team because they knew something amazing was going on at Feed The Children. But, the problem of our community building is that all of these new employees use different words.

For example, at Feed The Children we might talk about the importance of child based community development or the four pillars– two bedrock words when we speak of our international programs and these same words might mean the exact opposite of what we are talking about to a new staffer.

And this is our current challenge: we have to find our language– together. Maybe some of the words we are using right now aren’t the best descriptions of what we are trying to do. Maybe some hybrid version of the best of our now collective experience can be our common ground.

If there is anything I know about organizational leadership, it is this: without effective communication among your team members, it doesn’t matter how good your programs are, they will fail. Unified teams that know how to speak to one another are those who get the job done.

This is why over the next quarter at Feed The Children we are going to be talking more about how we talk to each other.

It’s really a great problem to have, as far as problems are concerned– to be a surrounded by a diversity of thoughtful leaders. But the challenge for us is where do we go from here?

I love the idea expressed by John Kuypers in his book, Who’s the Driver Anyway? Making the Shift to a Collaborative Team Culture: “If you first take a minute, an hour or a month to let go of feeling annoyed, frustrated or critical of the person or situation that may be driving you crazy, you set yourself up for much greater leadership and personal success.”

May we all be more conscious of how we listen and respond to one another. Sometimes common language or not, if we just take a minute to sit with what is before us, we can usually see situations needing our attention more easily.

I Take It Personally

9 Feb

Most people know that I am a Starbuck’s tea fanatic. It is the one place I go most often other than to work and home. My day really doesn’t get started without a cup of the black tea goodness in my hand. Folks say I can make anyone a Starbucks disciple.

I also admire the leadership of Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks. His business instincts are strong. His work ethic is inspiring. And how he has a built a corporation from the top down of care and concern for his employees is what I am striving to model.

I think if Howard and I sat down, we could be friends. I couldn’t agree any more with this statement he made in his book, Onward.

“Whenever I see someone carrying a cup of coffee from a Starbucks competitor, whether it’s an independent coffee shop or a fast-food chain, I take their decision not to come to Starbucks personally. I wonder what I, as Starbucks’ chairman and ceo, might have done to keep them away and what I might do to encourage them to come back or to try us for the first time.”

I feel the same way about Feed The Children. When I hear that my friends are sponsoring children through other organizations or churches are giving their mission dollars to other relief agencies or when I see banners on the highway for organizations similar to us, I get upset. I wonder why not Feed The Children?

It’s not that I don’t believe in the value of what other organizations are doing. I wholeheartedly support the work of so many of my colleagues. We need countless approaches and voices at the non-profit table of service. Our problems are just too great to do it alone.

But what I am is passionate for is the growth of Feed The Children. And I want everyone I know to know about it.

I believe in our programs– they are growing to be some of the best in the world.

I believe in our staff– that they are some of the most talented in the nation, able to get the big tasks that await done.

And most of all I believe in our mission– to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry. At Feed The Children, we feed kids first so that we can begin to change their communities in more sustainable ways for the long haul.

So my confession is that I take it personally when I hear that you, my friends aren’t supporting Feed The Children.

If you’ve had a bad experience with us, I want to know it.

If you’ve had questions or concerns about our programs, I want to know it.

If you’ve chosen another organization to support like us for any other reason, I’d appreciate knowing why.

I have a dream and that is that one day Feed The Children will be known as the leader in our industry, not just that organization that you heard about at one time. I want everyone to know that Feed The Children is doing amazing, life-changing work all over the world.

So if you want to know more, let’s talk.

It’s All About Just One

15 Jan

imageBeing in this line of work, people stop to ask me two kinds of questions.

The first is something along the lines, of (not really a question) “Wow, you must sleep so well at night knowing what kind of good work you are doing?” (These are the people who want to make me into the saint I am not).

And the second is, “How do you sleep at night after all the things you’ve seen in other countries? Don’t you just get so overwhelmed?” (These are the people who don’t realize having your heart exposed to such poverty and injustice is just a part of the role).

However, the real truth is that some nights I sleep just fine, and others….not so much.

I am 100% confident that I am doing with my life what I need to be doing right now, but at the same time, I do have restless nights. I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I don’t want to let down the hundreds of thousands of children — who are depending on Feed The Children. I hope that I am doing everything I can to let the staff know how much they are valued and appreciated so that we can focus our efforts on delivering for the children.

While I am encouraged by the good I know we are doing in many places that are in desperate need of hope, I am also filled with anxiety sometimes as to why we can’t do more. There are always sad faces that I see on children when I travel, kids who I know did not get enough to eat the day before, both in the US and around the world.  And there are always too few hours in the day to accomplish all that I dream about coming forth at Feed The Children.

However, there are new mentors I’m gaining along the way. They are teaching me that at the end of the day it’s always about just one child.

It’s about one family.

It’s about one opportunity presented.

It’s about one life changed.

It has been interesting as I have settled into my role with Feed The Children that there are several kids in different places I’ve traveled that have stuck with me. I’ve seen thousands of kids. I’ve hugged hundreds. But then, there is one or two in a country or a region of the world that have captured my heart in a special way. I know I am doing my job for them.

I know these are the ones that come to mind when I have a bad day. They encourage me to work smarter and lead more wisely.

In the wee hours of the night when I can’t sleep, I think of them. I remember as my mentors have taught me: it is always about one child.

And because of this one child, I keep on keeping on– long, sleepless nights or not.