Our board members are more than just great visionaries for Taproot. They are also leaders in their own industries and communities and have lots of professional wisdom to share. For the next week, we will be spotlighting the five newest additions to our stellar board of directors through a series of interviews.
Tracy Barba currently consults with organizations to develop strategies for advancing social innovation initiatives and impact measurement. She built and directed the training services practice for Duarte , the firm behind the presentation for An Inconvenient Truth and slideology: The Art and Science of Great Presentations . She also launched and directed communications for the VantagePoint Venture Partners CleanTech Practice, a $5 billion venture fund. In addition to Taproot, Tracy is currently is an adviser to Blackbox VC and the Impact Investing Conference, and is on the faculty of the Mulago Foundation /Rainer Arnold Fellows Program. She is a mentor and coach to social entrepreneurs including the members of the Unreasonable Institute, PopTech Social Innovation Fellows, and Rainer Arnold Fellows programs.
When you were in third grade what did you want to do? Who were your role models?
I always wanted to be a singer. When I was a little girl, I used to direct and produce my own shows with all the neighborhood kids. Of course, I always had the starring role. I was a big fan of Chaka Khan, so I would wash my hair and braid it before going to bed to get that signature hairstyle.
Dreams of superstardom aside, how did you end up so involved in philanthropy?
My family had a strong sense of community and giving back. I was a pastor’s kid, so my family was always involved in missionary work. Looking back on it now, I think that’s where my passion came from. There was real commitment to local issues and people, and I got involved with causes early in life. Growing up in San Francisco also probably played a role. There’s this rootedness in diversity, and it seemed like the norm. I think people are often afraid of what they don’t know, but I was exposed to so much diversity that learning to accept others was a very natural thing.
How did that show up in your career?
I worked with VantagePoint Venture Partners, which was really into investing in clean technologies. It was there that I really started to get the idea of integrating doing good with my professional life. And once I caught that bug, I wasn’t going to let it go. I also use my professional skills by serving as a mentor and coach to social entrepreneurs through the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows and Rainer Arnold Fellows programs. I bring my expertise in the art of crafting stories to generate awareness, education, and funding.
What do you see the state of the pro bono ethic in your field?
I think when people think about philanthropy, especially in Silicon Valley, the dominating idea is you have you make money first, and then you can give it back. You have your Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gates, who become multibillionaires in the industry, then turn around and donate huge sums to social causes. That’s great, but there’s not a whole lot of thought behind how they can use their skills to help out right now.
Right, it’s the classic earn-and-return model instead of strategically. How do you combat a mindset like that?
I operate at the intersection of innovation incubators, philanthropy, and corporate social responsibility, and I keep a pulse on what they are all doing in their respective spaces. If they all understood each other and worked together, it’s amazing what they could accomplish because they each bring something to the table, and their goals are so closely related. There’s a huge opportunity to link internally the CSR and innovation arms. I think we’re seeing more of an appetite for that.
How did you first hear about Taproot?
I met Jamie Hartman [executive director of Taproot’s former Pro Bono Action Tank] through the Gap Inc. Leadership Initiative, and later Tom Eddington [Taproot Board Vice Chair]. They had that sparkle whenever they talked about Taproot, and I was hooked.
What has been your experience in board service?
The first board I served on was for Bay Area Playwrights Festival , which is a fantastic organization. It goes back again to my childhood dream of putting on shows. But that was the first time I realized how difficult it is for nonprofits to achieve the capacity they need. You see there is so much willingness, passion, drive, and intellect, but there are no resources. That was my a-ha moment: when I realized why it’s so hard for nonprofits to generate funds. I also serve on the board of ISIS, which promotes innovative sexual health education and HIV prevention solutions. That was a completely different experience: there were so many amazing people on that board from such diverse backgrounds, and I was so honored to be among their ranks and problem solve together.
What have you found to be the characteristics of a great board?
First, I think you need to have transparency and clear guidelines as to how the board can facilitate innovation for nonprofits. There also has be a definition of roles for what is expected out of the board and who is doing what so that the members can make the most of their time together since we usually have the opportunity to meet only a few times a year.
What do you think you can bring to the Taproot board?
Given my background, I think I can help bridge communications to corporations and help them understand the role of innovation. I can also help articulate story and opportunities for Taproot. I’m here to be a student too and learn from Taproot’s experience as a pro bono leader.
What is one fun fact that we wouldn’t be able to learn in your official bio?
I attended Burning Man. I actually took part in a human art exhibit that was photographed and later published in a book. Fortunately, my face isn’t visible in the picture, so you can’t tell it’s me.
Aaron Hurst is the President & CEO at the Taproot Foundation.