Reflections from our Chairman: Sharing the Opportunity
When I was asked to write an annual reflection the first thing I thought was that in sixteen years of work in this sector this was the first time I was going to do something like it. This, I guess, is a starting point as good as any to illustrate what I have learned and how Tondo Foundation has evolved over the last twelve months.
In late 2016, I was left with the great opportunity and even greater responsibility of restructuring the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and ensuring that its assets would be used in the most effective way possible to contribute to positive social change in Southeast Asia. Personally, I was left with the responsibility (and honour) to ensure that a very dear friend’s generosity would go as far as possible in supporting some of Asia’s most vulnerable communities, something Richard (Dick) and I had been doing together for the last ten years.
I believe we did a good job supporting effective nonprofits in Southeast Asia by taking risks other funders wouldn’t, by providing unrestricted and multi-year grants and by funding (and advocating for) overheads to secure and retain talented and committed people. We had rescued good organisations from financial crisis that threatened their existence, helped other organisations strengthen and grow until they did not need our funds anymore and, of course, we had also made mistakes (especially since we were willing to take risks and fund startups).
In the precious few weeks during which Dick and I could talk about the future of the Richard P. Haugland Foundation, I often stressed the fact that there was one thing I wanted to do differently: invest time and resources to hire people who would allow the Foundation to not only do more, but also (and more importantly) to do its work better. Since Dick and I had always done everything ourselves and never truly built a team (with the notable exception of Prae at Starfish), I wanted to discuss with him at length my vision of Tondo Foundation as a base for talented people who could, together, work toward making the Foundation become the best possible funder and partner to social purpose organisations in order to maximise the impact his resources could contribute to.
As I embarked in the development of Tondo Foundation, I faced the following questions:
· Did I really want to recruit and work with people who would be better than me at playing certain roles?
· Was I truly ready to delegate important parts of an executive role?
· As someone who cherishes flexibility and creative chaos, was I ready to become more of a team player, accepting the need for systems and processes?
· Was I going to accept decisions I did not completely agree with?
· Was I going to accept that for some people tools are important, when I always believed that what counts is the mindset we do things with?
· What was the “secret sauce” required for me to answer yes to the above questions?
What I learned in 2018 is that, yes, I was ready to delegate executive responsibilities, use systems and processes — albeit reluctantly, at times — and accept decisions I did not fully agree with.
I also learned that for someone who had never truly done that before, understanding how to effectively delegate was a steep learning curve. Initially, I think I tried to delegate too much and consequently started being frustrated with the direction the Foundation was taking, the way it was presenting itself, and even some of the vocabulary it was using and the tools it was developing.
I learned that I needed to speak up and explain my point of view, reiterate our values and ensure we would always put mindset ahead of tools. I also learned (mostly by being repeatedly told) that I needed to support my colleagues more and not less, while simultaneously delegating responsibilities to them.
This process has truly only worked because the two people that make up Tondo Foundation’s executive team are people I trust to be much better than I would be at their specific roles. Ryan, Tondo’s CEO, is the pillar around which Tondo’s team has and continues to be built and supported. Additionally, he continues to advocate for the alignment of our our financial assets with our mission through relevant fund managers and leads the design and testing of new direct investment strategies. Ryan also holds me accountable to sharing my experience and to supporting him and the rest of the team as it continues to grow.
Nicky, Tondo’s Director of Philanthropy, is now formalising our long-term vision for system change and shaping the strategy of our philanthropy — which is the essence of what we do. She has worked with three new partners since joining Tondo in July and has done a better job than I ever would.
I believe we have found a good equilibrium and help to make each other better at our respective jobs. Selfishly, I also believe that I have the easiest job of the three, which is great because I can use a large portion of my time to focus on programs that mattered most to Dick and I (e.g. Starfish in Thailand and our initiative in Tondo, Manila) while the Foundation continues to develop other programs with new partners and remains focused on building an internal culture based on humility, respect, and a desire to learn and improve.
As a foundation, we constantly remind ourselves that we are accountable to the communities we work for and to our partners. Personally, I also feel accountable to Ryan and Nicky (and my fellow board members Jessica and Prae). This feeling is healthy and reassuring because I know there are people who understand me and know my strengths (as well as my weaknesses) and help me daily to avoid making mistakes which are often driven by hubris. This is definitely something I recommend other founders seriously try!
As I write this on January 2nd, 2019, I can say that the “secret sauce” is a mix of trust and respect. I feel privileged to share with my colleagues (Ryan, Nicky, Michelle, Sandhya, Akshay and Chiara) the opportunity to use the funds Dick left us to contribute to supporting effective solutions for communities in Asia and at the same time I feel much safer to honour the responsibility that he gave me.