Partner Q & A: Marta Gazzera Ferro

February 6, 2013

LASVP Partner, Marta Gazzera FerroMarta Gazzera Ferro is President of Starfish Impact and has been an LASVP Partner since 2010. Not only does Marta serve on LASVP’s Board of Directors, she also co-leads the Recruiting Team.  

Q: What is your favorite part of being involved in LASVP?

Marta: The people—I have really enjoyed meeting other Partners over the years, and building friendships and collaborative working relationships with people who I may not have met otherwise.  The group is likeminded in valuing the philanthropic mission of LASVP, but also quite diverse which makes for very interesting, stimulating and engaged conversations.

Q: What inspires you to make a difference?

Marta: Many things inspire me to make a difference, but some early and lifelong inspirations are my parents and my early teachers. Here is an excerpt from a newsletter that I wrote over 3 years ago summarizing this inspiration:

My life and therefore my work have been largely inspired by both of my parents. My mother is a child development expert and lifelong educator who taught children, teachers and parents, led progressive schools, and founded a charter school. In her “retirement” she voraciously writes children’s books with a diversity theme woven throughout and works with parents and teachers through seminars and one-on-one counseling. My father worked with gangs for over ten years eventually leading the New York City Youth Board. He was the Northeast Regional Director of the Community Action Program in the Office of Economic Opportunity (War on Poverty), the Executive Director of the New York State Division of Human Rights, and then the Associate Chief of the Children’s Bureau, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. In all of these roles he made a sweeping impact on underserved youth and through his work at the Children’s Bureau he affected millions of children through the child welfare legislation and laws that he wrote and championed including ones focused on child abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption.

I have also been greatly inspired by my first school – Green Acres in Rockville, Maryland – and the teachers who taught me there. I attended from first through eighth grade and went on to an excellent high school, college and graduate school, but it is my formative years at Green Acres that most impacted who I am today. My mother came to Green Acres as the lower school head when I was in second grade, so we share our roots in this special community.

I just went back for my 25th reunion and the school’s 75th Anniversary this past weekend and was able to connect with former classmates and teachers who also traveled to the DC area to celebrate together. In speaking to my 7th & 8th grade homeroom and social studies teacher, Hal Lederman, I remembered that I wrote about his hands-on entrepreneurial lessons we enthusiastically participated in for one of my business school essays. His “Popcorn Game” in which I was chosen, after interviewing for the job, as one of a few entrepreneurs who ran my own popcorn selling business for a week (hiring and managing a team of employees) and the “Stock Market Game” in which we competed as teams against high school students across the country to achieve the greatest return (doing quite well!), helped to inspire my business school decision. Another crucial reason behind why I have chosen my career path is the sense of community that was instilled at the school every day and the community service work and social justice philosophy that permeated the curriculum and culture at the school.

Q: What book are you reading right now?

Marta: I have read several books in the past month that I can highly recommend:

I just finished a book last night and I am about to start reading Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?

Marta: Spending time with my family—my son and husband—and friends, and other family members when they are close.

Q: Which nonprofit organization do you wish everyone knew about?

Marta: C5LA (  The program has been in LA for 13 years and 100% of the students graduate from high school and over 95% matriculate to college.  C5’s program is a 5-year, year-round, intentionally-designed, outcomes-oriented youth leadership development, college prep and community service and advocacy program for underserved youth in the LA community.  The average student comes from a family of 5 with $21,000 in annual income and the students thrive with the supports and opportunities provided by C5.  I have been involved for 8 years and would be happy to speak to anyone interested in hearing more about C5!


Synergy Academies: Empowering Parents to Help Close the Gap

February 6, 2013

Synergy AcademiesInspired by their amazing work in South LA,  LASVP Partners have put their time and talent behind Synergy Academies. Since our initial investment in 2010, LASVP Partners have given over 465 hours of strategic assistance to Synergy in areas such as executive coaching, IT infrastructure, financial planning, and board development.    

What makes Synergy Academies’ outstanding academic results even more impressive is that most students arrive at Synergy underprepared.  According to Synergy Co-Founder and CEO Meg Palisoc, “Almost 100% of our kindergarten students every year [begin by performing below the standards] in everything.  They’re already behind at age 5…they don’t know their letters, numbers, shapes and colors in English or Spanish.”

It’s impossible to point to a single cause for the achievement gap between middle-class white students and low-income African-American and Latino students; there are a myriad of socioeconomic factors at play that lead to inequalities in school preparedness. While some may believe that parental apathy is to blame,  Meg says that most Synergy parents want to do all they can to help their children succeed, but suffer from a lack of useful information.  “There needs to be more out there to help educate parents in our community…they’re really crying out for help.”

A concerned mother of one underprepared kindergartner asked Meg, “Is this a problem, that my child doesn’t know these things?”

According to Meg, “I told her, ‘At your child’s age, she should be capable of knowing [letters and numbers]…don’t worry, that’s why we’re here; we’re going to work together with you.’  I didn’t want to make her feel bad, but I also wanted to educate her about her child’s developmental capabilities.  When I asked if her child had gone to Preschool, she said yes, she had been going since she was 2 or 3.   She had even asked the Preschool teacher if she, as a mother, should be teaching her child letters and numbers and colors.  The teacher said, ‘No, that’s a kindergarten standard, let the kindergarten teacher do that.’”

The mother didn’t question this bad advice.  After all, it came from a person in a position of authority; a person who she logically assumed had more knowledge than she did about how a child should be educated.  “Obviously her child struggled,” says Meg, but the dedicated and caring teachers at Synergy helped the student catch up. They accomplished this with the indispensable support of the child’s mother, who, armed with advice from Meg, was now aware of what she could do to help.

You can learn more about Synergy Academies’ recipe for success by joining one of their upcoming Synergy Trade Secrets Tours. If you want to help Synergy’s work to help students and families thrive, you can register your credit cards and grocery club cards (Ralph’s Club Card, Target REDCard, etc.) so that a portion of your purchase will be donated to Synergy or make a donation.

Celebrating SVP and Looking Forward to 2013

February 6, 2013

LASVPIt was great to see everyone at the first Partner Meeting of the year on January 31st. It was a good follow up to our New Year’s Resolution Party as we’re all looking for ways to share our ideas and talents to make a difference together.

We kicked off the meeting by taking a look at the highlights from 2012, including:

    • Welcoming 11 new Partners
    • Completing and gaining board approval for our new strategic plan
    • Approving our final reinvestments with GrowingGreat and Synergy Academies
    • Helping our 3 Investees strengthen their organizations and serve more LA-area residents
    • Successfully organizing and hosting our 5th Annual Social Innovation Fast Pitch
      (Watch the highlight reel.)

We recognized our Founding Partners for their years of dedication and support in building stronger communities with Los Angeles Social Venture Partners. We’d like to thank the following Partners for all they’ve done and all they continue to do to support LASVP:

Additionally, we recognized those Partners who have been part of the LASVP family for five or more years. Their continued commitment to LASVP and belief in the potential of Los Angeles is exactly what makes our Partnership great. Thank you:

We are also very proud to recognize Betsy Densmore as the LASVP Partner with the most reported volunteer hours in 2012! Betsy is a member of the LASVP Board of Directors, was the Lead Partner on the Social Innovation Fast Pitch, represented Los Angeles at the SVP Conference, and aided in recruiting efforts. But maybe the most amazing part is… Betsy does all this while living in Orange County! We are tremendously lucky to have such an outstanding and dedicated person in our Partnership.

Looking forward to 2013, we received an update about our Investees and opportunities for Partners to volunteer with them.

GrowingGreat is looking for Partners to identify 5 new schools to receive their healthy eating education program in the 2013-2014 school year, and to work with them on business development, school launch plans, and a long-term geographic expansion strategy. LA Diaper Drive is looking for connections to sources for diaper donations and aid with their governance and operating policies and procedures. With Synergy Academies, we’ll finish up the projects we have underway and support the ramp up of longer-term HR projects to make sure they’re well-positioned as we wrap up our investment in 2013.

We’re also very excited about our upcoming Education Investment Cycle! For the last two months, the Education Investment Committee has been doing some fantastic and fascinating exploration in the education arena of Los Angeles. Taking a look at STEM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Early Childhood Education, Advocacy, and Collective Impact, the team found a variety of opportunities for LASVP and shared their new knowledge with one another.  And, after some debate, they have recommended that for this upcoming cycle we should focus on a Collective Impact approach to issues in education. (See the slide deck for further detail.)

We still have several key questions to answer about how we’re going to make investments using the Collective Impact approach, but we’re excited to dig in and learn all we can. LASVP Partners can join the team anytime.

We’re off to a good start this year! We have some fun projects and interesting learning opportunities on the horizon. We have great people in our Partnership and we’re hoping to find more.  2013 is our year, SVP!

Partners Only: If you missed the Partner Meeting and want to know more, you can view the slides from the meeting here, take a look at the master calendar here, or contact Diane or a member of the Education Investment Committee with questions.