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She Persevered to Help Children in Poverty

leadership philanthropy vision


By John Millen

We all know people, including ourselves, who see a pressing need in society and say we have an idea to help solve that problem.

But let’s face it, 99 percent of us don’t follow through. We may take some action, but when we hit the inevitable plateaus or valleys, we call it off.

Not my friend Kyle Zimmer. She had an idea and followed through. On Wednesday, May 19th, the organization she co-founded, First Book, celebrated its 30th Anniversary and has distributed more than 210 million new books to children living in poverty.

When I met Kyle in 1993 she was an attorney working for a national trade association promoting automobile safety. She had come to California to work with me and my team on a project related to youth drinking and driving.

When a group of us went to dinner, Kyle told me about a non-profit she’d started a couple of years before. While volunteering in soup kitchens in Washington D.C. she had the desire to help the children there, many of them homeless, to learn to read. 

She had seen the research that children who don’t learn to read early struggle throughout their lives, especially in education and employment.

Her simple idea was to give a brand-new book to children who couldn’t afford them and often had no books in their own homes. Having started life in the housing projects in Philadelphia with a single mother, I was touched by her passion but never would have imagined the determination she would have to bring her vision to life.

With her leadership, First Book developed into an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise furthering educational equity for children in poverty.

I interviewed Kyle on my podcast with the hope of inspiring others who want to make a difference in the world. My editor said she found herself crying while working on this episode.

Kyle shares insights from her inspiring journey, including:

  • Why she chose a social enterprise model that uses business principles in philanthropy;
  • Shocking research on the lack of books in poor neighborhoods and its impact on children’s long-term success;
  • How she built and maintains a team of high-caliber leaders, who choose First Book over other opportunities to make fortunes in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street;
  • A unique model that distributes leadership responsibility throughout the team and fosters continuous innovation;
  • How First Book has partnered with book publishers to broaden the market for the most popular books to serve children in need.
  • How they’ve built a network of more than 500,000 educators at schools in low-income areas to ensure grassroots access to new books.

I’m not going to share an article about every podcast guest, but I would be remiss not to draw your attention to the remarkable work done by my friend Kyle.

I’ve witnessed her personal and organizational challenges over the years and I’m in awe of her intelligence, commitment, and, most of all, grit.

On their 30th Anniversary, I’m honored to share the story of Kyle Zimmer and First Book in this inspiring conversation.

To learn more, register as an educator, or donate visit First Book.


Image credit: First Book

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