Ask South Florida resident Kimberly Green when her activism began and she will take you to the Lakota Sioux reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where she spent her summers as a teenager volunteering with Head Start.
But ask about what drew her to philanthropy and Green travels back even further in time to when she was a first-grader at Gulliver Prep in Pinecrest, Florida, and received an unusual class assignment.
“I was asked what I would do if I were president,” Green, 48, recalled with a laugh. “I wrote in that essay if I were president, I would bring doctors to Haiti to provide services for people. Haiti and Cambodia. Those were my two things.”
Years later, Green would get her wish to support health care in Haiti. By then she would be known in philanthropic circles as a hands-on activist using her family’s wealth to build communities and promote activism.
“What I really wanted to do was bring something new to the implementation of philanthropy,” said Green, recalling how she often went into communities to volunteer in order to hear for herself what the needs were before making decisions on a grant request.
That different approach has resulted in an exhaustive list of programs, supported by Green’s family philanthropic organization, the Green Family Foundation. Under her direction, the foundation over the years has supported community building, civil service, and arts and culture initiatives.
Their donations have ranged from a few thousand dollars in housing assistance for families who are victims of fires or to make a documentary on health care in Haiti narrated by the late poet laureate, Maya Angelou, to multimillion-dollar donations to support student development at Florida International University, and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
“All of our work involves education and community outreach,” said Green, who has been running the foundation since 1997. “Whenever we are in a position to make a grant, it has to have those components in it. My father always says to me whenever we’re about to make a grant, ‘Where is the activism?’ We have to prove to him as our boss where the activism is within that grant, within that program.”
Green’s father, Steven J. Green, is a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore and a retired businessman who served as CEO of several companies including Samsonite Corp. He founded the foundation in 1991 initially as a means to support health care and education programs locally.
Five years ago, the foundation decided to expand its interest in supporting international policy and dialogue, which it had previously done with initiatives in Haiti. It gifted Florida International University’s School of International and Public Affairs with $20 million. It was both one of the foundation’s largest donations, and one of FIU’s biggest gifts. The money supports programs and scholarships.
Recently, both celebrated another milestone in their relationship when the family, joined by their foundation’s executive director, Mireille Louis Charles, and FIU officials, broke ground on the second phase of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs building. The building is being financed by the State of Florida, which provided matching funds to the foundation’s $20 million donation for construction of the 80,000-square-foot facility.
“We are looking at the building and the program as my father’s legacy, and legacy for our family,” Kimberly Green said. “That was a very big day.”
The school has about 7,000 students enrolled and ongoing partnerships with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of State. “We have offices in Washington, D.C. We have programs in China, several throughout Europe and South America,” Kimberly Green said.
The international affairs programming is just one of several initiatives at FIU bearing the family’s name. Others include the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, the Kimberly Green Scholarship and the Dorothea Green Lecture Series Fund. Years earlier, the foundation also made a $5 million donation to FIU’s medical school, which today is being used to sponsor the NeighborhoodHELP program. The program teams up medical students and others from various disciplines to work with medically under-served families in Miami-Dade County neighborhoods.
As part of last week’s celebration, FIU and the foundation hosted a seminar on global hot spots, which was presented as part of the Dorothea Green Lecture Series. The seminar featured four professors from the public affairs school who spoke about the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, the trade war with China, and the debate surrounding immigration and the 2020 U.S. election season.
The goal, Kimberly Green said, is to produce the next generation of civil servants, diplomats and leaders with a global understanding and cultural competencies.
“We all complain about our elected officials,” she said. “But we forget that they come from somewhere. They all come from hometowns, so it’s a matter of having this education at an early age and being exposed to it. I will say that FIU has the unique strength in that many of our students are working students. They have the day-to-day survival skills. ... These are kids who have such a desire to work within their communities, to represent their communities in a proud way.”
There is also another motivation, one she saw play out nearly a decade ago when a devastating earthquake struck Haiti.
“After the earthquake in Haiti we saw so many do-gooders, people who wanted to do good whether for themselves or for the country, flock to Haiti. They had no real cultural competency skills, no real understanding of the needs of a specific country,” she said. “One of the things we wanted to support and move forward was the importance of cultural competency within university learning, and hands-on experience while in the university so that we don’t encounter what happened after the earthquake in another disaster situation or in a country in need.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, an early mentor of Kimberly Green, said it’s refreshing to see her commitment, even today.
“She has taken this foundation to really innovative, creative, new ventures,” Levine Cava said. “I’ve always admired her and as time has gone on, I am in awe of her. She’s always looking for the way to not just provide incredible service but to do it in a way that will be transformational for the people who participate in the communities.”
Green likes to think of her efforts as not a handout or even a hand up.
“It’s hand in hand,” she said. “It’s about creating partnerships and working together. We all have an asset. Ours is we have the ability to provide funding. Everybody has something to bring to the table, how do we match that?”
If she is the idealist, then Mireille Louis Charles, the executive director, is the realist, she added.
“I get very excited about things. I see all of the potential and Mireille sees the bones and the guts,” Green said. “We really want to stick with our mission, which is community building, civil service, arts and culture. “
Thinking back to her early days of activism, which also included trips to soup kitchens with her mom and carrying around a UNICEF box to collect money for Cambodia, instead of candy on Halloween, Kimberly Green said all have had an impact on her giving nature.
She still, however, thinks back to those summers on the reservations where she lived with a Native American judge who was one of the founders of the Native American Indian Movement. She not only learned about issues that were important to Native Americans and got involved in voter registration drives, but she saw firsthand the impact of community building.
“It changed my life,” she said. “I believe that is where my activism was really sparked.”