Interview with Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco

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Deborah_Alvarez-Rodriguez Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez joined Goodwill Industries as President and CEO in March 2004. Known for her dynamic leadership style, and with 15 years of executive management experience spanning the non-profit, philanthropic, public and private sectors, Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez has a track record of catalyzing change within organizations and leading them toward greater innovation, accountability and responsiveness. Throughout her career Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez has consistently aimed to advance disadvantaged individuals and communities by promoting and implementing new policies, services, and business opportunities based on cross-sector collaboration.

While serving as CEO, Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez has been named one of the most influential women in Bay Area nonprofits by the San Francisco Business Times. She also received, on behalf of the agency, the 2006 Leadership Independent Sector Award, which recognized Goodwill’s innovative job training program and leadership development initiatives.

Prior to joining Goodwill, Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez was Vice President of Silicon Valley’s Omidyar Foundation, the family foundation created by the founder of E-Bay, where she developed community building, human services and grant making strategies. Previously, as the Director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF), she helped build one of the most comprehensive early childhood education and care systems in the nation and launched one of California’s most comprehensive working wage and workforce development initiatives for childcare workers.

Before joining DCYF, Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez specialized in evaluation, strategic planning and health system redesign at the Lewin Group, an internationally recognized health care consulting firm. Previous to that position, she was Founder and CEO of San Francisco’s Every Child Can Learn Foundation, Executive Director of Intergovernmental and School-linked Services at the San Francisco Unified School District, and Assistant Director for Budget and Planning for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Ms. Alvarez-Rodriguez is a graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe College.
Most readers are probably familiar with Goodwill stores, what don’t consumers know about Goodwill?

Most people don’t know that we use all the revenues from our stores to provide education and career services to people who have disadvantages that would otherwise make it hard for them to find jobs. These disadvantages include low education, past incarceration, poor English proficiency, past welfare dependence, and past substance abuse. By combining paid work experience with training, coaching, and support, our programs offer participants the opportunity to address their individual barriers to employment in the context of a real work environment.

Simultaneously, we provide employers with a pipeline of skilled and motivated workers. At the heart of what we do is building bridges to the market place and pathways to sustainability. We serve over 1400 participants each year.

Another thing most people don’t understand about Goodwill is the magnitude of our reuse and recycling efforts. Last year we diverted 17 million lbs. of material goods from landfill (2.4 million lbs. of which were e-waste). We believe that helping people become economically and socially sustainable and help the planet become environmentally sustainable are inextricably linked. As we say at our Goodwill, “Why save the planet when we have relegated entire populations to the human scrap heap? And why help people advance themselves if the planet is dying?”

Can you talk a bit about how Goodwill is organized?

Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties is one of 184 autonomous Goodwill organizations located throughout the world (161 of those are in the United States). We are part of a membership organization, Goodwill Industries International.

Each of these autonomous Goodwill organizations can form alliances with community partners. For that reason, many, but not all, of the 161 U.S. Goodwill organizations have partnerships with Dell Inc. I enthusiastically hope that over the next few years, every Goodwill in the country will link up with Dell for a nationwide computer recycling partnership.

The scale and breadth of the Goodwill network is ideal for forming innovative partnerships like Dell’s ReConnect programs. ReConnect programs currently exist here in San Francisco, plus in Austin, Texas, (15 counties in Central Texas), San Antonio (23 counties in Central and South Texas), North Carolina (49 counties), San Diego County, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, as well as throughout the states of Michigan and New Jersey.

What is the ReConnect program?

A partnership between Goodwill Industries and Dell Inc., ReConnect provides free computer recovery and recycling opportunities for residents of designated areas. The project aims to divert e-waste from landfill (last year we diverted 2.4 million lbs. in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties) and raise awareness of the importance of responsibly recycling used electronics.

As part of the program, we refurbish and distribute computers to residents currently lacking computer access at home, thus helping to close the digital divide. We are also providing sustainable job skill development for our staff and participants who are working and learning in the program. When computers are not functional enough to be refurbished, we recycle them using a certified recycler that has passed a rigorous Dell environmental and social downstream audit.

San Francisco was the second Reconnect partner, can you comment on how the program has grown over the past few years?

Yes, we’re very proud to be one of the ReConnect pioneers. We joined forces with Dell in 2005. That first year we diverted 1.75 million lbs. of e-waste from landfill, and since then our operations have steadily grown. As public interest in e-waste has grown over the past few years, we’ve been so appreciative of our partnership with Dell, which ensures that all of our donated computers are recycled responsibly, without hurting people or the environment.

What tactics are you using to increase public awareness about the importance of e-waste recycling?

clip_image002Our “Goodwill Not Landfill” campaign ran from November to January, including radio ads, newspaper ads, and signs on buses and bus shelters. These ads were designed to remind the public that the earth benefits when they give their computers and other electronics to Goodwill for responsible recycling.

We also teamed up with two radio stations this Spring to increase public awareness of e-waste and to encourage donations to the ReConnect program.

Thanks to our partnership with KNBR (680 AM) radio, we gave every e-waste donor the chance to win Giants tickets and other prizes. And thanks to our partnership with KNGY (Energy 92.7FM) radio, two Goodwill e-waste donors won plasma TVs in a raffle. Over the course of two months, both these radio stations made several announcements about the benefits of recycling electronics.

Thanks to all this Spring publicity, we collected approximately 24,000 lbs. of electronic waste at our Earth Day event on Saturday April 19th. Assemblymember Mark Leno and KNGY radio personalities Fernando and Greg were kind enough to join us for this exciting day.

There’s been a lot of talk these days about the potential “green jobs” have to invigorate our economy. What role has Goodwill’s environmental programs played to help create jobs in this sector?

Yes, we are very interested in “green collar” jobs, and we believe that if we prepare our Goodwill participants for the “green” market, they will be in a great position for a lifetime of career growth.

We’ve already started to prepare our participants for “green” jobs in two areas: Our ReConnect program (where our participants learn to take apart, refurbish, and recycle computers), and our new William Good fashion line (a line of repurposed clothing). In addition, we will soon start the pilot phase of our furniture refurbishing business.

I’ve seen the name William Good and Goodwill popping up in the blogosphere. What is it?

William Good is a new line of repurposed clothing and accessories from Goodwill Industries and Nick Graham (founder of Joe Boxer). Each item of clothing is original and one-of-a-kind, created under Nick Graham’s artistic direction from post-retail Goodwill donations that have been destined for recycling or salvage.

We piloted the William Good business from September 2007 to March 2008, and we are excited about our learnings and the scope of the opportunity. Over the next few months we will focus on developing the business plan and the legal structure to make William Good its own company; and we’ll focus on the most successful designs and develop a category of terrific fashions.

Goodwill participants and staff will be involved in the sorting, transporting, sewing, merchandising, and selling phases of the William Good business, so they will gain valuable expertise that can be transferred to their future career endeavors.

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