Work

Robin Hood Foundation

A Great Sneaker and a Great Choice

Today, two great New York–based companies, Greats and the nonprofit Robin Hood Foundation, are launching a genius collaboration: bold, black (limited-edition) kicks with “Robin Hood” emblazoned on the back. And if that’s not cool enough, all proceeds go to alleviating poverty.

“It’s a strong statement about our work,” says Wes Moore, the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation. “It’s a small step, but it can make a huge impact.”

This is the third time Greats and Robin Hood have collaborated on shoes, but this edition marks a big anniversary: Robin Hood’s thirtieth. Since its inception in 1988, the nonprofit has done incredible work in New York City (where 1.8 million people live below the poverty line) through its support of over 200 local nonprofit programs.

We spoke with Moore—a veteran, author, entrepreneur, father, and husband—about Robin Hood’s philanthropic charge, its collaboration with Greats, and the worldwide support it has garnered (including that of GP). We also talked about what he describes as “a defining issue” of today and why “winning this fight is going to involve everyone.”

A Q&A with Wes Moore

Q

Nearly half of New Yorkers have experienced poverty for at least one year—and more than half have experienced persistent hardship. How does Robin Hood help?

A

We are devoted to creating opportunity and lifting families in New York City out of poverty. We know that the solutions we help create can be a model around the country.

Poverty is a cruel, multifaceted, and pervasive force that afflicts 1.8 million people in New York City and 40 million people across the country every day. This is a defining issue of our time, but for me, it’s also personal. Growing up in Baltimore and the Bronx in the ’80s and ’90s, my family was on the brink of poverty. I have an intimate understanding of what’s at stake.

Just as there’s no single reason that people fall into poverty, there’s no single way to get people out of poverty. We attack on all fronts—housing, education, job training, legal services—to create light in the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors. And we track the programs we fund with rigorous metrics.

Q

It’s been one year since you became CEO of Robin Hood. What’s been the biggest learning curve?

A

That this problem is way too big for any single person or organization to go at it alone. But together, we can make a big and lasting impact. From the beginning, it was important to me to put people first. Always. We have an amazing staff at Robin Hood, and I learn so much from my team. Also, spending time in the communities we serve, with the people doing the frontline work fighting poverty, I learn so much from their perspectives, ideas, and resilience. Robin Hood is about bringing all of that together.

Q

How do you stay optimistic?

A

That’s an easy one. My wife and I have two amazing kids, a boy and a girl. As I look at them and watch their personalities emerge and their minds develop, I realize this is what it’s all about. It’s about what kind of country we hope to pass on to our kids.

No one needs to explain to me why this work is so hard, or why it’s so important. And I know how easy it is to look at the data around poverty and get discouraged, but then I visit our community partners in this work all over New York City, and I see the difference they’re making. I see the resilience of those communities. And I know we have to do our part to empower that resilience.

That’s how I stay optimistic. I read the data, I assess the data, but I live in communities full of promise.

“This problem is way too big for any single person or organization to go at it alone. But together, we can make a big and lasting impact.”

Q

Robin Hood has attracted incredible talent to its board. Can you talk about the foundation’s relationship with its members and the shared goals?

A

One of the things that I love most about Robin Hood is how big and broad our incredible base of support is. We bring together hedge-fund managers and social workers. School teachers and CEOs. And we see that in the composition of our board, where we’ve been so blessed to have some of the brightest minds in the world—from community leaders like Geoffrey Canada, who created the Harlem Children’s Zone, to media legends like Katie Couric to icons like Gwyneth Paltrow, who is on our emeritus board.

We’re able to attract this talent because of two things: our commitment and our impact. We’ve been doing this work shoulder to shoulder with New Yorkers in poverty for thirty years, and we’re not going anywhere. People know when they support Robin Hood, they’re supporting a meaningful and measurable approach to changing the lives of our neighbors in need.

Q

Can you tell us about the synergy between the Robin Hood Foundation and Greats?

A

Greats is an extraordinary Brooklyn-based shoe company with a mind for social impact, so for us, this is a perfect match. We’ve been so lucky to have the support of the company’s founder, Ryan Babenzien, and the entire Brooklyn-based team. We’re going to move in partnership in everything we do, and teaming up with Greats is a fantastic example of that.

We know that our donors and the people who support our work are proud to do that, and this is a great way for them to show that. And 100 percent of the net proceeds go directly to our work.

“We’ve been doing this work shoulder to shoulder with New Yorkers in poverty for thirty years, and we’re not going anywhere. People know when they support Robin Hood, they’re supporting a meaningful and measurable approach to changing the lives of our neighbors in need.”

Q

What’s the inspiration behind this year’s sneaker design?

A

Greats sneakers are so identifiable and beautiful, so we wanted to incorporate Robin Hood’s brand in a way that highlighted that. The inspiration for this is “be one of the greats,” which also happens to be one of Greats’ core motivations. I’m surrounded by greatness every day—my kids, my wife, my team, the great work we’re doing, and the people we’re doing it with. I love that. There’s greatness in this work, and there’s greatness in partnering with great organizations led by great people to make a great impact.

Q

What’s in store this year for the foundation? Any projects related to your thirtieth anniversary?

A

We are so excited to celebrate thirty years of Robin Hood on May 14. What an honor to work for an organization that has paved the way for three decades. I see this celebration as an opportunity for us not only to look at the triumphs of the past but also to look deeply at the future and how we will continue to revolutionize the fight against poverty. Today, we know more than ever how difficult and complex poverty is. It is our mission to lift as many people out of poverty as possible.

Wes Moore is the CEO of Robin Hood Foundation, a bestselling author, and a social entrepreneur. He previously served on Robin Hood’s Veterans Advisory Board, which brought together leaders from the military, nonprofits, and government to connect veterans and their families living in poverty to housing, job training, education, counseling, and health services.

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