Green Leaders Talk Green-Sports

Green Leaders Talk Green-Sports, Part 4: Caryl Stern, CEO, US Fund for UNICEF


Over GreenSportsBlog’s three year existence, we’ve spoken with many leading lights from across the Green-Sports spectrum. But the Green-Sports niche, while growing, is still relatively small. How much does the niche have to grow until it reaches critical mass? What will sports look like once that’s achieved? What are the key challenges the sports green movement has to overcome?

To get some answers, GreenSportsBlog is going outside of the Green-Sports world to take a look inward. We are talking, in an occasional series, with leaders from various corners of the sustainability, business and non-profit worlds with little or no connection to sports to get their views on the sports-greening movement. So far, we’ve spoken with Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group; Jerry Taylor, a leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighting advocate; and Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists.

For our fourth installment, we bring you Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She shares how sports has helped the U.S. Fund build UNICEF Kid Power, a phenomenal program that’s working towards solutions to two intractable problems that are flip sides of the same coin: inactivity in the U.S. and acute malnutrition around the world. Oh yeah, there are green aspects to UNICEF Kid Power.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Our interview with Caryl Stern is not as tightly focused on the Green-Sports intersection as is typically the case here. Please indulge us as we believe what the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, along with its partners, is doing with Kid Power, is so important to human sustainability, that we need to tell its story. And to do that, we needed Caryl Stern to tell her story. We hope you enjoy the read and feel how I did during the interview, and that is HOPEFUL.


GreenSportsBlog: Caryl, I can’t wait to talk about UNICEF Kid Power—it’s one of the most impressive and potentially impactful public health, human capital development and, yes, green initiatives I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen plenty of impressive programs. But before we get there, I’d like to hear how you got here—here being the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Caryl Stern: Well, perhaps it’s destiny that I work in the child humanitarian aid and relief world as my mother was a child refugee of the Holocaust, coming to the U.S. by herself when she was only six years old. Of course if it was destiny, I sure wasn’t aware of it when went to SUNY Oneonta for a BA in Studio Art nor when I got my MA at Western Illinois University in College Student Personnel Administration.

After that, I got a job at Northwestern, running their non-credit Continuing Ed programs. When I started they offered 100 courses; 2 years later that number was up to more than 1,000. So I figured Higher Education Administration was my thing. I also completed my doctoral course work at Loyola in Chicago.
Eventually I became the Dean of Students at the Polytechnic Institute in New York City. While there, I was asked to join a task force on diversity with Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden during the Koch administration. From there, I was hired by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).


Caryl Stern, President & CEO, US Fund for UNICEF. (Photo credit: Timothy Greenfield)


GSB: WOW! Getting hired by the ADL, which is most well-known for fighting anti-semitism, seems high up there on the destiny meter. What did you do for them?

Caryl: I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on their A World of Difference anti-bias program. It featured an after school and prime time anti-bias TV series, including classroom curriculum and community-based programming. I created the curriculum, was responsible for content development and sold a corporate sponsorship to AT&T. I loved this program. Eventually I became the COO at the ADL.

Then, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF called me with the chance to be their #2 in command. I jumped at the opportunity to join such a great organization. And then, wouldn’t you know it, three weeks later, the CEO left. While they looked for a permanent CEO, I had the interim role.

Now, you have to understand that I’d never worked in the humanitarian aid space before and had never been to Africa nor seen this type of work up close. But, I got to work and I worked hard.

GSB: …I bet you went to Africa pretty quickly…

Caryl: Correct. And then I got the CEO position. That was almost ten years ago.

GSB: Congratulations! So, you’re the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. How did you put your stamp on the organization?

Caryl:  I was so excited to have this opportunity to put children first around the world, supporting UNICEF’s incredible mission, while making positive changes for the organization. To that end, I dismantled the existing, top-down management structure in favor of a more collaborative team approach that allowed managers to make more decisions. We also became much more donor-centric; listening closer to what the donors wanted, which informed our next strategic plan. In turn, this led to the development of meaningful programming that met both donor wants and, most importantly, met the needs of kids around the globe.

GSB: …Sounds very entrepreneurial to me.

Caryl: Yes, and our success showed we were on to something. We were proud to be able to double our financial results in six years, despite the financial crash.

GSB: Impressive! So, now that we’ve got your and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s backstory, let’s talk about UNICEF Kid Power. Where did that come from?

Caryl: About 2 1/2 years ago, I was presented with two bits of information that were the flip side of the same coin. 1) In the US, 1 in 4 kids are considered “under-active,” which has been a major factor in the epidemic of unhealthy kids here, and 2) In the developing world, 1 in 4 kids are severely malnourished. So I challenged my team to come back to me with ideas for how we could, simultaneously, make a dent in both challenges. And, although I’d love to take credit it was Rajesh Anandan, our Sr. VP of UNICEF Ventures who came up with the innovative idea that became UNICEF Kid Power, which was born in 2014.

GSB: What, exactly, is Kid Power?

Caryl: In a nutshell, UNICEF Kid Power allows kids to get active and, in the process, save lives. As kids get active with their Kid Power Band – the world’s first Wearable for Good, they earn points that “unlock” packets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) that UNICEF uses to help malnourished children in the developing world. The more kids move, the more points they earn and the more lives they save – all while learning about global citizenship!
And, Kid Power is Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) compliant, which parents are really grateful for.


US Fund for UNICEF’S Kid Power bands. (Photo credit: US Fund for UNICEF)


GSB: Caryl, this is a BRILLIANT concept! How did the U.S. Fund for UNICEF turn it into reality?

Caryl: We actually created a startup internally with our Kid Power team and partnered with Calorie Cloud – a nonprofit health startup that aided in the development of the Kid Power technology platform.

Next, our product had to kid-tested, which meant it had to be cool, fun and unbreakable. So we developed a prototype, but then the question became: How do we get it in the hands of kids on a larger scale? We decided to show it to Kathy Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm

GSB: …Which is where Star Wars films reside…

Caryl: Right…And they have a powerful Force For Change initiative. Kathy saw Kid Power as a perfect program for them. So they became one of our Presenting Sponsors.

GSB: Star Wars? Not too shabby a franchise with which to partner, I’d say. But what’s the Star Wars hook here?

Caryl: We did special Kid Power Bands in Force for Change editions, including Star Wars black and green.

GSB: Love that! Then what happened?

Caryl: Then we went the sports route! Specifically we spoke to KJ, Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, CA and former NBA All Star…

GSB: …and the prime mover behind keeping the NBA Kings in Sacramento, in large part through the building of an über-green new arena, the Golden 1 Center. This is our first green sports mention, more to come! What was Sacramento’s and the Kings’ role?

Caryl: Oh, Kevin Johnson and the Kings have been terrific! KJ offered to pilot the UNICEF Kid Power school program in Sacramento in the high need, Title 1 schools in the city (at least 70% of students are on supported nutrition programs), and the Kings have served as motivation for the kids. Kings players have gone to schools to celebrate the program and there have been on-court celebrations at halftime at some games.

Also, Arizona State University worked with us on a research study that divided the Sacramento pilot kids into two groups—an experimental group in which kids got the full Kid Power school experience, with the fitness bands and teachers got a laptop and the kids would sync the laptop with their band and activity information, and an aggregate number of steps per class was calculated. Then the kids could see where the packets they unlocked would go in terms of supporting malnourished kids around the world.

The control group got everything minus the altruistic and impact messaging—so they were left with the message that increased activity was just “good for you.” The findings showed that the experimental, “do good” group were 55% more active than their peers in the control group, showing the self-esteem building power of giving kids – especially less fortunate kids – the chance to give back.

After the Sacramento pilot in 2014, we added Boston, Dallas and New York in 2015, and then broke out nationally in 13 cities in spring 2016 with more expansion planned in 2017.

GSB: All of this makes sense on the importance of physical activity. Now, how do you convert physical activity into food packets? What’s the formula?

Caryl: Great question. It takes approximately 2,400 steps to earn 1 Kid Power Point. When a kid is on a “mission” – a virtual goal-based journey that happens in the UNICEF Kid Power App and highlights a country kids are impacting with RUTF – it takes 10 points to unlock a packet of RUTF. When not on a mission, they still accumulate points and have impact – it takes 25 points to unlock a packet.
The National Institutes of Health recommend that kids aim for around 12,000 steps per day (approximately 5 UNICEF Kid Power Points).

I should note the transformative power of the RUTF that kids are unlocking. It is a protein and vitamin rich peanut paste that’s easy to transport and store, and it tastes good. It has allowed kids to be treated for malnutrition more easily, in their communities, rather than having to travel to a hospital. Malnutrition impacts all aspects of a child’s life – if a child isn’t healthy, the child can’t play. And if a child can’t play, she/he will be lethargic and won’t do well in school.

GSB: Was this still solely funded by Lucasfilm, which is a division of Disney?

Caryl: We were thankful that Target joined us a Presenting Sponsor and a philanthropic partner, which helped fuel the program’s expansion and allow families everywhere to get active and save lives – in addition to the school program piece. UNICEF Kid Power Bands are available at Target, and $10 of the $39.99 purchase price goes directly to support UNICEF’s nutrition work.

First the bands were only available online, and we saw very high demand. Now, bands are available in all Target stores as well – making it even easier for families to join the team and get active together.

GSB: As you continue to grow, what are your goals? I understand you’ve got 170,000 kids involved. That’s impressive, no doubt about it. And I gotta believe that number can go way up!

Caryl: Our 170,000 Team Members who have unlocked more than 1.8 million packets of RUTFs. It is estimated that Kid Power has provided a full course of lifesaving nutrition for more than 12,000 kids! 

Our new goal right now is to grow to have 1 million kids with UNICEF Kid Power bands. In addition to our national sponsors, we’ve also been fortunate to have a number of local sponsors that are helping students participate in the school program. And, if schools in more affluent areas want to get involved, they can do so through our partnership with the Scholastic Teacher store.

GSB: 1 million kids sounds more like it; that would mean, what, 10+ million units of RUTFs? Now, what about international growth? I mean I know you’re the U.S. Fund for UNICEF but…

Caryl: We had international pilots in the Netherlands and Scotland last year, and are considering additional options to engage kids overseas.

GSB: Caryl, UNICEF Kid Power is just fantastic; it may well be the most powerful kids humanitarian relief program I’ve ever heard of. Before we close, let’s talk a bit about the way sports is impacting Kid Power.

Caryl: Thanks, Lew. We’ve found that adding athletes to the Kid Power equation is its “special sauce.” It gives the program added juice and there’s nothing that can compare to sports in this regard, especially with kids. We’ve been really lucky with great athlete support. I want to make sure to recognize NBA center Tyson Chandler’s support. He loved the idea so much that he brought it to Dallas when he got traded to the Mavericks and got his teammates involved. Now Tyson’s in Phoenix with the Suns and is helping to do the same there.

Our other Kid Power Champions – tasked with cheering on the Team and leading virtual missions – include Maya Moore of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Red Sox along with Olympians Aly Raisman and Alex Moore, among others. U.S. Fund For UNICEF has also seen great athlete support beyond Kid Power. When the Haiti earthquake struck back in 2010, we saw a big spike in online donations when Samuel Dalembert, an NBA player of Haitian descent, spoke up. The power of sports is unmatched.


UNICEF Ambassador Tyson Chandler (L) and Caryl Stern at an event in March, 2015 celebrating UNICEF Kid Power at Esperanza Hope Medrano Elementary School in Dallas, TX. (Photo credit: Peter Larsen/Getty Images for UNICEF)


GSB: And, finally, let’s talk Kid Power and Green-Sports…

Caryl: There are several green aspects to UNICEF Kid Power. Certainly getting kids to get more active, including walking, means they will be driven less, which means a lower carbon footprint…

GSB:…Something that could be calculated at some point.

Caryl: …And if kids get outside more, part of being outside could well mean being in nature and gaining an early appreciation for it. Right now, many underprivileged kids may not have exposure to nature. Turning that around will help the next generation become more environmentally conscious.

And, on the undernourished side of the equation, we’re already seeing increased malnutrition in many areas because of El Niño and other extreme weather events that are being exacerbated and intensified by climate change. We want to ensure UNICEF has the resources to ensure that every child can survive and thrive. By getting kids to be part of the solution to end global malnutrition, we hope to do just that.

GSB: Well here’s hoping—and betting—that Kid Power will help kids in the developed world have a stronger appreciation for the environment, which will lead some of them to come up with ways to successfully fight climate change, to the benefit of kids in the developing world. THAT’S Kid Power!

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