Laura Libman was looking for a new mission. After a career in aerospace engineering, raising two kids, and finding a talent for solving problems for clients such as the Department of Defense and NASA, Laura wanted to try her hand at something different. She went back to graduate school for an M.B.A. in International Development to see where she could put her talents. The whole time, she had a question rattling around in her head, “Can I figure out a way to fix poverty?”
This question took her to Guadalajara where she spent three months doing community studies, learning about what situations send families into poverty. What she learned was whenever a family went from getting by to suddenly not doing well, 83% of the time it was due to a health-related incident. More importantly, the health-related incidents that sent families spiraling were preventable issues: women dying in childbirth, improperly given first aid, failures to diagnose diabetes, and other issues that seem foreign to many people in the U.S. The seeds of the Tia Foundation were born.
Fifteen years later, the Tia Foundation is a near-self-sustaining program, training entire communities in Mexico in preventative medicine techniques. For about $5 per person, the Tia Foundation is able to assist local governments in supplying and maintaining medical kits, including vaccinations, chronic disease management, child delivery and preventative education. By focusing on the data and asking the right questions, along with having a team heavily experienced in business management, international development and medicine, the Tia Foundation has been able to serve nearly half a million people. More amazingly, the work accomplished by the foundation helps communities become stronger—from trackable impacts like roads being rebuilt in the towns served, to a near 400% drop in immigration to the United States, to a recently discovered drop in domestic violence in a town The Tia Foundation serves.
Despite growing such a strong organization, and even stronger leadership team and board of directors, the Tia Foundation often found itself struggling to create a sustainable stream of funding, largely due to the lack of capacity-building funding for international organizations. Furthermore, after her time as a contractor, being a mother, and then 15 years of sleeping on dirt floors, Laura realized the importance of building a succession plan. Laura knew their administrative team, talented board, and deep bench of overflow contractors and consultants would be a boon to any partner. Yet providing medical services and training was not a replicable model in the U.S. But the mission of the Tia Foundation was not to provide health care, but to alleviate poverty. They just had to find the right partner to complete that mission back home. So, Laura and her team applied for a seed grant from Arizona Together for Impact, and they hired Kelly Fryer as a consultant to help them expand.
It was Kelly’s webinars that inspired Laura to start looking at how the Tia Foundation can find local partners, so by the time Kelly arrived as a consultant, she was more of a guide than a teacher.
“Kelly was huge in helping us get going, but so much of the main work has been internal,” said Matt Jewett, secretary for The Tia Foundation board of directors. Matt explained the key to their search has been trusting the process. With Kelly’s help, the core team and the board created an evaluation rubric—the factors each potential partner would be evaluated by—trusting that when you put numbers to what is important, a potential fit will naturally rise to the top. For Laura, having Kelly as a consultant and facilitator was at times secondary to simply having someone to bounce ideas off of.
“Even if each of us thinks we are rational and reasonable people, we need a third party to keep our hearts and heads in check,” Laura said. “Just having someone to validate that things are being done the right way, or that we aren’t missing anything major, has saved us hours and hours of time and frustration.”
Currently, the Tia Foundation is still in the exploratory phase of their partner search, but they are not rushing to the finish line. When asked what advice he would give other nonprofit leaders who are also looking for a partner, Matt said, “Be intentional and don’t expect an outcome. Look at it as a learning process.” Laura echoed that advice, “In the for-profit world, mergers and acquisitions can lead to a lot of money lost. That cannot happen in the non-profit space, there are too many people who will be devastated if a grant is lost, and we need to care for them.”
For the Tia Foundation, finding a partner does not mean finding another nonprofit focused on health care or exclusively the Hispanic community. For Laura and her team, the ideal partner would be a collaborator—a partner that would lean on the Tia Foundation’s administrative prowess and clear focus on poverty alleviation above all else. Until that impact-expanding partner is found, Laura and her board will trust the process.