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How ‘Let’s Give It All Away’ Became a Thirty Year Legacy of Supporting Social Enterprises

I have always looked at Newman’s Own as an original pioneer in the social enterprise sector. An inspirational source— like a bold older sister that helped pave the way for organizations like Echoing Green and thousands of others that have realized the vision that doing well and doing good can be authentically linked.  

So you can imagine how excited all of us are at Echoing Green to announce a very special partnership with Newman’s Own Foundation to support a network of Echoing Green’s international social entrepreneurs.

I wanted to know more—where the brilliant idea of “giving it all away” came from, and observations about the field from their perch. So, I spoke with Lisa Walker, Managing Director of the Foundation, about the amazing legacy of Paul Newman, the state of social entrepreneurship, and our shared vision for the future.

Newman's Own Foundation Managing Director, Lisa WalkerQuality, and Luck

Can you tell me how Newman’s Own and Newman’s Own Foundation got started?

It really started, as the story goes, when Paul Newman, around the holidays, made up a batch of his homemade salad dressing and gave it to the neighbors. And then the neighbors knocked on his door a couple of months later, asking for more. At that point in time, he realized that maybe he was onto something and it might be kind of fun to try to bottle the dressing and sell it.

But as the salad dressing started to turn a profit, he said, “Let’s give it all away.” And that was really the quote that we use to this day: “Let’s give it all away.”

And now here we are, thirty years later, 100 percent of the profits from the sale of Newman’s Own products still go to charity and we have contributed more than $370 million to thousands of organizations around the world.  We all feel so lucky that he created this really special organization, and as we look toward the future of Newman’s Own, we’re really harkening back to those values, legacy, and the equity that was created by Paul Newman personally, that we want to carry forward as this institution moves into the future. 

What were some of the founding principles that launched Newman’s Own, and what would become Newman’s Own Foundation, 30 years ago? How do those principles resonate with you personally?

When we look back over the early days and some of the principles that have carried through, some of the things that we look to are quality and luck. One of the quotes that we have from Paul Newman was “Quality trumps the bottom line.” He always felt that, whether it came to our food products or the operations of the foundation and the organizations that the foundation supports, quality is a top priority.

And then we talk about luck. There are some stories that I’ve heard over the years about Paul’s feeling about luck—he felt that he had been lucky to have been born in the United States, lucky to have looked a certain way and lucky that he was able to make such a successful career in film. And then his luck carried over to the mission of the foundation. I’m going to read a quote of Paul’s that is really the cornerstone of the foundation’s mission, and it goes like this, “I want to acknowledge luck, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others.”

One mission of Newman’s Own Foundation is to use the power of philanthropy to help transform lives and nourish the common good. But he really was a big believer in luck and thought ‘giving back’ really is not doing anything special, he thought it was just the right thing to do. Part of the motivation for that came from his feeling like he had benefited from luck in his life and he wanted to help people who didn’t have the same luck that he had.  

And I share that feeling. I have been both blessed and lucky to have spent my entire career in the nonprofit and philanthropic world. I directed corporate contributions at Altria for many years and I also did similar work at Chase Manhattan Bank. After I had my second child, I decided to leave the long hours and extensive travel of the corporate world to have my own consulting business, where I worked with a nice variety of corporate giving programs, private foundations and nonprofits. And then when my youngest child was getting ready to start school fulltime, I decided that I was ready for a more substantive challenge and then the opportunity at Newman’s Own Foundation came across my radar screen and everything just fell into place. Luck! The timing worked out perfectly.

Partnerships Across Sectors

Newman’s Own and the Newman’s Own Foundation are, in many respects, the original social enterprise. How have you seen the field evolve?

The term ‘social enterprise’ didn’t even exist when Newman’s Own was created. It was really just an instinctive response that Paul Newman had to the profits that were coming out of the company. And who knew that it would serve as an inspiration for other social enterprises out there? When I look at the field of social enterprise today, I think it’s inspiring to see how that world has blossomed and is so vibrant.

Social enterprises and the term social entrepreneur really span the full spectrum, from traditional nonprofit public charity to social investments, and to some of the corporate responsibility work that major corporations are doing, with hybrid organizations in between. There is an increasing blurring of the lines between nonprofit and for-profit, and I think there are a lot of different approaches that people are taking to ultimately have the same end goal of greater positive social impact and helping to create a better world and future.

I’m hopeful that society right now is undergoing a renaissance of philanthropy and of the power that organizations possess for positive change. In recent years, people have come to the realization that no one single sector can solve all of society’s problems and that it really is going to take collaboration and partnership across sectors. Whether it’s working within the traditional definitions of those sectors or blurring of the lines, I think that it’s the human impulse to help improve our condition and the conditions of people in need that really transcends organizational structure. And it’s nice to see that there’s a strong desire and action among the next generation of leaders to create that positive social impact.

Echoing Green and Newman’s Own Foundation have recently partnered to support social entrepreneurs. Can you tell us about how that fits into your future, and why that’s of interest to the foundation?

Newman’s Own Foundation has a history of investing in people and their potential for positive social change. And, Newman’s Own Foundation and Echoing Green have a shared commitment to building the ecosystem for social entrepreneurs, for them as individuals and for their organizations, and for the future growth and the social and economic impact that they can have.

Our hope is that Newman’s Own continues to thrive and do well, as long as that happens, the foundation will be able to continue to support organizations like Echoing Green that are working to help make the world a better place.

We encourage you to learn more about our partnership with Newman’s Own Foundation [pdf], and to support their inspiring work

images: top, Paul Newman With Kids by Flying Horse Farms; above, Lisa Walker, Managing Director of Newman’s Own Foundation.

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