November 14, 2019 • 3 min read
Olivia Leland
the QT
Interview
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Olivia Leland is the founder and CEO of Co-Impact, a London-based philanthropic organization. Previously, as founding director of the Giving Pledge, she helped mobilize around 170 individuals and families from 21 countries to promise to give away at least half their estimated net worth of more than $800 billion. Her current goal at Co-Impact: solving major societal issues through collaboration leading to global systemic change. Initial core partners include Richard Chandler, The ELMA Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates, Rohini and Nandan Nilekani, The Rockefeller Foundation and Jeff Skoll.

What’s your favorite restaurant for a business meal? And what should I order?
My go-to is usually a bakery — inspired by my French mother, no doubt! I prefer a simple, informal setting for a business meeting, and there’s nothing like sitting outside a little bakery on a sunny day. Gail’s Bakery, in Soho London, is a current favorite of mine.
The wonderful thing about a good bakery is you can’t go wrong with anything! My standby is anything with or on a freshly baked baguette.

Which pro athlete did you look up to as a kid?
Martina Navratilova — a fantastic athlete and role model for women and girls everywhere. I remember watching her matches as a child and refusing to leave the television set, as I was convinced that my teddy bear would bring her luck. Whether winning or losing, she always had such power and grace.

What’s happening in your industry that most impacts your business?
People are questioning philanthropy and the impact it drives in the world. And that’s both healthy and important. We live in a world of extreme generosity and, at the same time, growing inequality. So it’s great that discussions about the role of philanthropy and how it can best support change are now happening more frequently. Co-Impact aims to address some of these challenges by working alongside governments, enabling those closest to a given social problem to drive the change that they seek, and supporting efforts working to address whole systems in an enduring and sustainable way. Our experience is that people really want to magnify the impact of their giving but often don’t know where to give or don’t have the team needed to find and vet opportunities of this nature and potential. So we aim to help them do that. Our team identifies and provides support to initiatives that are poised to hugely impact people’s health, education, and economic prosperity. We bring funders together from around the world and offer them the opportunity to engage in this kind of large-scale work.

What would your opponent in a deal negotiation say about you?
Hopefully that he or she came out deciding to collaborate instead of negotiate!

Which philanthropic endeavor or nonprofit is closest to your heart? Why?
If I weren’t able to say Co-Impact here, I think I’d have to reassess my choices in life! For me, Co-Impact is the culmination of many years of grappling with the question of how we can have more positive impact in the world. I’ve concluded that it takes a coalition that includes communities, NGOs, governments, and the private sector — with philanthropy occupying one seat at that table. This is the way we can really support bigger and deeper change that can transform, say, an entire health or education system for millions of people. It’s exciting and evolving. Every day I learn something new. Our goal is to put this emerging kind of philanthropy into practice and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

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