With more than 20 years of international nonprofit experience, Stefaan Poortman was recently appointed executive director World of Children, a global organization that funds, elevates and educates nonprofit leaders running high-impact programs that exclusively serve the needs of vulnerable children.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in the United States, Zimbabwe, and the United Kingdom. When I was 12 years old, my family moved to Zimbabwe for my father’s job. We lived in Harare, the capital, where my mom volunteered with several local charities. One provided tuition assistance for young girls from remote areas of the country, and the other was a small shelter that took in women and children affected by HIV and AIDS. She often took me along, and it was in these experiences that I became drawn to a lifelong career of serving others.
2. When you were young what did you envision you would be when you grew up?
I dreamed of being a professional golfer, but I realized early on that I was not good enough! I was unsure of what my exact profession would be, but I was drawn to the notion of service and helping those who were less fortunate than me, traveling the world, and enjoying the outdoors.
3. Have you always been involved in the nonprofit world?
Just about! Prior to joining World of Children, I served as Chief Executive Officer for Global Heritage Fund, an organization based in the Bay Area that focuses on the sustainable preservation of endangered cultural heritage sites in regions of economic need. I also worked for the World Resources Institute, Chemonics International and the World Foundation for Environment and Development. All in total, my tenure in the nonprofit industry spans more than 20 years.
4. What drew you to get involved at World of Children?
When World of Children approached me about joining their team, I was immediately inspired by the model of investing in the best and brightest humanitarians across the globe—courageous individuals who have dedicated their lives to making this world a better place for children. There is so much duplication and replication in the nonprofit industry, and I was drawn to World of Children’s unique model and the opportunity to build and grow the organization to be a disrupting force in the children’s sector.
5. What is your mission and how does the organization differ from other charities serving vulnerable children?
World of Children is a global organization that funds, elevates and educates nonprofit leaders running high-impact programs that exclusively serve the needs of vulnerable children. Since 1998, our organization has dedicated more than $14 million to high-impact programs for children, led by nearly 120 Honorees working in over 60 countries.
Our organization has a unique philanthropic venture capital model of discovering and investing in real-life heroes or social entrepreneurs who are currently working on the ground in their communities to support children in need. Our funding model is not issue-based, which allows us to be nimble and responsive to a broad range of problems facing children today including health, education, protection, and human rights.
6. What are you most proud of?
First and foremost, I am so proud of the Honorees we support. These individuals are truly some of the best and brightest humanitarians in the world, and I’m constantly inspired by their passion and dedication to changing the future for vulnerable children.
For our donors, I am proud to say that we do the hard work. Each of our Honorees are fully vetted by an independent global security firm to be sure their work on paper is exactly the work being done in the field. That means, we know exactly where and how our funding is being used…down to the programs and children who are being directly impacted. Every donor, no matter how big or small, deserves to know how their money is being used, and we take great pride in ensuring that our grants are provided only to programs who are making the greatest impact for children.
7. How can people who want to learn more and get involved to help the cause?
The best part about World of Children is that everyone can be a hero for vulnerable children no matter where you live or what your monthly salary might be. The easiest and most impactful way to help is to join our community of heroes who give a recurring gift each month. Monthly donations in affordable amounts like $10 or $25 fit nearly everyone’s budget, it helps us plan for the future, and it allows us to provide donors with updates throughout the year about the programs and children that are being directly impacted. I encourage anyone looking to get involved to visit worldofchildren.org/difference to learn more.
Plus, generous private donors cover our operating costs so that 100% of public donations, no matter how big or small, go directly to funding high-impact programs around the world.
8. What are your biggest challenges?
World of Children is well known in the global nonprofit sector, but we aren’t as well known locally in Southern California. Over the last 21 years, the organization has built a foundation and infrastructure that has made us a formidable powerhouse in the small-to-mid-sized global nonprofit sector, and my goal is to amplify the organization’s impact and expand on sustainable relationships with World of Children Honorees around the globe. We want to increase the funds we raise so we can, in turn, increase the amount of grant funds given out, which will directly impact even more vulnerable children.
9. At the recent World of Children Hero Awards Benefit in Beverly Hills, what does a Hero Award entail?
Our Hero Awards are a unique award given to an extraordinary group of real-life heroes who were previously honored and funded by World of Children. These individuals showed measurable outcomes and leveraged their recognition and original grant funds to deliver amazing outcomes. The bottom line is, their programs deliver results, and we are honored to have the opportunity to recognize their hard work by providing additional grant funding and support to so they can continue their outstanding work.
We also presented our 2019 Crisis Award in partnership with US Fund for UNICEF at the Hero Awards Benefit. This award recognizes individuals making extraordinary contributions to children affected by war, natural disasters, or other crises creating large cohorts of extremely vulnerable children.
10. Is it a difficult process to select an award recipient/honoree?
Absolutely! It’s one of the most challenging tasks we are given each year, as every humanitarian that applies for one of our awards deserves to be recognized and celebrated.
Aside from our Hero Awards, which are voted on and selected through a different process for past Honorees, we issue an annual call for nominations each year from January through March to find our new class of Honorees that are flown in from around the world to be recognized at our Awards Ceremony & Benefit in New York City each November. This year, our Awards Ceremony will be held on November 7, 2019, at 583 Park Avenue and our Honorees will receive a multi-year grant of $100,000.
We received thousands of applications from nearly 100 different countries this year. Narrowing it down from thousands to just five is an in-depth process, but one that we take very seriously. We want to honor only the best of the best.
11. How did you choose the award recipients/honorees this year?
To be considered for one of our Hero Awards, past Honorees are asked to submit an update that offers insight on the growth of their organization, achievements, and outcomes since they were originally honored by World of Children. For some of our Honorees, it may be 10 or 15 years since they were originally honored, so this gives our team the insight needed to evaluate the development and sustainability of their organization to determine if we want to award them again.
12. The evening recognized Lysa and Grant Heslov, tell us about their work with children in need?
Lysa and Grant Heslov are simply incredible, and it was an honor to recognize them at this year’s Hero Awards Benefit, especially since they are directly impacting children here in Southern California.
Lysa’s dream is to inspire future generations of compassionate and socially conscious citizens who will change a culture of bullying into one of empathy and action. She believes that empathy is transformative … that it can reduce the chance of a child being bullied; enable world leaders to find peaceful solutions; inspire nations to open their doors to families fleeing war and violence, and inspire future generations of loving and compassionate global citizens.
Their organization, Children Mending Hearts, has served the city of Los Angeles for the past 10 years, combating bullying and intolerance by inspiring empathy in children through art and service-learning programs. They started with 39 kids, and since that time, Children Mending Hearts has provided free art education programs to thousands of children throughout Los Angeles County. This year the organization expanded and now has classrooms in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
13. What is your favorite memory from the evening?
The personal stories of our Heroes, the obstacles they overcame to get where they are today, their personal missions, and the impact they have on children around the world. I was moved to tears at least three to four times.
14. Share with us what makes the 2019 award recipients/honorees unique from in years past.
All of our Honorees are remarkable, and their impact can be so different depending on the issue they are addressing and the location of the children being served. What I found most interesting about this year’s Hero Award Honorees was their instinctual desire to collaborate with one another. This group immediately began making plans to visit one another’s organizations, finding ways to bring together specific components of their individual programs to help deliver an even greater impact for children.
15. What do you look for when considering an award recipient/honoree?
There are many factors that are taken in to account, however, we can summarize the main components of what we look for in reviewing nomination applications in these five questions:
- Does the Nominee’s work has a long-term and profound impact on the children they serve? We honor those who are providing a sustainable solution that ultimately helps children from suffering hardships in the future or allows them to better cope with a long-term issue.
- Is the Nominee is providing a unique solution a previously unaddressed problem or unmet need facing the children they serve?
- Does the Nominee’s organization help a meaningful number of children relative to the population they serve?
- Has the Nominee reached beyond their training, background, and skill set in order to help vulnerable children? We aim to find individuals who extend themselves beyond their ordinary life and those who have overcome great challenges or difficulties to conduct their work.
- Has the Nominee made helping children a priority in life? We also consider the Nominee’s current role within their organization and whether they are still actively involved in their service to children.
16. Are people able to nominate someone for an award or what is that process like?
Yes, definitely. All of our Awards are given based on an individual’s self-nomination, or a nomination from a colleague, friend or community member. We give financial awards in five categories: education, health, humanitarian, protection and youth, and our annual call for nominations opens the first of January each year.
Each nominee is required to submit an in-depth application—completed by the nominee themselves or the individual submitting the nomination on their behalf—that asks about the work and impact of their nonprofit organization, the nominee’s personal story and background, and why the nominee is deserving of a World of Children Award.
Once our call for nominations closes at the end of March, each application is reviewed and voted by two volunteer selection committees comprised of well-educated humanitarian leaders, and the top five nonprofit leaders making the greatest impact on issues affecting children today are then selected to join our elite family of Honorees.
Complete details on the nominations process can be found at worldofchildren.org/nominate.
17. What’s your dream day in Orange County?
Getting up early to grab coffee and heading to the tidepools in Laguna Beach to explore with my two-year-old daughter. We’d meet up with my wife and two sons for a day at the beach and cap off the day with a sunset mountain bike ride to Top of the World.
18. Who inspires you?
My father, Christiaan Poortman. He is a man of incredible integrity, gravitas and compassion. He has worked on global development issues for over 50 years.
19. Favorite book?
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin
20. A secret most people don’t know about you?
Aside from dreaming of becoming a professional golfer, I flirted with the idea of becoming a zoologist. I have a passion for wildlife conservation in Africa!