by Anis Salvesen
Elizabeth Ziemba, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Giving Back and founder of SHARED, Inc. shares her story with us in the following interview.
You wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Giving Back.” What first got you thinking about writing the book?
It was actually a confluence of variables. First, I had years of experience as an attorney, and was a long-time volunteer and donor. A few years ago I got a masters in public health and set up SHARED, Inc. In running that organization, I discovered that I could not find one central place to send people interested in giving back. So I took my knowledge of the law, understanding the law and how nonprofits run, and I put together a book to provide people with guidance and to identify topics that they would find useful.
Great. You mentioned SHARED, Inc. What first inspired you to found it? Any specific event?
Well, it was not the result of a grand epiphany. It came out of my feeling burned out from a busy law practice. I needed a break and was planning to take a sabbatical of some kind, not quite sure what I was going to do. One evening I came home from a typically long day and found someone else’s mail in my post box. One of the pieces of mail was a sort of pamphlet from Boston University for a 12-week course called “Management Methods in International Health.”
I thought well, management skills sound useful and the course is only 12 weeks, so why not sign up? I took the course and ended up falling in love with the topic of international health. So I decided to get a master’s degree, focusing on the issue of access to medicine. I learned so much not just from the coursework, but from the other people in the class, many of them middle management from various ministries of health. It became clear to me that there was a big issue here, people needlessly dying from lack of access to existing inexpensive and effective medicines, and it made me very angry. When I get angry, I get going.
Wow! What a great story. You started SHARED,Inc. back in 2002. Since then we’ve entered some very challenging times. How do you find yourself dealing with the economic downturn at SHARED, Inc?
We have a dedicated team supported by a wonderful group of interns from various institutions, including the Boston University School of Public Health. Also, we are focusing on more specific, smaller asks. For example, for Valentine’s Day, we had a project called “Love Listens.” For a modest amount ($41), donors could participate in this project to buy stethoscopes for nurses at Scott Hospital, Morija, Lesotho. It was incredibly successful. We were just blown away. The original scope of the campaign had been to just supply a stethoscope for every nurse, but thanks to the enthusiastic response of donors, we were able to buy one for each and every nurse and doctor and nursing student in the hospital – 165 in total! And we had funds left over, which we will share with another hospital.
I was going to say that was heart-warming, but I’ll refrain from doing so. It is so wonderful that so many people are still excited about giving, and that you are finding more ways to facilitate their giving back. Which brings me to my next question: What are some of the greatest milestones you’ve achieved, and what do you envision for the future?
In September of 2007, we hosted Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a gala fundraiser in Boston. It was just a remarkable evening. He is just such a fascinating and inspiring individual. He is funny, intelligent and so down-to-earth. It was definitely one of the most amazing evenings of my life – truly humbling.
It’s pretty hard to beat that evening. After you host Desmond Tutu, it’s like Where do you go from here? But we do still have a lot of good work ahead. For example, we are currently working on project called Seeds of Change, which is a project to fund community gardens where individuals plant, tend, and harvest fruits and vegetables that feed HIV/AIDS children and adults. By funding gardens, hundreds of families grow food for themselves and sell excess produce in the community, contributing to the self-sustainability of the garden. We also are currently conducting a gadget drive to raise money for medicines for children in Africa. It’s called Technology for Tots, and it’s a great way to turn your unwanted electronics into much-needed medicines.
Elizabeth, thank you so much for being so generous with your time. Your values are right in line with those at UniversalGiving. We also focus on helping others give back, by connecting them with volunteer and/or donation opportunities from a pool of select charities.
For more information on current projects at SHARED,Inc. just click on the link below. http://www.healthshares.org/about/projects/index.shtml