Stronger Together: Learning From and Inspiring Each Other

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How does collective impact save lives? In this episode of Add Passion and Stir, philanthropist Karen Ansara talks with chef Michael Serpa about the transformative power of learning and doing within a group setting. Ansara and her husband founded New England International Donors in 2008 to create a network of donors, grant-makers, social investors, and advisors focused on ending global poverty. “How do you address poverty? It’s more than handing out food. Do people have livelihoods, safe communities, healthcare?,” she says. Serpa believes that you need to understand the problems better by exposure to different cultures. “If you work with Haitians and there’s a big disaster in Haiti, they’re going to be affected by that because everyone has family there. Getting exposed … really opens your eyes to what’s going on around the world,” he says. Both guests have experience with Haiti. In 2010, the Ansaras started a fund and issued a challenge grant in response to the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti. They were sure to include Boston’s Haitian community – the third largest in the country – in the effort. “We knew almost nothing about Haiti, but they did. And they had a stake in what was going to happen in Haiti. We knew they needed to be in leadership to make sure that Haiti was going to be rebuilt in ways that were fruitful and just for the Haitian people,” she explains. “One of the reasons we created New England International Donors is it’s really hard to get training in philanthropy and it’s hard to find mentors, so we created this network so that we would learn from each other,” she says.

A dedicated No Kid Hungry supporter, Serpa shares the frustration he feels when thinking about childhood hunger in America. “This is stupid, why are kids in school in Massachusetts not getting food. Why are they hungry? It doesn’t make sense in the United States that kids are going hungry,” he says. An avid cyclist, he participates in Chefs Cycle where participants ride 300 miles in 3 days to raise money for No Kid Hungry. “With hyper-competitive chefs and restaurant people…it’s fun because it’s a challenge,” he says. Ansara sees a different aspect. “I would imagine the camaraderie — the shared pain and the shared meals together — are a big part of what motivates people to do it because you know you can have more of an impact when you’ve got a great team,” she concludes.

Listen to these two dedicated change-makers describe how camaraderie and teamwork can make giving back greater than the sum of its parts.

Resources and Mentions:

Karen Ansara

Karen Ansara and her husband Jim make grants to end global poverty (primarily in Haiti and Nepal) via their donor-advised fund at The Boston Foundation. Karen co-founded New England International Donors in 2008, a network of 115 donors, grant-makers, social investors, and advisors. NEID is now a program of The Philanthropic Initiative in Boston and affiliated with The Boston Foundation. In 2010, Karen and Jim co-founded the Haiti Fund with the Boston Foundation, a fund guided by Haitian Americans and international development experts, which made grants in Haiti for five years. Karen now serves as an advisor to the emerging Haiti Development Institute and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Karen holds a B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College, an M.Div. from Andover Newton Theological School, and along with her husband an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Salem State College. She has been trained in strategic philanthropy by The Philanthropy Workshop West. Jim and Karen are raising five adopted children, three from Ecuador, in Essex, MA.

Michael Serpa

Michael Serpa hails from a family of Cuban chefs, including his dad, grandfather, and two uncles. As a youth, he spent his summers at his father’s Miami restaurant and during high school in Pennsylvania working nights at local restaurants. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Michael made the move to New York City, where he connected with the Olives NY group and worked under chef Michael Crain. Michael made his way to Boston to work at Olives in Charlestown and soon took over the kitchen at Neptune Oyster in the North End. Michael opened Select Oyster Bar in Boston’s Back Bay in April 2015. When he is not cooking, Michael is an avid cyclist, and participated in the 2014 & 2016 Pan Mass Challenge to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the 2017 Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Root Cause Coalition

The Root Cause Coalition is a national, member-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of health disparities by focusing on hunger and other social determinants leading to nationwide epidemic of preventable chronic health conditions.

New England International Donors

A peer-to-peer learning network of passionate & dedicated global philanthropists. It’s is a vibrant community of engaged global philanthropists learning, giving, investing and partnering together to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace & human rights for all. Through strategic networking, educational opportunities, and information sharing, they aim to spark donor action and collaboration. By coming together to share knowledge and experience, they strive to become increasingly generous and committed philanthropists for global social change. They value Empowerment, partnership, empathy, humility, intellectual rigor, justice, effectiveness, and transformative social change.

Select Oyster Bar

A neighborhood seafood spot in Boston’s Historic Back Bay from Chef Michael Serpa. The restaurant is focused on serving the highest quality seafood with a casual bistro vibe. The kitchen showcases the top-quality seafood with simple seasonal preparations, seafood-centric wines and cocktails with small-batch artisanal spirits. Select opened in April 2015 in a Back Bay townhouse taking inspiration from the neo-bistro movement in Paris. The restaurant quickly garnered praise including Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston Best New Restaurant 2015 and Best Wine Program 2016, Improper Bostonian’s Boston’s Best Seafood 2015 & 2016 and Boston’s Best Raw Bar 2017, Food & Wine’s Best New Wine Bars in America 2016, among others.

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