Foundation President Patrick Gaston leverages his company’s global reach for global impact.
By Dirk Olin
Patrick Gaston is President of The Western Union Foundation, where he leads a global philanthropic strategy, including employee engagement, grant making and strategic initiatives that support education as a pathway to economic opportunity.
Immediately prior to joining Western Union, Gaston served as president and CEO of Gastal Networks LLC, a management consulting firm assisting organizations in building results-driven corporate responsibility and philanthropic strategies. Before that, he served as a senior advisor to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, and he previously served as president of the Verizon Foundation, one of the 15 largest corporate foundations in America.
Gaston also serves on a number of national non-profit boards, including the NAACP Board of Trustees. He is a member of the board of directors of Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc. Gaston is a member of the Executive Leadership Council, and was vice chair of the business committee for The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2009, he was named one of the top 100 Most Influential African-Americans in corporate America by Savoy Professional magazine, and in 2010 Corporate Responsibility Magazine named him Foundation CEO of the Year.
Raised in Haiti, Canada, and the United States, he holds a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.B.A. from Northeastern University. He recently shared his thoughts on philanthropic endeavors.
First, how did you end up at Western Union?
After my work on the Haiti fund, I started consulting practice that was building bridges between NGOs and smaller Fortune 1000 businesses. The idea was building capacity from the ground up and aligning missions with their business models. It was working well, but when I reached out to Western Union, I found out about this opportunity. As we talked, we realized there was a strong intersection of values, interests, and competencies. Plus, I was attracted to their global reach—they have a presence in 200 different countries. And on top of that, I had come to the U.S. from Haiti, and my family had benefited from Western Union ourselves.
What distinguishes the foundation?
Well, it started in 2001, and it’s committed more than $90 million in grants. It’s also part of aligning with our business—moving money for the better. And it’s about the company culture. We place a heavy emphasis on getting employees to engage in their communities. We incentivize employees to volunteer. We have a robust giving program, incenting employees to give to the organizations that we support and more than matching their donations.
What’s your latest news?
We just finished a five-year ‘Our World, Our Family’ program. It tracks with our general commitment to financial literacy, education, and economic opportunity, and disaster relief. Since 2007, we committed $50 million to help families stay connected and overcome barriers. So there were scholarships for roughly one million students, loans and training for about a half-million entrepreneurs, financial literacy training for about another half- million people, and support provided to about a quarter of a million migrants. We also provided more than 900,000 people with disaster relief.
That sounds almost unwieldy. How do you pull it off?
We know we don’t have enough bandwidth by ourselves. We rely on partners, including a lot of NGOs. That included Mercy Corps, the U.N., U.S.A.I.D., UNICEF, and both the national and international Red Cross. We also have unique approach of working with our business partners or agents. And the reason why I like that aspect of it is that the philanthropic community— both corporate and private—oftentimes doesn’t have bandwidth or the right alignment. That’s why it’s really great to share value integrated with the business model to leverage resources that would otherwise be falling on the floor. In some cases measure ourselves, or we hold the NGOs accountable before we grant them the money.
We have started developing an initiative called Education for Better, which is a three-year commitment. It was launched under the U.N. Education First initiative, and the goal is to provide up to $10,00 each day for 1,000 days for nonprofits and NGOs in the education arena. The focus is on secondary education and vocational job training. Which is another way I matched up with Western Union. When I was in Haiti, I was involved primarily not in humanitarian efforts but economic development. You need skill sets to match with job needs. You need trades—mechanics and carpenters who can work at the community level. Again, we’re in 200 different countries. We start small, understand how we impact by closely measuring our efforts or the NGOs, and scale from there.