PROVO — A recent trip to Utah filled one man with hope for the future of philanthropy.
Robert H. Forrester, president and CEO of Newman's Own Foundation, traveled to BYU last week to participate in its Innovation of Social Entrepreneurship Case Competition (ISE), a program that offers graduate students the opportunity to test their business skills in solving real world social innovation problems.
This year, students from BYU, Notre Dame, University of Colorado, University of Utah and the University of Portland formed small teams and gathered to brainstorm solutions for a case study involving the Safe Water Network, which works to help provide clean water for villages in Ghana.
One of the highlights came after the event when all the participants crammed into the Brick Oven restaurant to eat pizza and salad, Forrester said.
In addition to the ISE case competition, the BYU Ballard Center also hosts various events, internships and classes aimed at helping students understand how the world's social problems are being solved. Students can also develop philanthropic skills through educational experiences provided by the Ballard Center.
Forrester acted as both a judge and mentor to the students during the two-day event. He came away impressed by these students and their desires to do good.
"For me, it was a thrill to meet with these students," Forrester said. "This is stuff that really warms my heart because there is so much good coming out of the next generation. ... These young people truly have a charitable motivation. They are trying to figure out how I can make an impact or do whatever I can to make our world better in the future."
More than a decade ago, young people were more interested in making a ton of money, Forrester said.
"This is a really big movement, and that's what we're all about," the CEO said, referring to Newman's Own.
In 1982, actor Paul Newman founded Newman's Own with a line of food products. He started by filling empty wine bottles with homemade salad dressing. To his surprise, it was an instant success. With first-year profits around $300,000, Newman decided that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to charity.
More than 30 years later, the company has donated more than $371 million to thousands of charities around the world, Forrester said.
Forrester recounted how Newman, his longtime close friend, was once interviewed by Gene Shalit on the Today Show. Shalit asked Newman what does an actor know about going into business?
With a straight face, Newman replied that there are three rules about being successful in business. The actor then paused and replied, "And I don’t know any of them," Forrester said.
But Newman did establish two fundamental principles in his company, Forrester said.
"First, quality would always trump profit. Newman's Own was a leader in being committed to all natural, no additives, which some people didn't think would work," Forrester said. "But it wasn’t just the quality of the ingredients, it was quality of the behavior, how we thought, treated our colleagues, our sensitivity to fair labor and making decisions not to make money, to sell a quality product and be proud of how we got to that quality product.
"Second, if we make money, we'll give it all away."
Newman died in 2008, but his foundation, started in 2005, plans to sustain his legacy of philanthropic work by giving away another $30 million to charity this year. The funds will go to nonprofits that work in the areas of nutrition, children with severe medical conditions or who have had a disrupted childhood, empowerment of people and promoting philanthropy. It will also go to benefit wounded veterans and boost the efforts of young people working for social change.
So when possible, like last week at BYU, Forrester enjoys interacting with young philanthropic minds and sharing the story of Newman and his company.
"Paul felt he was no better than anybody else. He was nothing special. He wanted to help the people who are less fortunate in the world," Forrester said. "Sharing the story is important."
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