An Interview with Western Union Foundation President Luella Chavez D’Angelo

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Luella Chavez D’Angelo is President of the Western Union Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Western Union Company, and Senior Vice President of Western Union Social Ventures. As president, she shapes the direction, Corporate Responsibility and the giving strategies of the Foundation and is an outstanding advocate for the issues most important to the Corporation and the Foundation. Mrs. D’Angelo began her corporate philanthropic career in 2000 as the inaugural director of the First Data Western Union Foundation and continued her leadership through the spin-off of Western Union from its parent company and the establishment of the independent Western Union Foundation. Under her direction, the Foundation has distributed more than $73 million in grants and disaster relief to more than 2,030 organizations in over 108 countries.

Describe a little bit about the founding of and motivation behind the Western Union Foundation.
Luella Chavez D’Angelo: When I joined Western Union in 2000 as the inaugural executive director, I had the rare chance to help build a foundation from the ground up. This was a great challenge and opportunity, in light of the company’s global reach and direct ability to positively address some of today’s most complex social challenges. Today, Western Union operates in more than 485,000 locations, in over 200 countries and territories.

In the early days of the Foundation, we focused on multiple giving projects that were typically influenced by a variety of priorities. By 2006, it had become clear that we could have a greater impact and more effectively rally stakeholders if we stood for one important social cause. We set out to select a focus that capitalized on our strengths as a business and was relevant to our customers.
We understood that in the ordinary course of doing business, Western Union facilitates extraordinary good. Our service is an economic lifeline that helps the world’s migrant population send money to family, friends and business partners back home. Because Western Union is one of the largest players in this flow of remittances, which for many countries is nearly three times as large as foreign aid, our core businesses accelerates economic development. Our Foundation takes that a step further through grant- making, employee engagement and direct social investments.

2007 saw the launch of Western Union’s Our World, Our Family® program, a five-year, $50 million commitment to a single issue: addressing the root cause of poverty by creating greater economic opportunity. So far, we have touched more than 2.5 million lives.
Though our work has evolved over the years, our approach has remained consistent; just as Western Union takes a collaborative approach to its business, the Foundation takes a collaborative approach to community investment. Through volunteerism and collective philanthropy, we provide ways for Western Union employees, Agents and others to pool their efforts for greater impact. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed employee giving participation rates as high as 46 percent. To date, we have granted $73 million to more than 2,030 NGO organizations in 108 countries and territories.

What are the key focus areas of the foundation and what kinds of initiatives are you currently involved in?
Luella Chavez D’Angelo: The Western Union Foundation creates a better world, where the ability to realize your dreams through economic opportunity is not just a privilege for the few but a right for all. The Foundation advances this goal through three focus areas:
We support education – including family scholarships, job training, life skills and language acquisition – to prepare people for new or better jobs.

We help spur job creation by supporting microfinance programs and essential business training for entrepreneurs, so that positions are waiting for people who have invested in education. This also helps ensure that those who have entrepreneurial spirit can start small businesses.

We create materials for consumers and provide grants to NGOs to promote financial literacy, promoting financial inclusion and helping people convert wages to wealth.

Since job creation is a major priority for everyone these days, I’d like to share some of our experience in this area. We know that small businesses are one of the most reliable engines of job creation. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, small and medium businesses are responsible for 65% of global GDP and account for nearly 90% of the world’s workforce. Yet, a lack of business know-how causes too many small businesses to fail.

That’s why Western Union provides market insight and guidance to the growing ranks of our Business Solutions customers. In the U.S., we are a proud sponsor of a program that matches experienced businesspeople as mentors to small business owners ( Busy professionals benefit from a flexible program that lets them use their skills to help their neighbors. We’ve helped Mercy Corps expand this promising program to parts of Latin America and Haiti, leveraging our connections with diaspora communities to promote this effort.

As you look ahead, what’s on the horizon for the foundation over the next five years?
Luella Chavez D’Angelo: I take a long-term view. Our company’s founders set out 160 years ago to unite a haphazard web of telegraph lines into a unified network. For the first time, families could connect with loved ones and businesspeople with distant markets, instantly. Western Union continues to develop innovative services that connect people to one other and to the global economy. Our Foundation echoes that focus on promoting financial inclusion – yet in the next five years and the next 50, we’ll pursue that mission in interesting new ways.

For example, while the business pioneers mobile money transfer – which allows mobile phone users to send and receive funds even in areas lacking financial infrastructure – we’re looking at ways those three billion mobile phones can improve literacy and serve as a platform for reducing poverty.

Similarly, our CEO and key business leaders are passionate about the ways a culture of responsibility can attract and grow the best and brightest employees. We teamed up with another NGO called Ashoka on an executive-in-residence program that encourages our rising stars to spend two weeks immersed in a different country and culture, where they support a social entrepreneur who has benefitted from Foundation grants. In coming years, we’ll experiment with new programs along those lines, engaging Western Union employees, Agents and other stakeholders in creative, hands-on opportunities to make a difference.

I also think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do from a cause brand and marketing perspective. We developed Our World, Our Family in 2006, when the need for economic opportunity wasn’t capturing as many headlines. Today, the relevance of this issue couldn’t be clearer, and that provides exciting new opportunities for us to connect with our consumers around the cause. Our brand is about “moving money for better,” and the next five years will see us pioneer new ways to engage all of our stakeholders in doing just that.

by Rahim Kanani is a writer, interviewer, advocate, strategist and entrepreneur for global social change.

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