By: David M. Foster, CFP®, CAP®
Hello, listeners, and welcome to the 7th episode of the Gateway Giving Podcast!
My guest today is Natalie Self. Natalie is the executive director of STEMSTL, whose mission is to collectively develop and deploy quality systems-level changes that will advance STEM learning and career opportunities to empower the growth of diverse problem solvers, innovators, and critical thinkers, enabling them to thrive in a globally connected world.
Now, if the sentence I just read felt intimidating to wrap your brain around, don’t worry, Natalie is going to translate all of that while explaining how, exactly, STEMSTL goes about attempting to achieve that mission. However, the thing I want to point out is here is how STEMSTL differs from all of the organizations my previous guests represent.
If you look through the list of my previous podcast guests, the St. Louis Area Foodbank, St. Patrick Center, Meds & Food For Kids, etc., you’ll notice that those organizations are primarily focused on treating the symptoms rather than curing the disease. In the interview, Natalie used the term “remediation” to describe the focus of these non-profits and most of the non-profits you’re probably familiar with. To be clear, that is not a pejorative; there are few greater callings than aiding human suffering where it exists. However, Natalie’s focus, both at STEMSTL and more broadly, is on systems change. In other words, how do we change the systems and institutions that create the necessity for these remediation focused non-profits to exist. For example, whereas St. Patrick Center is asking the question, “How do we help this person who is experiencing homelessness to find and maintain stable housing?” an organization that was focused on systems change would be asking, “How do we adapt and change our institutions so that we can reduce or eliminate the need for people to reach out to St. Patrick Center in the first place?”
Of course, the challenge with funding and working on systems change is that, in most cases, it’s much harder to measure and track results. If I give $1,000 to the St. Louis Area Foodbank, I know that I’m buying 4,000 meals for needy families. If I give $1,000 to an organization fighting for systems change, how much systems change, exactly, am I funding? It’s a tough question to answer, but it’s an important one, because I believe that systems change can ultimately be so much more impactful than remediation and Natalie provides a fantastic framework for thinking about exactly how to approach that problem.
As always, if you have any questions, requests, or suggestions for people or organizations for me to interview, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, without further ado, here is my interview with Natalie Self!