Profile of a Social Entrepreneur


December 24, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

Meet Pamela Hawley, a firm believer in the power of combining the compassion of nonprofits with the efficiency of business.

My friend Pamela Hawley is a global social entrepreneur, devoted to creating Web-based marketplaces that make a social impact. A practitioner of social entrepreneurship, Pamela is committed to marrying the compassion of the nonprofit world with the effectiveness and efficiency of business. She is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving, which helps people give and volunteer with the top-performing projects across the world, and which helps Fortune 500 companies manage their corporate social responsibility programs. I thought the holidays were a good time to talk to her about real “giving”—not just the buying of presents but truly helping others, an idea that feels especially pertinent during these tough times. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:

Pamela, what do you think is unique about UniversalGiving?

UniversalGiving brings together the elements that provide trust, which is imperative in giving. First, 100% of a person’s donation goes to the project of his or her choice. Second, we vet all of our projects through a 10-stage Quality Model. And finally, we’re nonprofit, so we provide that pure motive and transparency.

Is there a particular aspect of UniversalGiving that stands out?

I’d say it is our Gift Packages [because they are] about giving a more meaningful gift…one that makes people feel they are a part of making this world a better place for everyone. Especially during these tough economic times, people still want to give. Instead of buying a $100 shirt, people give $25 to buy eyeglasses for a child in Tanzania or $200 to build a home in Haiti.

That’s great and sounds very practical. But how do you keep your own operations going?

As a social entrepreneur, I believe it’s important that we generate revenue. So we package up our service for Fortune 500 companies, helping them manage their global corporate social responsibility programs. We work with clients such as Cisco (CSCO), helping them expand their international giving and volunteering programs all over the world. Our goal is to increase corporate brand image, employee attraction/retention and client attraction/retention, and establish local buy-in, all of which helps a company’s bottom line while also serving the community.

Can you tell us a bit more about what social entrepreneurship means to you?

It’s extremely important to my vision that we generate revenue to support our efforts.…As a nonprofit, I had a choice. I could charge people who were trying to make a donation. But I didn’t want to penalize people for giving; I wanted to lower the barriers to giving. We want 100% of your donation going to the people who deserve it.

Equally important, I love the work that companies do. Prior to UniversalGiving, I worked in the for-profit realm in sales, marketing, and PR. Companies are a powerful force in our communities, providing jobs, education, advancement, and training. And increasingly, companies have a global impact as more operations are located abroad.

I wanted to leverage my respect for the corporate world with our knowledge of the nonprofit realm. The question was, how could we help companies with their bottom line?

So, how do you do that?

We help organizations with their bottom line by creating a more positive image based on genuine, long-term relationships with nonprofits. Their employees feel good about their companies’ involvement in strategic partnerships, gift matching, grants, volunteer events. This helps with employee retention and even client adoption. We help them with their CSR strategy, their operations, the vetting of nonprofits, client service questions with employees, and most essential, setting up CSR operations in each city, which can be scaled to other cities.

What is your vision for the world?

Our vision at UniversalGiving is to: “Create a world where giving and volunteering are a natural part of everyday life.” And at the core of that, each one of these connections through the UniversalGiving Web site contributes to service, and then peace. World peace happens through one-on-one connections. If one person at UniversalGiving can connect with another and increase their understanding, compassion, respect for others, then we are on our way to a world that recognizes, and lives, peace.

Pamela, that’s a pretty strong calling. Would you mind sharing with us how you got started on this pathway?

Service has definitely been a thread throughout my life, which I saw with my parents and how they helped others in so many ways. They were and are models to me of loving, giving people. Over the years, I have learned that service is about how you treat people, and that it’s not just volunteering. It’s how you listen, serve, help, and even build together with others. I did have a pivotal moment at an early age when this idea of service became embedded in my life.

We were on a family vacation in Mexico, near a traditional marketplace. My father and I wandered off, and just a few paces away we were confronted with a cul-de-sac of unwashed, handicapped, begging children. I remember the word “UNACCEPTABLE” flashing across my mind. So I began volunteering at the age of 12 and continue to do so all over the world as an adult: working on microfinance in India, with handicapped individuals in Cambodia, farmers in Guatemala, and earthquake survivors in El Salvador.

These have been some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in my life, and they have instilled an overwhelming sense of gratitude in me. Not only can we help, but we also have much to learn from people all over the world. Truly, those who give also receive. It’s a continuous, humble circle of service, which I believe will lead to greater world peace and understanding.

Thank you Pamela. This has been a truly inspiring interview! Readers, you may contact Pamela at and