Changes on the Ground
Can Change the World

An Interview with Dennis White

DW
Dennis White

Dennis White is the President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, which has sponsored The Purpose Prize for Financial Inclusion since 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Why did MetLife Foundation decide to focus on financial inclusion in 2013?

MetLife Inc. was transitioning at that time from being primarily a domestic company to a global business. We decided that our dollars would have maximum impact around the world if we concentrated on financial inclusion. So we committed $200 million over five years – about two-thirds of our foundation’s budget and — to help bring a more secure future to those without access to basic financial services.

Through programs administered by our nonprofit grantees, we have already put $85 million to work in many of the nearly 50 countries in which MetLife Inc. operates — in Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and here, in the United States.

How is the effort organized?

We are active on three fronts.

We want young people and adults to engage with the financial sector, so we provide access to knowledge through counseling, coaching and other methods.

We help develop and deliver safe, high-quality products and services, including mobile phone banking.

And we invest in research and share our findings, to affect policy and broaden awareness. As part of that effort, in 2015 we were the exclusive sponsor of the Financial Inclusion Challenge, managed by The Wall Street Journal, which recognizes global FI achievements and opportunities. We also sponsor a related website, Multipliers of Prosperity, which spotlights the work of our grantees. And we are also in the second year of our support of Encore.org’s Purpose Prize for Financial Inclusion.

What is your operating philosophy?

It’s easy to hand out brochures about financial inclusion that explain what to do. But we don’t think that is very effective. Instead, we support nonprofits that counsel people directly and work with them over time. And we try to measure their programs’ impact — to see what is working and what isn’t — by tracking how lives have changed.

In India, for instance, we work with Trickle Up. This group helps some of the poorest women in the country. At first, these women may not be ready to take advantage of a loan to start a small business. They may need health care and a grant of a few dollars just to get on their feet – and then, some financial coaching. It’s a graduated model – a step-by-step approach that eventually leads to a loan and technical assistance. Without all of those steps, meaningful change is unrealistic. Not everyone is suited to become an entrepreneur.

This is an expensive approach. Brochures may cost just pennies; an effort built around counseling and grants can cost hundreds of dollars, or more, per person.

 Smiling Guatemalan woman

Can you describe someone you’ve helped?

I often think of a farmer in China. He had polio – he couldn’t walk – and he owned just one pig. A group we worked with there, gave him an initial loan to buy a cart, so that he no longer had to drag himself through the mud. Other assistance was made available as he needed it. Now he has a couple of hundred pigs, is married and provides work to others. A once-destitute man now has opportunities. Meaningful change happens when we can reach people where they are – their community, their home.

What’s your advice for those considering an encore career?

The key question is, what are your interests? Do you want to stay in the area that you know – say, continue to be an auditor – or do you want to do something completely different?

If you want the former, check out the job search sites in your field, but concentrate on the nonprofit side. If you want to shift gears — let’s say you want to work with kids in a social-services setting or you want to provide financial coaching — you may need some training.

To get a sense of your options for a paying position or as a volunteer – and of what preparation you might need – there are plenty of good sites to explore. These include the Bridgespan Group, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Idealist, Philanthropy New York and VolunteerMatch.org.

What effect does all of this have on the encore movement?

Each year, thousands of MetLife employees volunteer their time to participate in MetLIfe Foundation projects. Many provide investment, marketing and other professional services to nonprofits that need their help, in pro bono projects arranged by Taproot Foundation. Other employees – mainly in Europe and the Middle East — use the Junior Achievement curriculum to share financial knowledge with young people. Still others participate in projects with Habitat for Humanity International.

These employees may start out volunteering on company time, but many find their participation is so rewarding that they also volunteer their own time. Often, they develop a passion for the work.

We’re also proud to support awards like The Purpose Prize for Financial Inclusion, granted in 2014 to Maurico Lim Miller (founder, president and CEO, Family Independence Initiative) and in 2015, to Patricia Foley Hinnen (founder and CEO, Capital Sisters International). Their creative, unconventional strategies that improve the financial and personal autonomy of low-income people exemplify MetLife Foundation’s global commitment to bringing financial knowledge, tools and services to economically challenged communities around the world.

I think projects like theirs, and ours, are preparing the next generation of encore people, who can channel their experience and their passion into work that empowers emerging economies, one person, and one project, at a time.


Dennis White is the President and CEO of MetLife Foundation. He is responsible for managing foundation and corporate contributions, company volunteer activities and the Foundation’s social investment activities. Dennis joined MetLife in 1989 and has held positions in both the Corporate Contributions and Investments Departments. While in Investments, he originated affordable housing and renewable energy transactions.

Dennis currently serves as the Chair of Living Cities, Inc., a nonprofit organization that is a collection of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions working to build stronger U.S. cities. He is also a board member of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the largest community development organization in the U.S.

Prior to joining MetLife, Dennis worked for the Association on American Indian Affairs, Inc., a private nonprofit group working with tribal governments on economic development issues, and for PaineWebber, Inc. He received his BA from Rutgers College and an MBA in Finance from Rutgers Graduate School of Management.