Partner Q&A: Cindy Jones

August 5, 2013

Cindy JonesDuring Cindy’s professional career in real estate fund development, she developed and managed a $700 million real estate fund, was named by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of the top ten rising stars and one of the one hundred most influential people in real estate.  After retiring in 2000, she turned her talents to working with non-profits, helping them develop their best practices in development, communication and funding.  She has also advanced her education in the field of photography, cinematography, computer graphics and design and uses these skills in assisting non-profits with their promotional material.

Cindy’s previous careers include working as a respiratory therapist in the post-op open-heart unit, as well as modelling and acting in thousands of advertisements, catalogs, commercials, magazines and promotional pieces.  She was educated at Kansas University in Respiratory Therapy and Biology.  Cindy became a SVP Partner in 2011, and has served as a coach in the Social Innovation Fast Pitch program. 

Q:  How were you introduced to SVP?
Cindy:
  I was introduced to SVP by Partner Ken Deemer through Tech Coast Angels, a group of 250 private investors who fund early-stage technology companies in Southern California.

Q:  What inspires you to make a difference?
Cindy:
  Because I have the funds to do so and my parents taught me generosity.  There was no other way in our house.

Q:  What social issue are you most passionate about?
Cindy:
  Kids being kids.

Q:  Which nonprofit organization do you wish everyone knew about?
Cindy:
  I wish everyone knew about the Boys and Girls Club of Mar Vista.  My husband and I are the founders, and the Boys and Girls Club of Mar Vista is uniquely located to service hundreds of kids a day (300 and growing). We are now renovating the facility and our hope is to turn it into a flagship facility for the Boys & Girls Club with both indoor and outdoor recreational activities for the kids.  The facility includes outdoor baseball field, running track, basketball courts, adult and children’s play and exercise areas, picnic tables and the indoor facility has a gym, commercial kitchen, computer center, study room, teen center and art center.

Q:  What do you think is the biggest barrier to creating social change?
Cindy:
  To really think and not just act on all emotions.

Q:  What book are you reading right now?
Cindy:
I am currently reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.


Partner Q&A: Bettina O’Mara

July 5, 2013

Bettina O'MaraSVP Partner and member of the Social Innovation Fast Pitch Planning Committee, Bettina O’Mara started in the Publicity and Promotion department at Castle Rock Entertainment. She founded their Product Placement division and then became a consultant to them when she created her own company, Visualeyes Productions. She moved from Placement and Promotions into full time Producing of independent films. Bettina has been a Partner since 2011.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
Bettina: Through my brother, SVP Partner Lance Tendler.

Q: What project are you working on with SVP? Why did you choose to get involved this way?
Bettina: Helping with planning the Social Innovation Fast Pitch. Early in my career, I planned the large premieres for Castle Rock Entertainment and loved it. I am hoping those skills help SVP!

Q: What is the most memorable experience you’ve had with SVP so far?
Bettina: I love learning about the nonprofits that we work with as well as those that apply for our programs, but I have to say my first Fast Pitch event was my favorite. I enjoyed it immensely. While I really don’t have a favorite Fast Pitch organization, I have found quite a few organizations that I am so thrilled are out there helping those in need.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?
Bettina: I listen to comedy! It makes me laugh the whole ride.

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?
Bettina: There are a few causes I am deeply connected to: animal rescue, children in need, and medical research.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Bettina: Sleeping in! Although with a two-year-old golden, it’s not easy.

Q: What inspires you to make a difference?
Bettina: I feel that I have been very lucky in life and I think it’s important to give back and pay it forward whenever we can.


Partner Q & A: Amanda Sabicer

April 8, 2013

Amanda Sabicer, LASVP PartnerAmanda Sabicer is a stay-at-home mother of three who was most recently with Amgen’s Commercial Leadership Program. With her roles as an LASVP board member and Co-Lead of the Recruiting Team, Amanda has kept herself busy since joining LASVP in 2010.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
Amanda: I discovered LASVP as a business school grad student at UCLA. I had to wait until I got a job after graduation before I could join.

Q: What project are you working on with LASVP? Why did you choose to get involved this way?
Amanda: As a board member, my focus switched last year from working on the strategic plan to building the membership of LASVP. I feel passionately that LASVP’s new strategic direction is the most innovative, daring and exciting in the SVP network. Then again, with such a talented group of Partners, many of whom are entrepreneurs, should we really expect anything other than a new “disruptive” approach to philanthropy? Since we are now working on executing our new vision, I am working with fellow board member, Marta Gazzera Ferro, to share the LASVP story with external audiences and recruit new Partners to join our tribe.

Q: What is your favorite part of being involved in LASVP?
Amanda: The people! As a busy mom of three kids (five years old and under), I make an effort to spend the little free time I have on activities and with people that energize me. LASVP never lets me down. In fact, even though I live in the Inland Empire now, I still drive out to the Westside for events and meetings. My husband jokes that I get an “LASVP high” after I hang out with members of LASVP. Where else in LA is there such an incredible, diverse, and intelligent group of results-oriented people who are committed to making Los Angeles a better place?

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Amanda: I just picked up Give Smart : Philanthropy that Gets Results by Thomas Tierney. I haven’t started it yet, but am looking forward to a new way of looking at philanthropy. I just finished David Brooks’ The Social Animal and found it fascinating. I thought Brooks’ section on emergent thinking (check out a quick summary) is especially relevant to LASVP’s foray into collective action.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Amanda: I look forward to marveling at how my girls fearlessly tumble around in gymnastics class, to watching my son toddle around our backyard until he finds another dangerous object to put into his mouth, to “bouldering” in Joshua Tree with my family, and to collapsing next to husband in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine on Sunday night.

You can learn more about our Partners here on our website.


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 (www.c5la.org).  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!


Partner Q & A: Betsy Densmore

December 4, 2012

Betsy DensmoreBetsy Densmore is the President of the Academies for Social Entrepreneurship and has been an SVP Partner since 2010.

Q: How were you introduced to SVP?
Betsy:
In 2006, SVP partnered with my employer to organize monthly Leadership Forum meetings for the executives of local Charter Schools. In 2008, we also joined forces again to host the first Social Innovation Fast Pitch.  In both cases I was struck by the grace, talent and commitment of SVP members.

Q: What is your role with SVP?
Betsy: I serve on the Board as Secretary and am a team leader for this year’s Fast Pitch. Generally, I do what Diane asks me to do.

Q: What did you dream of being when you were a kid?
Betsy:
A ballerina

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Betsy: Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman– a great book about tactics for moving money from Wall Street to Main Streets.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Betsy:
Dates with my husband—still romancing after 33 years.

Q: If SVP could solve one problem in LA, what would you pick?
Betsy:
I think the problem we are best suited to solve is the need for an army of undauntable, thoughtful philanthropists who make “change” happen (to a world that works for everyone).

You can learn more about our Partners here on our website.


Partner Q & A: Ron Sinha

October 31, 2012

Ron SinhaRon Sinha has been an Associate Partner at LASVP since 2011. In addition to his work with LASVP Investee Synergy Academies, Ron helped coach Tamika Butler of Young Invincibles to victory at this year’s Social Innovation Fast Pitch.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Ron: I was introduced to Diane Helfrey by a high school teacher of mine from back in the day, Ari Engelberg, who happened to work at Bright Star Schools, one of LASVP’s early investees. Upon moving back to LA, I had mentioned to Ari that I wanted to stay connected in the social sector here and he thought LASVP would be a good start. After that, I talked to Diane and attended some events and knew that it’d be a great group of people to work with.

Q: Why did you join LASVP?

Ron: Back in Boston, I worked in social impact strategy consulting / research, and loved it. I wanted to stay involved in a volunteer capacity in that type of work out here since the job I moved back for was in a completely different space! I think connecting high-performing organizations with the resources they need is key to propelling the sector forward, and LASVP works in many ways towards that goal.

Q: What do you think is the biggest barrier to creating social change?

Ron: The misallocation of resources, ranging from financial resources to human capital.

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?

Ron: It’s a tie between economic empowerment and youth education.

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

Ron: Acting, writing, movies, running and hanging out.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s been like to work on a volunteer project with one of our Investees?

Ron: Interested in unique and effective models around education, I jumped at the opportunity to leverage my analytical skills on a project with one of our investees, Synergy Academies. I am working with a few other partners and members of the school staff to analyze and improve the school’s internal finance tools, and to build a performance dashboard that can ultimately be used by the school’s board to drive operational decisions. In addition to providing me with the opportunity to apply my quantitative mind to the sector, this has allowed me to gain exposure to a high-performing school in the area and the fantastic staff and students that make it what it is.

You can read more about our Partners on our website.


Partner Q & A: Amy Friedman Cecil

October 5, 2012

Amy Friedman CecilAmy Friedman Cecil has been an LASVP Partner since 2011, and she’s doing it all. From Fast Pitch to investees to Partner education, Amy’s there!

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Amy: I was introduced to LASVP by my good friend Nancy Hammerman.  She took me to a open house event where I heard many people speak about the organization.  I was really impressed with the impact LASVP had on both its investees and its partners.  I was also excited by the diversity and energy of the partners.  By the end of the afternoon I had committed to LASVP and am very glad to have made that decision.

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

Amy: My favorite part about my LASVP involvement is the range of experience it offers.  Since joining last year I have consulted with GrowingGreat and have led a focus group to get input on a new service delivery module. I am part of the Fast Pitch planning team and have participated in the pre-screen and full application review and selection and am assisting at the Fast Pitch coaching sessions (yes- that was me with the camera).  I am also part of the Partner Education committee along with Amy Johnson and Ellen Sloan.  This is a wonderful opportunity to work with two very intelligent women at very different trajectories of their careers and to create a curriculum which will have a broad and deep influence over how and what partners can learn through this organization.

Q: What inspires you to make a difference?

Amy: I have been a volunteer since my childhood.  What I have learned is how very little it takes to change someone’s life for the better.  You don’t need much experience, or much time, money or effort to make an impact.  But with a greater investment of any or all of the foregoing, magical things can happen. I am constantly amazed by the way in which the process of working with others is so rich and rewarding.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Amy: My traffic distraction really depends on my state of mind.  If I am calm I can listen to KCRW/NPR or KPFC, although the broadcast material itself might get me upset.  If the traffic is really bad I may have to blast Ben Folds or the Decemberists to keep me going. If I am in need of soothing, it is a toss-up between classical or Joni Mitchell on CD.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher in school?

Amy: My favorite was Mrs. Hibblein, my first grade teacher, because she was so supportive and kind.  This is my best memory of her: We were sculpting an animal to go with a book we had been reading and I was trying to fashion wings for my swan. I could not get the wings to stand up because the dough was too heavy.  She came over and told me not to give up, but rather to imagine what the swan looked like in many positions.  She said she knew I could make it work (shades of Tim Gunn).  When she came back, I had carved lines on the swan’s back and told her that his wings were folded.  She was so delighted at the way I solved the problem that even at that age I felt empowered.  That first grade swan still sits on my desk.

Q: What do you think is the biggest barrier to creating social change?

Amy: Imagination and implementation.  There are so many barriers: financial, partisan politics, lack of time, a lack of hands and help, the incredible magnitude and complexity of the problems which need to be addressed. It sometimes seems that large-scale social change is impossible and this is disheartening.  But then someone imagines a better life and has the courage to implement their idea and things happen.  It takes imagination to see that change is possible, to craft a shape it can take, and then to see it to fruition.

You can learn more about our Partners, here on our website. 


Partner Q & A: Brad Sparks

August 29, 2012

Brad SparksLASVP Partner Brad Sparks is the Director of KPMG International’s Global Green Initiative, the firm’s global climate change strategy. Brad has been part of the LASVP Partnership since 2008.

Q: What is your role with LASVP? Why did you get involved in this area?

Brad: I currently serve as Treasurer. As a CPA, it is a bit of a natural fit. And with my current role at KPMG being focused entirely on sustainability, it’s an opportunity to continue to think about the accounting and finance issues I dealt with previously.

Q: What is your favorite LASVP Investee/Fast Pitch Alum organization?

Brad: My favorite Fast Pitch organization is Food Forward – it is such an obvious opportunity, but was completely overlooked until someone took the time to try to do something that makes perfect sense.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Brad: I don’t get stuck…believe it or not, LA does have some public transportation exceptions that work and I take a 20-minute commuter express bus from El Segundo to downtown each day. It is half the time and saves me from paying $10 a day parking. So instead of listening to the radio, I spend my commute reading the Economist.

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?

Brad: It’s my town – El Segundo. Basically, the town is Mayberry in a big city, with parades, a Main Street, and now both a fantastic brewery and beer garden. My wife, Maureen, and I basically don’t drive on the weekends – spending our time enjoying the Gundo.

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

Brad: GRID Alternatives – it was a Fast Pitch program in 2011 and I love what the group does – putting solar panels on low-incoming housing. Basically, it is a renewable energy twist on Habitat for Humanity and the additional bonus is that it uses the process to train people to become contractors for solar panel installations.

You can read more about our Partners here on our website.


Partner Q & A: Karen Robertson-Fall

July 27, 2012

Karen Robertson-FallKaren Robertson-Fall is an LASVP Partner who has dedicated more than 15 years of her life to serving vulnerable and underserved people. She is currently a Program Officer in the Planning & Development department at First 5 Los Angeles. 

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Karen: I found out about LASVP in 2006 when I was doing some research for our social venture fund at First 5 LA.  That was my first exposure to SVP, and after exploring the organization a little bit more I was able to come on as a David Rimer Fellow Associate Partner.

What inspires you to want to make a difference?

Karen: During a post graduate school trip to Jamaica, I began having difficulty seeing in one eye. After an MRI, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Back then the prognosis was very grim—the doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to have children, that I wouldn’t be able to walk.  With the prospect of a shortened lifespan in front of me, I realized that I wanted to spend my life doing something that mattered, something that would make as much of an impact as possible.  I’ve now lived with MS for 22 years, made a career in philanthropy, and with the improved treatments and technology, my disability hasn’t stopped me from doing everything I can to make an impact.

What is your favorite part about being involved in LASVP?

Karen: I love reading the proposals we receive, both the applications for the Fast Pitch program and from organizations applying to be our next Investee.  It’s great to be exposed to all the creative problem-solving that people are doing—usually you only hear about the problems.

What did you dream of being when you were a kid?

Karen: A Supreme Court Justice.  When I was little my dad told me that the most powerful thing a President can do is appoint Justices to the Supreme Court, because they do so much to shape the law and the country.  I thought that would be a great way to do something important.

What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Karen: My husband and I are big Christian music fans.  We listen to a lot of Gospel and Christian Rock on Pandora.

Who was your favorite teacher in school?

Karen: My 5th grade teacher really changed my life.  She was totally committed to me becoming an A student.  We had this astronomy class that I was really into—and I was the only person in the class to get all A’s on the tests.  She really praised me and encouraged me for that accomplishment, and it changed my way of thinking about what I could be.

You can find out more about all of our Partners by clicking here.


Partner Q & A: Dina Silver

July 3, 2012

Meet Dina Silver, a former film producer, President of Pegasus Coaching Group, and a founding Partner of LASVP.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Dina: Sue Bunzel, another LASVP Partner, introduced me. Coincidentally, she and I went to the same all-girl school in New York City years ago. She and my husband Steve were on the board of Planned Parenthood LA together. She and I met at an event, and the next thing I knew, I was at the very first gathering of LASVP!

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?

Dina: Probably hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains—away from the city sprawl, ocean spread out below and the scent of eucalyptus wafting through.

Q: What book are you reading right now?

Dina: Just finished re-reading David Copperfield. Dickens makes you laugh aloud. I hadn’t read it for 25 years, and it is more delicious and delightful now. I am now reading Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. This is an extraordinary book, but not for the faint-hearted.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Dina: Warren Olney or This American Life, if I have some new shows downloaded.

Q: What is your favorite organization you’ve been introduced to through LASVP?

Dina: I think my very favorite is Food Forward, which I was introduced to at Fast Pitch. Rick Nahmias, who runs the organization, is smart, clever, inspiring and growing an organization that has people truly involved with feeding the hungry. My husband Steve and I have gone on a ‘pick’ and it certainly gives you an appreciation for the work of a migrant laborer.

You can read more about all of our Partners by clicking here.