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!


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.

Off to New Adventures!

July 27, 2012

Jessica PlaceLASVP Staff Member Jessica Place is headed off to graduate school at Wake Forest University! First as an AmeriCorps VISTA and then as full-time staff, Jessica has contributed hundreds and hundreds of hours to helping LASVP on everything from Fast Pitch to phone calls to Partner Engagement and beyond.

My post-college trajectory has been a little atypical.   After receiving my degree in Women’s & Gender Studies, a discipline that pulls no punches in its critique of both capitalism and the “non-profit industrial complex,” I became an AmeriCorps VISTA serving a philanthropic nonprofit.  While most people definitely wouldn’t call a year of living on a meager government stipend “selling out,” many of my college friends—radical queer anarchist-socialists who host monthly vegan potlucks at the indigenous activism collective—thought that working within the bounds of “the system” was a betrayal of my feminist ideals.  My next step in my life’s journey seems just as inexplicable to them—I’m bound for a Southern theological school.

I’m so glad that I’ve chosen to follow this path.  My time at LASVP has been one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life.  Rather than cancelling out my youthful ideals, learning about different theories of social change, and more importantly, how they are put into practice, has enabled me to envision new possibilities that synthesize the best of both worlds.  As I move forward in my education and learn how to become a leader and activist in my faith community, I will undoubtedly apply what I have learned in my time with SVP.

Working with LASVP has helped me grow, but more importantly, it’s allowed me to contribute something worthwhile to this community.  And the nature of this organization means that my contributions will continue to have a ripple effect after I’ve moved on.  One of my favorite organizations I’ve met through LASVP is BTS Communications—I’m a big fan of their work, but they’re also just a fun group of people to be around.  LASVP had a fairly light touch on the organization—they were winners at our Fast Pitch in 2010.  And yet even that level of involvement has helped them reach new heights—in the year plus that I’ve been in contact with BTS, they’ve received a major grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, moved to a shiny new office space, and published an outstanding  25th anniversary magazine for Beit T’Shuvah.  That small seed of help that LASVP planted has definitely helped them accelerate their growth.  I’m excited to see how LA Diaper Drive, or Synergy Academies, or any of the other amazing organizations that I’ve had the privilege to get to know, expand and improve in the coming years because of the boost they received from LASVP.

Most importantly, I’m grateful to have met all of the amazing people I’ve connected with through LASVP.  I’ve been continually inspired by our Partners, who give their all—not just their “good enough”—to the causes they believe in.  They’ve inspired me to make social change a priority, not just an extra-curricular activity, no matter what my job title.  They’ve been an example of the power of cooperation and collaboration—LASVP would not work unless people from different backgrounds with different opinions were committed to coming together and working toward a common goal.   They’ve also been friendly, caring, and fun to work with—this is a truly outstanding group of people.

Soon I’ll be settled down in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a location that’s pretty far-flung from L.A., both geographically and culturally.  It will be a new experience, but it’s one that I’m looking forward to—and the progressive and diverse community at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity should be friendly shelter in the midst of the inevitable culture shock.  It’s bittersweet saying goodbye to LASVP.   I’ll miss all the friendly faces I’m leaving behind.  I’ll always look back on my time here fondly—especially when I’m studying for “Readings in Koine Greek” without access to In-n-Out Burger in a climate designated “humid subtropical”—but I’m sure our paths will cross again.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this amazing organization.

Everyone at LASVP would like to thank Jessica for all of her hard work and wish her the best of luck for the future!

5 Good Reasons to Come to the Summer Social

July 3, 2012

LASVPLos Angeles Social Venture Partners will be hosting their annual Summer Social on Saturday, July 14th at a Partner’s home in Brentwood. In case you need it, here are 5 pretty darn good reasons to show up…

  1. Everyone in the LASVP community is welcome! Partners, prospects, investees, Fast Pitch alumi, spouses, kids, everyone!
  2. Re-connect! Have you missed some of your LASVP friends or fellow Fast Pitch compadres? Catch up while enjoying the summer sunset.
  3. Networking! You can mix and mingle with a bunch a new faces and maybe make some powerful connections.
  4. Have fun! It’s summer in SoCal. Chill out. Relax.
  5. Celebrate! Experience the joy of making Los Angeles better, together!

Be sure to RSVP for the Summer Social by calling 310.281.7509 or send an email to rsvp (at)

Let Our Passions Lead the Way…

May 23, 2012

Diane Helfrey is a Founding Partner, board member, and Executive Director of LA Social Venture Partners. LASVP held a General Partner Meeting on May 16, 2012. Here is Diane’s recap of the evening:

It was great to see everyone at the Partner Meeting on May 16th! Board chair, Claudia Sangster got us off to a wonderful start by having everyone tell what their philanthropic passions are. Hearing the wide-ranging yet overlapping passions we have among our Partners really set the context for unveiling of our new strategic direction. Shared interests and passions are what bring us together, and what have inspired our vision to create a larger community of high-impact philanthropists who will catalyze social change in Los Angeles!

First, the stories…

Several Partners shared how LASVP has helped them amplify their philanthropic impact. Ken Deemer said that before LASVP he was “just writing a check and hoping someone does something good with it.” Now utilizing knowledge and experiences gained through LASVP, he is much more strategic about the organizations he supports and also serves in volunteer leadership roles with Environmental Charter Schools and USC’s Hybrid High. Charlie Steinmetz is also active on a variety of boards, but sometimes didn’t know how to effectively address issues that arose in board meetings. Through LASVP, he’s developed relationships with other Partners who he can call on as expert resources when he has a question. Richard Landers described how his involvement with LASVP has led him to ask what it would really take to drive education reform. His exploration has piqued his interest to explore advocacy as a means of creating systemic social change, and he invited others to learn with him.

We also heard from a highly-energized (and energizing!) Amy Johnson about the exciting work she had been doing with our investee, Synergy Academies. One of the keys to Synergy’s success is how they “teach teachers to teach.” However, many of the secrets and techniques are best known by co-founder Randy Palisoc, whose time coaching teachers became more and more constrained as they grew from 1 school to 3. Amy and Randy have teamed up to capture this knowledge in an iBook that includes videos, text and graphics, and can be used by teachers at any time. Now that’s creative!

Amy’s passion, skills, and willingness to dive in have given her the chance to make a difference at Synergy Academies in a way that will ripple out to the teachers, students, and community of South Central LA. Think of the potential if we had 500 Partners like Amy. Think of how – together – we could shape Los Angeles for the better.

How we build on this momentum, together …

These and other stories demonstrate the value of being part of a community where we can harness our passions, dig in to social issues together, learn from each other, and invest in nonprofits doing incredible work to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles. This is exactly what we want for the whole Partnership. And as board member Way-Ting Chen said, “We need to invest in ourselves as an organization” so this can happen.

Over the last year, our strategic planning process illuminated our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Our dual mission hasn’t changed, but we’ll change some of what we do in order to enhance the Partner experience and evolve aspects of our capacity building programs to be increasingly driven by Partner interests. A key insight that shaped our strategic direction was that we have been unbalanced in allocating resources toward our dual mission. Understandably, in our early years, dramatically more resources have gone toward nonprofit capacity building than to philanthropy development. Even though we learn a ton through hands-on experience, we concluded that focusing on the needs of our Partnership is critical to our next level of success. We believe that when Partners are consistently equipped with the right knowledge, skills, support, and networks, we are better able to add value by building relationships with, advising, and make connections for the nonprofits we support.

We are excited about our focus, our future, and our potential to have a greater impact – together.

If you missed the Partner Meeting and want to know more, there are several things you can do. You can 1) view the slides here, 2) join conference calls that will be scheduled in the next 1-2 months to discuss the strategic direction, 3) contact Diane with questions, or 4) join one of our working groups that will develop our implementation plans.