Empowering Entrepreneurs: Interview with Joy Stoddard, Development and Outreach Director of Whole Planet Foundation

Meet Joy Stoddard, Development and Outreach Director for Whole Planet Foundation

Joy Stoddard is the Development and Outreach Director for Whole Planet Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Whole Foods Market. We were lucky enough to have a conversation with Joy about her motivation to give back, stemming from her earliest job as a candy striper to her career with Whole Foods. Joy has traveled the world working with microentrepreneurs and shared her unique perspective of having sought out opportunities to make an impact through for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations alike.

Tell us more about your trajectory from the International Monetary Fund to Store Trainer for Whole Foods Market before landing at Whole Planet Foundation? What has motivated your career and inspired your work from one position to the next?

Following my purpose has made my entire life better.

I started volunteering when I was 12 years old as a candy striper in a hospital. My parents were always active in their community so that was my first exposure to service. I love being useful and working toward a greater good! I worked at the International Monetary Fund because I wanted to support communities around the globe, and my time there taught me how to align my values with my employer, which led to Whole Foods Market. As a trainer at Whole Foods Market, you get to help people work toward excellence, so I was thrilled to start in that role for Whole Planet Foundation. Following my purpose has made my entire life better! I even met my husband at Whole Foods Market, and he still works here too.

Whole Foods Market works very hard to live its social and environmental values both in the products it sells and the dollars it invests. You’ve seen that now in both the for-profit and nonprofit arms of the business. From your inside perspective, where has the business had its greatest impact and where to could it stand to do better?

As a company, we can always do better in helping brands launch themselves in the natural foods industry, and for that, we now have the Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP). Sustainable packaging or large pieces of equipment to gain efficiencies and scale are expensive for emerging brands, so my employer can provide this gateway; the LPLP is something I am proud of as a Whole Foods Market team member. As a vegan for 15+ years, I am thrilled by new, plant-based brands that find a marketplace in our stores.

For me, the greatest impact I have seen Whole Foods Market have is through Whole Planet Foundation. We have been able to provide 10.5 million opportunities for microentrepreneurs and their family members to live better lives! Whole Foods Market even sponsors team members to witness the impact of their support of Whole Planet Foundation through the Whole Foods Market Team Member Volunteer Program. People get to travel to bucket-list countries like India, Kenya and Peru, provide community service, and raise their awareness!

Here is a video about the program in Ghana.

Can you shed some light on the differences between working for good in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors?

Although Whole Planet Foundation runs lean like a grocery store team (13 employees supporting programs in 69 countries), we are blessed by Whole Foods Market covering 100 percent of our operating costs. That way, everyone can give to the Foundation with confidence that the impact of every penny is high. Working on the retail side of Whole Foods Market in the early 2000s was so fun and fast-paced; we were innovating, opening stores and creating jobs, and there were thousands of people collaborating to accomplish that. Working for our non-profit is actually the same! It is hard to separate the two because both our for-profit and our non-profit have the same values, but they manifest for different audiences. The key for non-profits is to run like a business and being embedded in our parent company models that behavior for us.

As Development and Outreach Director for Whole Planet Foundation, you work in a truly international position. Tell us more about being trilingual. How has that opened up opportunities for your career? What language do you wish you spoke?

The best experiences are talking directly to the women we support, whether it be in Paraguay through Spanish or in Togo through French. Here is a video made from an interview I conducted with Guadalupe, a microcredit client of our Austin, Texas partner Grameen America. Due to these language skills, I am able to host donors in the field and connect them to the people impacted by their generosity. Those are incredible experiences to witness. Google Translate is a big help!

The microcredit clients we support want to show the progress of their business, explain the dreams they have for their children and invite us to share about our lives, so even when we do not speak the exact same language, there is a basic understanding. The next language I want to become proficient in is Russian, which may take as long as it seems to be taking for pro-poor microfinance organizations to materialize in that region of the world.

Whole Foods Market has done a great job integrating giving and engaging its shoppers. What trends have you noticed in the industry and how are you evolving your programs to better respond to conscious consumerism?

Our shoppers are amazing! They have donated $39 million through our annual campaign in stores since the first one occurred in 2006. Whole Planet Foundation has disbursed $63 million through microfinance partners since then, and we are so proud that Whole Foods Market shoppers are our largest donor group. As for trends, we are working on tech solutions at the registers for simple and quick transactions, and we hope to unveil those in our 2018 campaign. We also love partnering with Whole Foods Market suppliers whose consumers want them to include a give back program in their business.

Being exposed to multiple cultures has heavily influenced my life from what I eat...to the fair trade artisan goods I purchase, to what art I appreciate, to how I think.

You have had the privilege of meeting microentrepreneurs all over the world, from Bangladesh to Brazil. How have your travels inspired your work?

Being exposed to multiple cultures has heavily influenced my life from what I eat - kichuri or soup for breakfast, yerba mate instead of coffee - to the fair trade artisan goods I purchase, to what art I appreciate, to how I think. In each country where we work, I see talent and values and love. I also see hardships during my travel that influence me the most. They are the experiences that motivate me to work harder and smarter so that these women have less suffering in their lives. I am super grateful for my family and my tiny, beautiful home in Austin where life is easy by comparison.

Thanks in part to the interconnectivity of people and places today, there are more ways than ever before to contribute to social and environmental change. How would you recommend an individual navigate these options? From donation dollars to volunteer hours, where should they get started?

Interconnectivity is terrific, but service starts locally. Volunteering time at your local Meals on Wheels or Habitat for Humanity or the International Rescue Committee is powerful because those organizations have high impact. For donation dollars, of course the best option to me is Whole Planet Foundation because we work in cities around the United States and countries around the globe. You can start a Facebook fundraiser and invite your friends and family to donate $5 each to form one microloan of $187 – our current average first loan size in developing world countries. High five to everyone out there who donates time or money to non-profits because it is going to take all of us to help each other live better lives!

Service starts locally. Volunteering time at your local Meals on Wheels or Habitat for Humanity or the International Rescue Committee is powerful because those organizations have high impact.