As Two Ten Footwear Foundation moves into the next decade, it has new leadership in place. Shawn Osborne has taken on the role of president and CEO of the Waltham, Mass.-based organization. He replaces Neal Newman, who served in the position for eight years.
Osborne, whose background is rooted in technology, also held top spots in the profit and nonprofit sectors. Most recently, he was president, CEO and board member of Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of TechAmerica, a global information and communication technology trade association for U.S. companies.
“I have been on both sides of the table, which gives me a great perspective,” said Osborne, about his diverse background. “Everybody thinks [nonprofit] jobs are sometimes easier than the for-profit world, but I tell you they’re not. [However], [Two Ten] has an incredible board of directors, corporate volunteer board and purpose-driven staff. The real trick is how to bring all that knowledge and talent together toward a common mission.”
Osborne’s experience with benevolent organizations extends to his personal life. His single mother, who raised Osborne and his siblings, died while they were still young, leaving them orphaned and Osborne to head the household. The family, he recalled, was the recipient of the generosity and care of outsiders as well as family members. “I’ve [experienced] the importance of a community coming together, whether it’s the footwear community or local community in a time of crisis.”
Although a newcomer to the footwear world, Osborne has some bold initiatives aimed at encouraging more industry members to participate in Two Ten’s efforts as well as expand its services and reach.
Here, Osborne opens up about his big plans for Two Ten.
What’s been your biggest surprise about the industry?
“What I’ve seen that I haven’t seen in other industries is this tight-knit community. Just last week, at [BBC International founder] Bob Campbell’s funeral service, seated in a church pew was [representation] from Lacoste, DSW, Caleres and Steve Madden. They were one family. They let their [competitiveness] down when one of their colleagues unfortunately leaves us. They came together.”
What do you consider among the biggest challenges facing Two Ten today?
“We have to build awareness. We’re a social safety net for employees, with 330,000 of them out there. Most are not aware this net exists in times of need. [Next], it’s not a secret that we have to focus on diversifying our fundraising. Today, we’re very heavily dependent on our events. I think over time we have to find other ways to fundraise [beyond] our [current] corporate partnerships, galas, events and individuals or foundations. We have to look at how we diversify across the industry.”
How do you plan to encourage more people to get involved, particularly the younger generation?
“Bringing the next generation of footwear businesses, or the next generation of footwear employees, is going to be critical for our success. We have a wonderful board of directors, but [also] an associate board of up-and-coming leaders from [companies] such as Caleres and Wolverine. I think the concept of having an associate board to represent these [new] leaders was an amazing move that was [already] put together.”
What other Two Ten programs are moving the organization forward?
“You look at the WIFI [Women in the Footwear Industry] program and the mentoring we’re doing there: It’s all about a more inclusive and diversified workforce. Who are the up-and-comers in that area? We have 4,000 WIFI members across 10 chapters. It’s probably our fastest-growing program outside of our core services of financial relief and scholarships. You can go on and on about our Cares program, where we get the younger generation involved in volunteering so they become aware of Two Ten.”
Fundraising remains a key issue for Two Ten. How can Two Ten expand its efforts in this area?
“We’re highly dependent on large corporations, but we’ve got a lot of plans going forward [to have] individual donations play a role. Providing employees with a safety net in times of crisis is a [workplace] benefit like any other, and one that every responsible CEO should offer, regardless of the industry. When you think of it, you can see where employees would not have a problem donating to an organization in the way they do to United Way. Can you imagine if [companies] presented a campaign where employees could give to a fund that would help their teammates? We’ve been testing some of these programs with some of our larger donors. It has huge potential.”
In what other ways is Two Ten supporting industry members in times of need?
“The work we do and the demand for it is only going to increase over time. In addition to the financial relief we provide and the money to help with a mortgage or health care, we have intake specialists [handling] calls that can provide third-party referrals to help with financial literacy or connect [those in need] to organizations that can provide low-interest loans. We’re are a short-term solution, so we try to position [industry members] for longer-term [solutions]. But, there is more we can do in the financial wellness area.”
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