Home • Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International
Episode 113th June 2022 • How to Help • Aaron Miller
00:00:00 00:52:16

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Summary

Everyone needs and deserves a home. It’s our place to be safe, healthy, and loved. In this episode, we’ll learn from Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International and author of the book, Our Better Angels. Jonathan will teach us about the critical failures that are keeping people from having a safe and decent place to live, as well as the solutions that work.

We'll also learn about Jonathan's winding career path to CEO of Habitat, one that took him through investment banking, real estate, retail leadership, church management, and even a stint as the head coach of the Olympic men's rowing team for South Korea. Jonathan will share how he eventually found his professional home at Habitat.

About Our Guest

Jonathan T.M. Reckford is chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, a global Christian housing organization that has helped more than 39 million people construct, rehabilitate, or preserve their homes. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Stanford University, Jonathan has been leading Habitat since 2005 and was named the most influential nonprofit leader in America in 2017 by The NonProfit Times. He is the author of Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World. Jonathan and his wife, Ashley, have three children and live in Atlanta.

Useful Links

Jonathan’s bio:

https://www.habitat.org/about/habitat-for-humanity-leadership/ceo

Jonathan’s book:

https://www.amazon.com/Our-Better-Angels-Simple-Virtues-ebook/dp/B07PBR744J

Habitat for Humanity’s programs and services:

https://www.habitat.org/our-work

A short biography of Clarence Jordan:

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/witness/clarence-jordan

A short biography of Rep. Millicent Fenwick

https://www.historicamerica.org/journal/2021/3/11/from-fashion-editor-to-famous-representative-the-life-of-millicent-fenwick

About Merit Leadership

To learn more about how you can develop ethical skills that turn peril into opportunity, visit http://meritleadership.com

Pleasant Pictures Music

Join the Pleasant Pictures Music Club to get unlimited access to high-quality, royalty-free music for all of your projects. Use the discount code HOWTOHELP15 for 15% off your first year.

Transcripts

Jonathan:

And then to my enormous surprise, they said, "We see all

Jonathan:

this rowing in your background."

Jonathan:

I'd been a competitive rower.

Jonathan:

"And we just, we qualified because we're the host country and we

Jonathan:

just fired our rowing coach.

Jonathan:

Would you help coach our rowing team?"

Jonathan:

and, and I said, no, I'm completely unqualified.

Jonathan:

You know, they kept coming back and saying, "We really

Jonathan:

want you to consider this."

Jonathan:

So I actually left Goldman early, went to the US rowing coaching college.

Jonathan:

The coaches, US coaches were very generous and not very scared of the Koreans.

Jonathan:

And so I ended up living in the Korean training camp with all the

Jonathan:

coaches and athletes for that year.

Aaron-Narration:

Hi, I'm Aaron Miller, and this is How to Help, a podcast

Aaron-Narration:

about having a life and career with more meaning, integrity and impact.

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Home.

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Before we begin a quick programming note, How to Help is

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shifting to a monthly podcast.

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Each season will still consist of 12 episodes, but new episodes will now come

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out throughout the year, rather than in one big bunch like they did last season.

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We hope you subscribe in your favorite podcast app so you

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can get every new episode.

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Growing up, I lived in 12 different houses.

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That puts me well above the average, which is less than half that according

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to a study by the MacArthur Foundation.

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Neither of my parents were in the military, so that's

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not why we moved a lot.

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But our family's story of job changes and divorce is far from unique.

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And I technically shouldn't have used the word "houses."

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Eight of those places were what most people would call a house, but two

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were condos, one was a townhouse, and one was actually a cabin.

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For the curious, the cabin was in West Yellowstone, Montana, while the rest were

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scattered around other parts of Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Southern California.

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But all of them were home, if longer for some places than others.

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I feel fond feelings for all of these homes, partly because each one

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offered its own unique experience.

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One of them was in the hills of San Diego County, for example, where in

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the undeveloped places, my brothers and I would explore by jumping

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from one massive rock to the next, never having to touch the ground.

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In another, this one in Montana, we would run around the house at night barefoot

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in the snow, and then rush inside to warm our feet at the red brick fireplace.

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I could go on with stories like these, just as anyone could—as you could—

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about Christmas mornings, favorite hiding places, and neighborhood games

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of kick the can with kids I'd only know for about three months because

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our stay in that house was so short.

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Most importantly, even though we moved a lot, I always had a home.

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Over half a million Americans are homeless right now, and

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around 20% of those are children.

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More than 13 million Americans have experienced homelessness, at some point.

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My dad was one of them.

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He slept on California beaches, not long before he landed a new job that actually

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made us pretty wealthy for a few years.

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The number of people who have been homeless rises to 26 million

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if you include people who have doubled up with another family

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as a result of losing a home.

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This episode, isn't about homelessness per se, but about the

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fundamental human need for home.

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It is, I think, one of the truly universal traits of every person's experience,

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whether in abundance or in absence.

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The idea of home spans all of our stories, poems, and songs.

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It's where all of us can feel that we really belong.

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My guest today is Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International,

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and author of the book, Our Better Angels.

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Most famous perhaps as the favorite charity of US President Jimmy

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Carter, you probably think of Habitat as the group that uses

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volunteers to build homes for people.

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They do that here in the US and around the world, but they also do so much more.

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I hope you enjoy learning about their global efforts to build a world where

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everyone has a decent place to live.

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You're also going to enjoy hearing Jonathan's personal story and his

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career path that ultimately led him to his professional home at Habitat.

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So let's get started with this beautiful little story about

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why Jonathan loves his work.

Jonathan:

If you think about, you know, 1.8 billion people needing

Jonathan:

housing, you can get discouraged.

Jonathan:

But I think what sort of keeps me going, I think that's true for so

Jonathan:

many, is when it becomes personal, when you see the impact that safe and

Jonathan:

affordable housing has on a family.

Jonathan:

And I think about just a, a tiny story.

Jonathan:

I was coming back from the airport.

Jonathan:

My plane was delayed, it was midnight, and I was going to be back at the

Jonathan:

airport at 6:30 in the morning.

Jonathan:

And I was having a little pity party.

Jonathan:

And I'm, you know, pulling out of the parking lot, and the parking at

Jonathan:

attendant sees my Habitat logo on my jacket and "Are you part of Habitat?"

Jonathan:

I said, "Yes, I am."

Jonathan:

And he said, "Well let me tell you, I bought my house 12 years

Jonathan:

ago and it changed my life and my kids are doing well."

Jonathan:

And we caused a traffic jam as I got to hear his story.

Jonathan:

And it's just that reminder that, you know, we get to be part of something

Jonathan:

that really is transformational.

Jonathan:

And that I think, you know, gives you the, the fuel to keep going even when there's

Jonathan:

certainly plenty of challenges in, in trying to make our mission come to life.

Aaron-Narration:

You might have noticed that the parking attendant

Aaron-Narration:

in Jonathan's story said he bought his house through Habitat.

Aaron-Narration:

This gives me a chance to clarify a common misconception about their work

Aaron-Narration:

Habitat doesn't give people homes, but rather offers them an affordable

Aaron-Narration:

way to purchase a home by having them earn what they call "sweat equity."

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The aspiring homeowners contribute in a variety of ways that can

Aaron-Narration:

include working on site to help build their own house, helping build

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other houses, feeding volunteers, or staffing Habitat's, retail stores.

Aaron-Narration:

More on those stores in a minute.

Aaron-Narration:

In the end, they end up purchasing the house with a mortgage, which

Aaron-Narration:

they pay just like anybody else.

Aaron-Interview:

This is also part of what's innovative about the model, right?

Aaron-Interview:

Is this, isn't just sort of the way most people think of public housing.

Aaron-Interview:

This is a path to ownership that involves investment, not just of time, but also of

Aaron-Interview:

a purchase from the people that are, that are eventually moving into these homes.

Aaron-Interview:

Why is that the approach?

Aaron-Interview:

What is it that makes this the model that has worked for so long for Habitat?

Jonathan:

I think deep in the foundation, as I talked about where it started,

Jonathan:

those principles have really held true.

Jonathan:

Now our tactics have, have changed dramatically over time, but the basic idea

Jonathan:

was the idea of partnership and the belief that there is dignity in that partnership.

Jonathan:

And that in some ways, one of those founding sentences was no one can live in

Jonathan:

dignity until everyone lives in dignity.

Jonathan:

But that idea of partnership housing means we have three core criteria:

Jonathan:

First that they are too low income to be able to get a traditional bank loan.

Jonathan:

So we're trying to serve a group that, that are not served by the market.

Jonathan:

Second, that they're willing to partner.

Jonathan:

And for us, that means the willingness to put in what we call "sweat equity,'

Jonathan:

where they put in hundreds of hours of literally helping build their

Jonathan:

home and their neighbor's homes, but also taking classes in financial

Jonathan:

management and home maintenance.

Jonathan:

So that they're really well prepared and have clean credit by

Jonathan:

the time they close on their home.

Jonathan:

And then third that they are able and willing to pay an affordable, no-

Jonathan:

profit mortgage that then we recycle those funds back in the same community.

Jonathan:

So as those families make their payments, they're not only earning

Jonathan:

their equity, but then they're actually creating the opportunities for

Jonathan:

other families to have their chance.

Jonathan:

And I think part of that has been why, even in the, the worst part of the housing

Jonathan:

recession 12 years ago, when in some markets, foreclosure rates across all

Jonathan:

income bands went up to 10, 15, even 20%.

Jonathan:

Habitat foreclosures went up to about 2%, even though we are sub, subprime lenders.

Jonathan:

But it's that preparation and sense of community and partnership that I

Jonathan:

think has made the model so powerful.

Aaron-Narration:

There's an elegance to this model that's

Aaron-Narration:

now proven itself over and over.

Aaron-Narration:

By having people earn their way into their homes, and then recycling the returns

Aaron-Narration:

back into communities, Habitat stretches its impact to reach even more people.

Aaron-Narration:

It's an idea that Jonathan calls leveraged philanthropy.

Jonathan:

It's very powerful.

Jonathan:

I talk about it as leveraged philanthropy.

Jonathan:

And we have an extra element, um, called our Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

Jonathan:

That's a chain now of over a thousand retail stores, primarily in the US

Jonathan:

and Canada, but also in Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Northern

Jonathan:

Ireland, and a few other places.

Jonathan:

And, uh, and those are home product recycling stores where we take used

Jonathan:

products, anything that can be taken out of a house and, and salvaged and resold.

Jonathan:

And that's now over a 500 million dollar business that generates last

Jonathan:

year I think about 150 million in net revenue for our affiliates that

Jonathan:

again can go back into home building.

Jonathan:

So, the combination of those mortgage proceeds and the store profits

Jonathan:

plus philanthropy then allows us to really amplify our mission.

Aaron-Interview:

We have a ReStore near us and we love it.

Jonathan:

Oh good.

Aaron-Interview:

We, in fact, when we were renovating our home, we made many

Aaron-Interview:

trips to ReStore . And one of my favorite parts about the ReStore model is not just

Aaron-Interview:

the, the economic benefit, um, that it produces for local chapters, but also

Aaron-Interview:

the environmental impact that it has.

Aaron-Interview:

I mean, this is all stuff that are you know, perfectly good building supplies

Aaron-Interview:

that would otherwise go to landfills.

Aaron-Interview:

Absolutely.

Aaron-Interview:

No, it's, it's a wonderful kind of triple bottom line because we've kept

Aaron-Interview:

hundreds of thousands of tons of materials out of landfills, uh, year by year.

Aaron-Interview:

And, and, uh, so it really is a nice way to do good.

Aaron-Narration:

If you haven't been to a local ReStore, definitely go

Aaron-Narration:

there before a big box retailer for your next home improvement project.

Aaron-Narration:

While ReStore may not always have what you need, they often do.

Aaron-Narration:

At the ReStore near me, I've bought light fixtures, paint, supplies, tools.

Aaron-Narration:

All of this is perfectly good stuff that would be sitting in a landfill instead.

Aaron-Narration:

The Habitat home buying program and retail stores are remarkable

Aaron-Narration:

for their efficiency, leveraged philanthropy as Jonathan calls it.

So here's the thing:

the Habitat model is famous for communities

So here's the thing:

of volunteers or in other words, novices coming out to build homes.

So here's the thing:

Rather than only hiring experienced building crews, Habitat

So here's the thing:

deliberately invites volunteers to help in the construction.

So here's the thing:

This kind of thing flies in the face of efficiency.

So here's the thing:

Economically speaking, we get far more bang for our buck when people

So here's the thing:

specialize in their professions.

So here's the thing:

There's just no way that a group of people working in banks, car dealerships,

So here's the thing:

restaurants, or heaven forbid, universities are going to build a house

So here's the thing:

more efficiently than a team of pros.

So here's the thing:

Trust me, you don't want professors in charge of building your house.

So here's the thing:

This sounds like the kind of strategy that would make any economist or

So here's the thing:

business person roll their eyes.

Aaron-Interview:

If you wanted to build a house efficiently, you wouldn't

Aaron-Interview:

assemble a bunch of random strangers.

Aaron-Interview:

You'd find professionals who are skilled at it.

Aaron-Interview:

Can you talk about why it is that you rely so heavily on volunteers?

Jonathan:

We think in ways it goes back to the very roots of Habitat where it

Jonathan:

started in south Georgia and then in, in West Africa with people coming

Jonathan:

together in a community model to help , originally share cropping farmers, move

Jonathan:

out of shacks into simple, decent homes.

Jonathan:

The, the pastor who came up with the idea of Habitat was named

Jonathan:

Clarence Jordan, and he had started an interracial farm in 1942.

Jonathan:

And you can imagine that was ahead of its time and not very popular.

Jonathan:

And in the sixties, the farm had been bombed and boycotted and harassed

Jonathan:

and, and was really struggling.

Jonathan:

And he grew pulled a group of people together.

Jonathan:

And wrote this incredibly prophetic letter that really was, again, way ahead of

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its time, laying out an idea of impact investing called the Fund for Humanity.

Jonathan:

And that eventually became Habitat for Humanity.

Jonathan:

And what he said, and I think it was so brilliant is, is

Jonathan:

"What the poor need is not charity, but capital.

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Not case workers, but coworkers.

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And what the rich need is a wise, honorable, and just way of divesting

Jonathan:

themselves of their overabundance."

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And he had a view that everyone has something to give, and

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everyone has something to gain, when they work together.

Jonathan:

And I think that ethos, that it's a partnership, we don't build four

Jonathan:

families, we build with families.

Jonathan:

And that experience of building relationship and community is so

Jonathan:

powerful and so missing in society today.

Jonathan:

And so for us, the volunteer piece is not critical from a construction

Jonathan:

strategy, but it's a core part of our mission from a social change strategy.

Jonathan:

And to some extent, if we don't create relationship, we can't change hearts.

Jonathan:

And then it's very hard to overcome NIMBY or to create the policy

Jonathan:

changes that we need to really enable everyone to have decent housing.

Jonathan:

And so, so we see volunteering as a critical component, but much more in terms

Jonathan:

of the way that we change society's hearts than than to specifically be builders

Jonathan:

. Aaron-Narration: In that same

Jonathan:

Clarence Jordan also said this,

Jonathan:

"We fiercely compete with one another as if we were enemies, not brothers.

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We only want to kill human beings for whom Christ died.

Jonathan:

Our cities provide us anonymity, not community.

Jonathan:

Instead of partners, we are aliens and strangers.

Jonathan:

Greed consumes us and self-interest separates us and

Jonathan:

confines us to our own group."

Jonathan:

Jordan continued, "We must have a new spirit, a spirit of

Jonathan:

partnership with one another."

Jonathan:

He wrote that letter in 1968, though it would be easy to think that

Jonathan:

Clarence Jordan wrote it for today.

Jonathan:

Prophetic indeed.

Jonathan:

And so while it might not be the most efficient way to build a home, bringing

Jonathan:

people together in an act of service is meant to build something more.

Jonathan:

And one of the observations I've had, and that I've loved about

Jonathan:

Habitat, is that actually going out and serving together is one of

Jonathan:

the best ways to build relationship and have difficult conversations.

Jonathan:

And so I have built with blacks and whites in South Africa with Protestants

Jonathan:

and Catholics in Northern Ireland, with Christians and Muslims in Egypt,

Jonathan:

with Hindus and Muslims in India.

Jonathan:

And it's not so it's not so funny anymore, I've even bill with

Jonathan:

Democrats and Republicans together.

Jonathan:

So it shows that even the, the greatest barriers can be, can be crossed.

Jonathan:

But we have become economically divided.

Jonathan:

And I actually would suggest that one of the largest divides

Jonathan:

today is an economic divide.

Jonathan:

And then there's a racial component embedded in that.

Jonathan:

One of the programs I love that COVID has forced us to suspend

Jonathan:

temporarily is our global village program where volunteers go overseas.

Jonathan:

And again, that's not because it's a good way to build houses, but I have seen

Jonathan:

just transformation happen when somebody spends a week or two weeks in a community

Jonathan:

with families and builds relationships.

Jonathan:

And I'm very clear when I lead a team of volunteers that we're there

Jonathan:

to learn and build relationships.

Jonathan:

And we have a responsibility to take what we've learned and then go

Jonathan:

do something meaningful about it.

Jonathan:

They don't really need us there to help build the house.

Jonathan:

So we'll work hard while we're there.

Jonathan:

But it really is the, the building experience as a vehicle

Jonathan:

for relationship building.

Jonathan:

And, and in a way that's a relatively small part of our total work, but

Jonathan:

it's a really important part to me.

Jonathan:

Some of our scaling work is much more about making markets work better so

Jonathan:

the families across the world can actually improve their own housing.

Jonathan:

And that's where we've moved from the thousands to the

Jonathan:

millions in terms of impact.

Jonathan:

But I love that more direct and personal and relational

Jonathan:

aspect of our traditional work.

Jonathan:

And we always want to have that element and I would actually argue

Jonathan:

that's needed more than ever right now in this, uh, highly polarized time.

Aaron-Narration:

You might have been surprised to hear that

Aaron-Narration:

community home building is a small part of what Habitat does.

Aaron-Narration:

The reason for that is scalability.

Aaron-Narration:

It's simply impossible for Habitat volunteers to build enough homes

Aaron-Narration:

for the people who need them.

Aaron-Narration:

That's because, as Jonathan noted, markets need to work better in major

Aaron-Narration:

parts of America and around the world.

Aaron-Narration:

Affordable housing is a problem driven by disparities in wealth, not politics.

Aaron-Narration:

The wealthy of all political persuasions push for housing policies that price

Aaron-Narration:

people out of their own communities.

Aaron-Narration:

NIMBY, an acronym that stands for "not in my backyard," describes the pervasive

Aaron-Narration:

opposition to higher density and more affordable housing, including opposition

Aaron-Narration:

to the people who would live in it.

Jonathan:

I grew up in a college town.

Jonathan:

And I talk about that all the time, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Jonathan:

When I grew up, everybody who worked at the university could live in Chapel Hill.

Jonathan:

Now you, you forward 50 years later, 40 years later, and only the

Jonathan:

wealthiest faculty, you know, in the med school or the business school

Jonathan:

can, can afford to live in town.

Jonathan:

Forget service workers, junior faculty can't afford to live in town.

Jonathan:

And so what used to be a mixed income town has really become

Jonathan:

an economically divided town.

Jonathan:

And people are having to commute in from far away.

Jonathan:

And this issue is a bipartisan issue.

Jonathan:

Sadly, otherwise goodhearted people when it comes to welcoming or creating

Jonathan:

mixed income communities become less so.

Jonathan:

And NIMBY, "not in my backyard" in, in, California, it's BANANA, "build absolutely

Jonathan:

nothing anywhere near anything."

Jonathan:

By making it extremely expensive to build or very difficult to build, and

Jonathan:

the way things are zoned, it really has exacerbated this challenge of supply.

Jonathan:

And if you think about college towns, they have an extra piece in which four students

Jonathan:

can actually afford to pay way, way more rent than a family can afford to pay.

Jonathan:

So what happens then is students squeeze out rental housing from families.

Jonathan:

And again, people get pushed further and further out.

Jonathan:

So we have to build more.

Jonathan:

It doesn't mean we have to build more everywhere.

Jonathan:

But we've gotta build more somewhere.

Jonathan:

And mixed income doesn't mean every street has to be mixed income.

Jonathan:

But we think about schools.

Jonathan:

What we know in the inequality data to be overwhelmingly true is that

Jonathan:

low income children who grow up in mixed income communities still

Jonathan:

have quite good social mobility.

Jonathan:

The American dream really holds.

Jonathan:

Low income children who grow up in concentrated poverty have

Jonathan:

almost zero social mobility.

Jonathan:

It takes a minor miracle for change.

Jonathan:

So the data is clear.

Jonathan:

It's really about the heart change.

Jonathan:

And maybe it circles back to sort of the, the that Habitat's volunteer

Jonathan:

work is less a construction strategy than a social change strategy.

Jonathan:

If we can change that perspective from "those people" to "Wait a minute.

Jonathan:

Shouldn't the person taking care of my child in daycare, be

Jonathan:

able to live in our community.

Jonathan:

Shouldn't my pastor be able to live in our community.

Jonathan:

Shouldn't the person taking care of my mom.

Jonathan:

Shouldn't be that police woman who is protecting our neighborhood.

Jonathan:

Shouldn't all these people actually be able to live in

Jonathan:

the same community with us?"

Jonathan:

And if we want to do that, at least around transit in logical places,

Jonathan:

we've got to increase density.

Aaron-Narration:

I saw this very issue play out in my own city.

Aaron-Narration:

We're a college town too, housing tens of thousands of students.

Aaron-Narration:

There's immense demand for what little affordable housing there is such that we

Aaron-Narration:

even fell below a state mandated minimum.

Aaron-Narration:

The city council considered loosening zoning rules to allow more houses to

Aaron-Narration:

rent out accessory apartments, what are called additional dwelling units or ADUs.

Aaron-Narration:

And residents came out in force against the idea.

Aaron-Narration:

One resident said he moved a Provo for the nice neighborhoods and didn't want

Aaron-Narration:

to live in a quote "student ghetto."

Aaron-Narration:

Of course, focusing on students alone, ignores all of the other people in our

Aaron-Narration:

community who need affordable housing.

Aaron-Narration:

By trying to squeeze out students, we squeeze out all the other

Aaron-Narration:

people jonathan mentioned.

Aaron-Narration:

In answer to an email that I wrote supporting the zoning change, a city

Aaron-Narration:

council member replied to say how discouraging the opposition had been.

Aaron-Narration:

In the end, the council capitulated and our community continues to

Aaron-Narration:

have one of the highest housing inflation rates in the country.

Aaron-Narration:

Some version of this story is probably playing out where you live, too.

Aaron-Narration:

Around the world, housing pressures are only going to get worse.

Aaron-Interview:

As we talk about the challenges of Habitat, what are

Aaron-Interview:

the most urgent ones you're thinking about and worrying about now?

Jonathan:

Well, sadly COVID has become a crisis on top of a crisis.

Jonathan:

So in many ways we had a housing crisis globally before COVID, and COVID has

Jonathan:

both revealed and exacerbated that.

Jonathan:

And so even before COVID, for instance, in the United States, you

Jonathan:

had 18 million families spending over half their income on renter housing.

Jonathan:

And, and you think then you have to make unacceptable choices about what

Jonathan:

you don't spend in terms of education and health and food and energy.

Jonathan:

And so, so we already had so many people struggling with affordability, and then

Jonathan:

COVID really exacerbated this divide, where for people with housing and

Jonathan:

with assets and knowledge jobs, COVID was a health crisis, but economically

Jonathan:

actually has been a positive thing.

Jonathan:

The markets have skied, asset prices have exploded.

Jonathan:

Now, if you're in the service economy or the lower income tiers

Jonathan:

in our society without assets, it's just furthered the gap because

Jonathan:

now you can't possibly afford it.

Jonathan:

We've seen housing prices growing at the fastest increase in history in our

Jonathan:

high income countries around the world.

Jonathan:

And so affordability has become even further out of reach.

Jonathan:

And then in low and moderate income countries around the

Jonathan:

world, housing hasn't gone up as much, but incomes have gone down.

Jonathan:

So in both con-, really all our contexts now we've seen affordability get worse.

Jonathan:

And, and that's the urgency.

Aaron-Narration:

It's here that I want to share another story.

Aaron-Narration:

The only time I ever saw my dad become truly overwhelmed was because of a house.

Aaron-Narration:

He worked in commercial real estate for much of his life, and

Aaron-Narration:

that was a boom and bust business.

Aaron-Narration:

Our family was in the throes of another bust and the expensive house that we were

Aaron-Narration:

in became financially impossible for us.

Aaron-Narration:

I was in high school at the time, and I can still remember vividly walking into my

Aaron-Narration:

parents' bedroom to find my dad sobbing.

Aaron-Narration:

I'd never seen him like that before and never did again since.

Aaron-Narration:

He had just gotten news that the bank was foreclosing on our house.

Aaron-Narration:

I was still young and naive enough that I didn't fully appreciate the

Aaron-Narration:

moment, but I understand it now.

Aaron-Narration:

These days, my family and I are lucky enough to live in a house

Aaron-Narration:

and community that we love.

Aaron-Narration:

And we've been here for almost nine years.

Aaron-Narration:

It's the longest I've ever lived in one place.

Aaron-Narration:

I'm overwhelmed at the thought of bearing the weight of that

Aaron-Narration:

same moment that my dad did.

Aaron-Narration:

It breaks my heart every time I think back on it.

Aaron-Narration:

These problems persist and get worse because many people are blessed enough

Aaron-Narration:

to never have this kind of experience.

Aaron-Narration:

People in power statistically are more likely to have come from good housing.

Aaron-Narration:

So they have a harder time appreciating the urgency of its absence.

Jonathan:

The other challenge, I think, on the "why" is that most

Jonathan:

people in positions of power and influence grew up in good housing,

Jonathan:

which is of course self-fulfilling.

Jonathan:

So I think it's not always visceral in the same way that education and health is.

Jonathan:

We all experience good health or poor health.

Jonathan:

We experience education.

Jonathan:

Many, many people have never experienced poor housing.

Jonathan:

It's it's making visible that invisible problem for people who've never

Jonathan:

known what it is not to have good.

Aaron-Narration:

This lack of understanding is a practical

Aaron-Narration:

failing, not just a moral one.

Aaron-Narration:

Decent housing is among the most high impact ways to

Aaron-Narration:

improve the life of a family.

Aaron-Narration:

If you find yourself wanting to help people and feel overwhelmed

Aaron-Narration:

at where to start, housing is a great place to get involved.

Aaron-Interview:

There are a lot of different ways to help people.

Aaron-Interview:

What is it that makes helping them get into home so unique compared to

Aaron-Interview:

all the other ways that we can help?

Jonathan:

It's such an important question.

Jonathan:

And we realize sometimes we jump right by the why and get

Jonathan:

to the, the how and the what.

Jonathan:

And, and I would say, of course, there are so many important causes and we've

Jonathan:

been guilty sometimes as other nonprofits have of saying, well, if we just solve

Jonathan:

education, everything will be great.

Jonathan:

If we just solve health, everything will be great.

Jonathan:

If we just solve income everything will be great.

Jonathan:

Housing is not the only need, but what I would argue is in many

Jonathan:

ways, it's a prerequisite for all the other things we want.

Jonathan:

So we know it's so deeply correlated.

Jonathan:

If you have good stable and healthy housing, then the

Jonathan:

health benefits for a child are significant and measurably better.

Jonathan:

If they are healthy, then they do better in school.

Jonathan:

If they do better in school, they have a better chance of getting income

Jonathan:

and being able to support themselves.

Jonathan:

So there's a whole parade.

Jonathan:

If you pull housing out of that equation, the chances of a child staying healthy

Jonathan:

and doing well in school plummet.

Jonathan:

And so what we know is, is in many ways, it's a, it's a

Jonathan:

core piece of the foundation.

Jonathan:

But we also know that you need all those elements for a healthy community.

Jonathan:

And so increasingly we want to make sure not only that we build good, healthy

Jonathan:

houses that are affordable, but we build them in healthy communities where a

Jonathan:

child can grow, as we say, into all the God intends for her life or his life.

Jonathan:

And so it is certainly not sufficient, but, but if we don't

Jonathan:

deal with housing, we won't achieve everything else we're trying to do.

Aaron-Narration:

This is a good time to tell you about the range of programs

Aaron-Narration:

that Habitat and its affiliates operate to improve housing in communities.

Aaron-Narration:

In addition to home construction, they help improve housing for senior

Aaron-Narration:

citizens so they can age in place.

Aaron-Narration:

They respond to disasters with emergency housing.

Aaron-Narration:

And they provide financial education to prospective home buyers.

Aaron-Narration:

All of their efforts are being driven by research backed insights

Aaron-Narration:

and to what creates measurable improvements to living conditions.

Aaron-Narration:

For example, their neighborhood revitalization program is based on

Aaron-Narration:

a quality of life framework that measures the needs in a community

Aaron-Narration:

so they can target the improvements that make the biggest difference.

Aaron-Narration:

There's a spirit of innovation at Habitat that keeps them looking for new ideas.

Aaron-Interview:

What have you not tried yet at Habitat that you want

Aaron-Interview:

to try or that you think needs doing.

Jonathan:

Yeah, I think one of the areas, this was fun because we're doing

Jonathan:

a lot of experimentation around what we call market development, one of the

Jonathan:

areas I think we have under invested in our new ways of building, especially

Jonathan:

in the, in the high income context.

Jonathan:

So if you think about the way a house is built in the US, it

Jonathan:

doesn't look that different than a house being built 50 years ago.

Jonathan:

And you think about all the innovation.

Jonathan:

And so I think we need to do more.

Jonathan:

We've done lots of tests.

Jonathan:

So we actually just built our first 3D printed house in Phoenix.

Jonathan:

And we've had all sorts of net zero and different kinds of houses.

Jonathan:

But I think, you know, there are chances to scale with modular, which is, I think

Jonathan:

misperceived and, and we, where houses could be built in areas that don't have

Jonathan:

a lot of volunteers, but have a lot of need and the volunteers and families

Jonathan:

could finish the houses, but you would leverage the skilled labor and be able to

Jonathan:

build much faster with modular partners.

Jonathan:

I think these partnerships, we, I'd love to see more of where private builders are

Jonathan:

building communities and invite Habitat in and have a Habitat component of a bigger

Jonathan:

community, just as Habitat sometimes is developing larger subdivisions

Jonathan:

and inviting private developers in.

Jonathan:

But, you know, can we both model and participate?

Jonathan:

In creating mixed income, but I do think new, new building techniques.

Jonathan:

We're equity owner with our shelter venture fund in the first 3D

Jonathan:

printed house company in India.

Jonathan:

And they just built their first houses.

Jonathan:

And I do think finding new sustainable ways to build faster and, and less

Jonathan:

expensively is a key part of the future.

Aaron-Interview:

When you think of 10 years from now with

Aaron-Interview:

Habitat, what do you hope to see?

Aaron-Interview:

I mean, there's so much, you're doing so much yet to be done.

Aaron-Interview:

What do you hope the next 10 years?

Jonathan:

I think for me, it's, it's expanding on and living into

Jonathan:

the strategic direction we've already started, which would be not

Jonathan:

to build our way out of the need.

Jonathan:

And, and in some ways the, the huge pivot for us at Habitat was moving from

Jonathan:

how many houses can we build, which was a great goal to, "What would it take to

Jonathan:

meaningfully reduce the housing deficit and every geography that we serve?"

Jonathan:

And to do that forces a more systematic approach to, to lowering barriers.

Jonathan:

So what I'm really consumed with now is how do we lower the barriers so that

Jonathan:

markets work for low income families, whether they're in Cambodia or in Atlanta?

Jonathan:

And we're trying to address all of those with our market development work and

Jonathan:

our center for innovation and shelter.

Jonathan:

And we become a global leader in housing finance.

Jonathan:

Now the US, I would say the market is broken.

Jonathan:

It's not, you know, it's not able to build housing that's affordable

Jonathan:

for a huge swath of our population.

Jonathan:

So when I think of Habitat 10 years from now, my hope is we would be the

Jonathan:

most influential housing organization in the world, measured not so much

Jonathan:

in how much we have built, though I hope we'll build a massive number of

Jonathan:

houses, but measured in the fact that we can actually see housing deficits

Jonathan:

going down and the supply of housing meaningfully increasing for families

Jonathan:

in all the, the countries that we.

Aaron-Narration:

Think of all the ways that our homes can be better,

Aaron-Narration:

they could be more efficient, more comfortable, more resilient over time.

Aaron-Narration:

They could be easier to finance or could adapt better to the needs of families as

Aaron-Narration:

they change from one year to the next.

Aaron-Narration:

Working and schooling from home during COVID revealed a whole host of

Aaron-Narration:

challenges in the places where we live.

Aaron-Narration:

When we consider how essential a home is to our wellbeing, it makes sense

Aaron-Narration:

to put more creativity into making homes a place where we can flourish.

Aaron-Narration:

And for that to happen, we need more people to have decent homes.

Aaron-Narration:

Habitat for Humanity isn't the only organization working on this problem, but

Aaron-Narration:

they are tackling the housing issues faced by those who are at the greatest risk.

Aaron-Narration:

If this is something that motivates you too, you can learn more about the

Aaron-Narration:

impact and meaning of their work in Jonathan's book, Our Better Angels.

Aaron-Narration:

It's full of beautiful and motivating stories from Habitats

Aaron-Narration:

programs around the world.

Aaron-Narration:

And if you're ready to jump in to help, visit Habitat.org to learn more.

Aaron-Narration:

Now, let's take a break for a word from our sponsor.

Aaron-Narration:

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Aaron-Narration:

full of pitfalls and other dangers.

Aaron-Narration:

Having good intentions isn't enough.

Aaron-Narration:

What you need are ethical skills.

Aaron-Narration:

The Business Ethics Field Guide leads you through the trickiest of

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dilemmas faced at work, and written by authors with decades of experience.

Aaron-Narration:

The book guide you through the 13 most common ethical dilemmas that people face.

Aaron-Narration:

It gives you the expertise and tools you need to navigate them safely.

Aaron-Narration:

But more than just keeping you safe, it also trains you to be

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an ethical leader that others can follow with trust and confidence.

Aaron-Narration:

You can find The Business Ethics Field Guide at Amazon, Apple Books,

Aaron-Narration:

Audible, and at MeritLeadership.com.

Aaron-Narration:

Here in the second half of this episode, we have a chance to learn

Aaron-Narration:

about the path that led Jonathan Reckford to becoming CEO of Habitat.

Aaron-Narration:

Like all of our stories, his story begins at home.

Aaron-Narration:

We'll begin with the legacy of his remarkable grandmother, milicent Fenwick.

Aaron-Narration:

Representative Fenwick was a member of Congress from 1975 to 1983, representing

Aaron-Narration:

New Jersey, where she championed causes like civil rights and prison reform.

Aaron-Narration:

Legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite called her the conscience of Congress.

Jonathan:

You know, she had, in some ways, a storybook life in

Jonathan:

some ways, a really hard life.

Jonathan:

And as I got older, thinking about how awful it was, her parents

Jonathan:

were on the Lucitania when it was torpedoed by the Germans.

Jonathan:

And she lost her mom at a young age.

Jonathan:

She, you know, never finished high school because she went

Jonathan:

to Europe, which was exciting.

Jonathan:

And she was actually very well educated.

Jonathan:

But then had a terrible marriage at a time where divorce was scandalous

Jonathan:

and had didn't have a high school diploma, so she couldn't get a job.

Jonathan:

Started doing copywriting and modeling and ended up being the

Jonathan:

war editor for Vogue magazine.

Jonathan:

And then went into public life at quite an advanced age and started in the state

Jonathan:

legislature in New Jersey and led the civil rights commission for the state of

Jonathan:

New Jersey for 14 years, starting in 1958.

Aaron-Narration:

Jonathan's grandmother was a critical influence for the way

Aaron-Narration:

he thought of his place in the world.

Aaron-Narration:

Listen to how she shaped who he is.

Jonathan:

I was actually just reading one of her books and it's remarkable

Jonathan:

how her calls to action from the 1960s are still relevant today.

Jonathan:

And she had a huge passion for justice and the her life verse from, from scripture

Jonathan:

that she would quote to me almost every time I saw her was from Micah 6:8.

Jonathan:

She said, "He has shown you, man, what is good.

Jonathan:

And what does the Lord require of you?

Jonathan:

But to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

Jonathan:

And those were her, her marching orders.

Jonathan:

And, and slowly that's become a, a life verse for me as well.

Jonathan:

And then she would ask the grandchildren what we were gonna do to be useful.

Jonathan:

And her idea of the good life is we're supposed to be useful.

Jonathan:

And I found her fascinating.

Jonathan:

Originally I was gonna go into politics because I thought she was so cool.

Jonathan:

And she was such a fighter for human and civil rights.

Jonathan:

And I really respected that.

Jonathan:

And she was not your conventional grandmother.

Jonathan:

She, uh, it was funny.

Jonathan:

She was stubborn.

Jonathan:

She smoked cigarettes and, and got emphysema.

Jonathan:

Her doctor said she couldn't smoke cigarettes anymore, so she smoked

Jonathan:

a pipe, which was a little unusual.

Jonathan:

She was this elegant, patrician woman, and who cared

Jonathan:

so much about poverty issues.

Jonathan:

And Gary Trudeau met her and then created a character in the

Jonathan:

comic strip dunes bay about her.

Jonathan:

So she got a lot of notoriety around that, but Walter Cronkite called

Jonathan:

her the Conscience of Congress.

Jonathan:

And she just had this kind of iron view of what was right and

Jonathan:

wrong and, and fought for that.

Jonathan:

And so I.

Jonathan:

I absorbed a lot and I just found her fascinating.

Jonathan:

And now it was a little scary, you know, she expected 10 year olds to,

Jonathan:

you know, wear coat and tie to dinner and sit up straight and hold your fork

Jonathan:

properly and, and be able to discuss food problems in Sub-Saharan Africa, which,

Jonathan:

you know, I found both fascinating and terrifying, but, but really interesting.

Jonathan:

And so I was, you know, very blessed to have that relationship and, and,

Jonathan:

and that really did, I think, plant the seeds for me, certainly along with my

Jonathan:

parents, around wanting to have a life of service, though I certainly didn't

Jonathan:

know what that was gonna look like.

Aaron-Narration:

Jonathan's parents also helped him see how

Aaron-Narration:

his life wasn't just for himself.

Aaron-Narration:

Serving others pervaded their family and home life.

Jonathan:

My father was a classics professor and my mom stayed home

Jonathan:

to raise our large family, but was actually a, had lot of personal

Jonathan:

courage and, and was one of the first people associated with university to

Jonathan:

be arrested for picketing restaurants in the, in the desegregation times.

Jonathan:

Our family had always supported women's prisons, which desperately

Jonathan:

needed reform in the, in the fifties and sixties and, and had really

Jonathan:

worked towards justice issues.

Aaron-Narration:

So how did this young man, raised to act justly, love mercy

Aaron-Narration:

and walk humbly, find his way to Habitat?

Aaron-Narration:

You'd be excused for thinking it was a straight line, but

Aaron-Narration:

it wasn't even close to that.

Aaron-Narration:

It's a fascinating winding path that he walked upon leaving home.

Jonathan:

I was gonna go to law school and then go into politics.

Jonathan:

And I came to the shocking realization, my senior in college that I actually

Jonathan:

didn't really wanna be a lawyer.

Jonathan:

I just thought that's what you did to go into politics.

Jonathan:

And so I had to come up with another plan.

Jonathan:

And with, you know, embarrassing hubris went up to wall street and

Jonathan:

told them I would learn finance fast and they could teach other

Jonathan:

people how to communicate, despite having never taken a business class.

Jonathan:

And, and I was an English PolySci major.

Jonathan:

And then I suffered mightily for that for a couple of years at Goldman Sachs.

Jonathan:

But it was a great education and I learned a huge amount.

Jonathan:

This was the early eighties and a and a boom time.

Jonathan:

And one of the things I learned too is I probably wasn't cut

Jonathan:

out to be an investment banker.

Jonathan:

And, and I think that was a life lesson in the sense that when I looked around,

Jonathan:

I was a competitive, ambitious person.

Jonathan:

And I realized if I competed in the wrong arena, I wasn't gonna end up with

Jonathan:

the kind of life I was looking for.

Jonathan:

To win at Goldman Sachs in that era, I couldn't lead the kind of life I had

Jonathan:

imagined living because I was working all the time and that had squeezed out

Jonathan:

faith and, and service and, and all the other things that were important.

Jonathan:

But the first big inflection point for me was, rather than going straight to grad

Jonathan:

school, I went off to Korea . I was very blessed to get a grant from the Henry Luce

Jonathan:

Foundation to work for a year in, in Asia.

Jonathan:

And Korea was gonna host the Olympics.

Jonathan:

I loved sports, ended up negotiating a job.

Jonathan:

I got to work on the first international Korean equity

Jonathan:

offering from a Korean company and went over to Korea with Goldman.

Jonathan:

They didn't know I was a junior slave.

Jonathan:

And I set up a marketing job with the Olympic organizing

Jonathan:

committee for the '88 games.

Jonathan:

And I was so excited.

Jonathan:

And then to my enormous surprise, they said, "We see all this

Jonathan:

rowing in your background."

Jonathan:

And I'd been a competitive rower.

Jonathan:

"And we just, we qualify because we're the host country and we

Jonathan:

just fired our rowing coach.

Jonathan:

Would you help coach our rowing team?"

Jonathan:

And I said, no, I'm completely unqualified.

Jonathan:

Even though they kept coming back and saying, we really

Jonathan:

want you to consider this.

Jonathan:

So I actually left Goldman early, went to the US rowing coaching colleges.

Jonathan:

The US coaches were very generous and not very scared of the Koreans.

Jonathan:

And so I ended up living in the Korean training camp with all the

Jonathan:

coaches and athletes for that year.

Jonathan:

And it could not have been a more complete departure from anything that was familiar.

Jonathan:

And that was such an important year of learning about the world.

Jonathan:

I got to travel a lot after the year of work across Asia, it expanded my

Jonathan:

kind of view of the world dramatically.

Jonathan:

And I also really grew in my faith.

Jonathan:

And, and so that was a, a really transformational year.

Aaron-Narration:

This year abroad was a chance for Jonathan to

Aaron-Narration:

reset his perspective on the world and to learn an important lesson

Aaron-Narration:

on how his career could grow.

Aaron-Narration:

If you're still trying to figure out how to find the work where you belong,

Aaron-Narration:

what he says next is excellent advice.

Jonathan:

I think, and it expanded my vision of the world.

Jonathan:

Certainly, you know, back then now the world is so much smaller, but

Jonathan:

you know, Asia was so far away, so exotic, so different and it, you

Jonathan:

know, traveling across the region and, and then going deep in one

Jonathan:

country was so, so deeply impactful.

Jonathan:

And it's funny, I found, which certainly another life lesson that, that as I

Jonathan:

focused more on learning and growth than sort of advancing my career, and, and

Jonathan:

it's easier to say now looking back, but whenever I was really focused on advancing

Jonathan:

my career, my career would stall.

Jonathan:

When I was really focused on achieving something interesting

Jonathan:

and trying to get something done, my career would, would accelerate.

Aaron-Narration:

So when Jonathan came back to the US, he went on for an

Aaron-Narration:

MBA, choosing Stanford because it had a program for nonprofit leadership.

Aaron-Narration:

And again, you might think that this is what sent him to Habitat, but

Aaron-Narration:

he still had more exploring to do.

Jonathan:

That started a series of unexpected jobs.

Jonathan:

And my career never made sense.

Jonathan:

My dad had kind of gotten one job for three years and then one for 43 years,

Jonathan:

that was more my image of a career.

Jonathan:

And I kept losing my jobs very quickly, but I worked for Marriot and then got

Jonathan:

laid off just after being promoted.

Jonathan:

When, when the S&L crisis hit Marriott got in serious financial trouble.

Jonathan:

And then that led to getting to go to Disney, which was a company I'd always

Jonathan:

found fascinating and interesting and worked on new businesses for

Jonathan:

the real estate arm of Disney.

Jonathan:

And just when we were starting our family, and, and I was debating

Jonathan:

sort of what would make sense from a career in Disney, particularly

Jonathan:

not wanting to move to California.

Jonathan:

I was recruited to Circuit City stores.

Jonathan:

And, you know, they are dead now, which is such a cautionary tale,

Jonathan:

but back then they were one of the top retailers in the country.

Jonathan:

And they had just started CarMax.

Jonathan:

And I thought it was fascinating that they were gonna disrupt the car business.

Jonathan:

And I had the chance to go to be head of strategy and

Jonathan:

communications for Circuit City city.

Jonathan:

And we took CarMax public.

Jonathan:

And then I was recruited to be president of another dead retailer.

Jonathan:

So all my business credibility is now shot, but it was president of

Jonathan:

stores for a company called Musicland, which back then was the largest

Jonathan:

specialty retailer music and movies.

Jonathan:

And, and then Best Buy bought Musicland.

Jonathan:

And I thought, wow, I actually had stayed in the private sector

Jonathan:

way longer than I'd ever planned.

Jonathan:

So I stayed for a year to help with the acquisition and then did what I

Jonathan:

advise everybody not to do and rejected without a plan other than I wanted,

Jonathan:

maybe it was time to go to go serve.

Aaron-Narration:

None of this sounds like what you'd expect to find in a nonprofit

Aaron-Narration:

leader, but the truth is that now more than ever, our careers can follow a whole

Aaron-Narration:

series of unexpected twists and turns.

Aaron-Narration:

All along the way, Jonathan benefited from having a strong

launching point:

a decent home.

launching point:

What came next was, again, unexpected and unconventional.

launching point:

After reaching impressive heights of career success, Jonathan turned down

launching point:

an offer at Best Buy and stayed home.

launching point:

Instead of taking a new job, he took a break.

Jonathan:

I would say that that period right after I left Best Buy

Jonathan:

was the next big inflection point.

Jonathan:

And I think sometimes I've described it as, you know,

Jonathan:

learning from the white spaces.

Jonathan:

Because the resume is all the, is all the, the stuff everybody recognizes, but

Jonathan:

sometimes so much of that growth is in, what's not, you know, not on the resume.

Jonathan:

And what happened is I left Best Buy with an unusually tough non-compete,

Jonathan:

where essentially I could not make any money for, for 18 months.

Jonathan:

And with my wife's blessing, after a little time off, went on an

Jonathan:

international mission trip to rural India.

Jonathan:

And I'd always wanted to do something like that.

Jonathan:

It was very tough with a young family and, and a very busy job.

Jonathan:

And so in this case I went with a group of pastors and served just for

Jonathan:

a couple of weeks in central India.

Jonathan:

And God just broke my heart all over again around social justice issues.

Jonathan:

And, and we were serving alongside the Bunge.

Jonathan:

And, and those of you who are aware of the caste system in India, even

Jonathan:

though it's not supposed to be enforced anymore, it's still very real.

Jonathan:

And the Bunge are literally sort of the bottom of the bottom of the of the caste

Jonathan:

system, where they're only allowed to hand clean latrines and clean up dead animals.

Jonathan:

And they are not even allowed to live in community.

Jonathan:

And about when we were there, this was 20 plus years ago, about half the kids

Jonathan:

were dying before their 13th birthday from the conditions they were living in.

Jonathan:

And it just, it just shattered me.

Jonathan:

And I came back from that trip, and with that, saw what relatively small

Jonathan:

interventions could do to fundamentally change the course for these children.

Aaron-Narration:

A heartbroken open gave Jonathan a chance to finally

Aaron-Narration:

head in the direction that would become his professional home.

Aaron-Narration:

He could feel something called a divine irritation.

Aaron-Narration:

Following that itch though was a longer, more challenging path than he thought.

Jonathan:

The pastor Clarence Jordan had a phrase I like.

Jonathan:

He called it a divine irritation.

Jonathan:

You know, that there are, there are times in life where

Jonathan:

you see things that upset you.

Jonathan:

And we have lots of that in our society.

Jonathan:

And the response is "That's terrible.

Jonathan:

Somebody ought to do something about that."

Jonathan:

And they, they change the channel.

Jonathan:

And I think that that idea of a divine irritation or, or spark is that you have

Jonathan:

that same reaction and the response, "I'm gonna do something about it."

Jonathan:

And you get off the couch and you get out into the community, decide you're gonna

Jonathan:

do something to help make it better.

Jonathan:

So that was a little bit of my, you know, divine irritation moment.

Jonathan:

And I came back and turned down a couple of really good business jobs

Jonathan:

right away, because I had a plan, you know, with God and we had a deal.

Jonathan:

And I got to the finals of a couple of nonprofit jobs.

Jonathan:

And in both cases I was one of the finalists, but didn't get it.

Jonathan:

And they hired somebody, uh, who had already run a nonprofit,

Jonathan:

which was eminently reasonable.

Jonathan:

And then suddenly for the first time in my life, all the doors

Jonathan:

closed and I, and suddenly I was interviewing and not getting things.

Jonathan:

I hadn't really had to actively look for a job since the beginning of my career.

Jonathan:

And it was such an important growth opportunity.

Jonathan:

And this is actually pretty embarrassing to admit, but if I'm really honest and I

Jonathan:

probably wouldn't have known this at the time, my deal was, "God, I'll do anything

Jonathan:

you want as long as it meets my social geographic financial ego gratification,

Jonathan:

another long list of criteria"

Jonathan:

And in a way it was a wonderful time for my family.

Jonathan:

I coached every team.

Jonathan:

I was the dad on all the field trips.

Jonathan:

I, you know, I was, I was doing a ton of volunteer work at my

Jonathan:

church and in the community.

Jonathan:

And so it was very rich on the one side and it was also tough on my

Jonathan:

ego because too much of my identity was probably caught up in my career.

Jonathan:

Yeah.

Jonathan:

And that dragged on, I had planned on six months sabbatical, which suddenly

Jonathan:

became a year, became 18 months.

Jonathan:

And then to my surprise, I'd had an advocation of coaching and helping pastors

Jonathan:

with leadership and helping grow churches.

Jonathan:

My career had been about growing businesses.

Jonathan:

My volunteer work had been about growing churches and my local church

Jonathan:

asked if I would essentially be the COO or executive pastor of the church,

Jonathan:

so the senior pastor could really focus on being the spiritual leader

Jonathan:

and not manage all the ministry teams.

Jonathan:

And everyone I trusted career advice said, don't do this.

Jonathan:

This is career suicide.

Jonathan:

And Ashley and I really had, you know, prayed about it and had a strong sense of

Jonathan:

conviction that this is what we should do.

Jonathan:

And, and again, this is one of those stories that works in the rear

view mirror:

right after I decided that, I got a call from one of the

view mirror:

big search firms, you know, about work running an internet retailer.

view mirror:

And I remember taking a deep breath and saying, gosh, that sounds amazing.

view mirror:

I'm gonna go work for my local church.

view mirror:

And I thought I "Well you know, I'm off the market."

view mirror:

And, and I have, I have exited the market forever.

Aaron-Narration:

You know what's coming next.

Aaron-Narration:

After finally settling into a role in his community where he was doing work

Aaron-Narration:

that scratched the divine irritation, that's when Habitat came calling.

Aaron-Narration:

Just not for him, at least as far as they knew.

Jonathan:

And two years later, I was happily working at the church and

Jonathan:

the same partner called up and said, "Jonathan, do you know anybody who'd

Jonathan:

be interested in Habitat for Humanity?"

Jonathan:

And if I could have named one job that, that actually checked every

Jonathan:

one of that unreasonable list of criteria, it would've been Habitat.

Jonathan:

And I just remember asking, "Does it have to be somebody famous?"

Jonathan:

Assuming, I thought like everyone, president Carter runs Habitat

Jonathan:

and why is he stepping down?

Jonathan:

And, and that they would pick somebody like him.

Aaron-Narration:

So Jonathan told his friend that he wanted the job

Aaron-Narration:

and he threw his hat into the ring.

Aaron-Narration:

From consideration from among the many qualified candidates, the board chose him.

Aaron-Narration:

And after years of exploring, and at times wandering, Jonathan

Aaron-Narration:

finally found his professional home.

Jonathan:

I think for me, Habitat was that perfect merge of vocation and avocation

Jonathan:

and has been, you know, endlessly complex, but also incredibly rewarding.

Jonathan:

And so it, you know, it was probably the first time in my career I could

Jonathan:

honestly say there's nothing else I want to do, which, which wouldn't have been

Jonathan:

true for any of those earlier steps.

Jonathan:

But I could also look back and see how all those, particularly, including

Jonathan:

the church and that time off were important parts of being ready or

Jonathan:

prepared to, to walk into Habitat.

Aaron-Interview:

Why is this your professional home after all

Aaron-Interview:

those years of, of wandering?

Jonathan:

Well, you know, I was a little bit flip, but I remember the board said,

Jonathan:

"You've changed jobs, an awful lot.

Jonathan:

Are you gonna stay?"

Jonathan:

And my comment back was, "No.

Jonathan:

You know, as soon as poverty housing is done, I'm outta here."

Jonathan:

Well, we, we are not winning yet.

Jonathan:

But also Habitat keeps changing and I find, you know, it's

Jonathan:

incredibly complex at the heart.

Jonathan:

I'd been a volunteer and a donor to Habitat before joining, but it

Jonathan:

is a mission I fully believe in.

Jonathan:

President Carter says so beautifully, you know, it's the best way he

Jonathan:

knows to put his personal faith into action in a very tangible way.

Jonathan:

I, I could get bored easily and Habitat has never been boring to say the least.

Jonathan:

I think I found something that really matters.

Jonathan:

And you know, at some point I'll need to get outta the way so the

Jonathan:

next leader can take it forward.

Jonathan:

But so far it has been, it's really been a challenging, but joyful experience.

Jonathan:

And, and I love getting to be a part of it.

Aaron-Interview:

What advice do you have for people who have impact as a

Aaron-Interview:

goal for themselves in the way that they spend their lives, whether it's

Aaron-Interview:

professionally or personally, especially when you think of people who are at

Aaron-Interview:

the early stage of their careers?

Aaron-Interview:

I work with a lot of students who want a life of meaning, not just

Aaron-Interview:

a life of professional success.

Aaron-Interview:

What advice would you have for people like them?

Jonathan:

You know, I, I actually still love talking to students

Jonathan:

because I was so grateful that people took me seriously as a student.

Jonathan:

And, and I, I always make time to do that.

Jonathan:

The first lesson actually goes to my own experience, which is "Who before What."

Jonathan:

I think people get so focused on what, and I, I really encourage young people

Jonathan:

to think hard about character and their core values because those core

Jonathan:

values create the boundary lines and that that's how you navigate the storms.

Jonathan:

We're all gonna have storms.

Jonathan:

And so I'm a huge fan of "Who before What."

Jonathan:

And then second, the best advice I got when I was a young unformed ambitious

Jonathan:

business school student was from John Gardner, who was one of my heroes.

Jonathan:

And he retired from this incredible career, starting Independent Sector,

Jonathan:

serving a bunch of presidents, and he, and he taught at Stanford for a

Jonathan:

couple years at the end of his career.

Jonathan:

I took a leadership seminar with him and he said, which I was so

Jonathan:

surprised at the time as a 24, 25 year old said, "It doesn't matter

Jonathan:

what you do in your twenties.

Jonathan:

Just think of twenties as continuing education and try as much as you

Jonathan:

can and learn as much as you can.

Jonathan:

And you'll eventually figure out what you're really supposed to do."

Jonathan:

And that was actually helpful in the sense that it took the pressure

Jonathan:

off to have the perfect first job.

Jonathan:

And this sort of idea, that any misstep along the way is gonna

Jonathan:

mean your whole career is not gonna turn out the way it's supposed to.

Jonathan:

And I think that even more, that's true now, I think more careers will

Jonathan:

look like my kind of career where you're doing diagonal, and lateral and,

Jonathan:

and creative moves, versus sort of a traditional, straight upward trajectory.

Jonathan:

And I actually think the world needs more multi-sector leaders.

Jonathan:

You know, when you're young is the, is the, the least risky time to try

Jonathan:

to follow your heart a little bit.

Jonathan:

And the other one I would advise is get international experience.

Jonathan:

So even if you spend your whole career in the US, and we're a global world,

Jonathan:

and I think the, the ability to work across boundaries and across cultures

Jonathan:

is, is so fundamentally important.

Aaron-Narration:

It's time to bring this episode to a close.

Aaron-Narration:

And we'll do it with this insight from Jonathan.

Aaron-Narration:

Thinking about his work and about his path to get there, left me pondering more

Aaron-Narration:

deeply what the idea of home really means.

Aaron-Narration:

So I asked him.

Aaron-Interview:

When you think of home as a concept, as a principle, as a value,

Aaron-Interview:

what, what, what has it meant to you?

Jonathan:

I grew up, you know, in a safe, you know, home for me.

Jonathan:

Except for a sabbatical year, when my dad was in England, I grew up and lived

Jonathan:

in one house all the way, you know, from, from childhood through college.

Jonathan:

And I took that for granted there.

Jonathan:

And that meant I had a place to come back to.

Jonathan:

I had identity.

Jonathan:

In, in Arabic, actually the word for home, "bayt," ties to much

Jonathan:

more than four walls in a roof.

Jonathan:

It's it really is that sense of identity.

Jonathan:

And I think for people, home means you can go out into the world because you can be

Jonathan:

launched, because you have that foundation and you have that core identity from which

Jonathan:

you can go and explore and take risks.

Jonathan:

As we talked about the practical side, it means better health

Jonathan:

and better education and better prospects and, and earning potential.

Jonathan:

But I think at a deeper level home is, is that foundation for family

Jonathan:

and community and, and security.

Jonathan:

That allows us to venture out because you, you know, you can come home and

Jonathan:

it is something we should never take for granted and something we believe

Jonathan:

everyone should be able to experience.

Aaron-Narration:

Being a person means being drawn to home.

Aaron-Narration:

As much as we love to explore the world and discover new places,

Aaron-Narration:

all of us find deep connection in having a special place to sleep,

Aaron-Narration:

eat, and be with those that we love.

Aaron-Narration:

Home means having a place to belong.

Aaron-Narration:

And even though growing up I moved more times than most people do in

Aaron-Narration:

a lifetime, and I know this is true because I checked, that feeling

Aaron-Narration:

of where I belong never went away.

Aaron-Narration:

All of those places feel in some way like home, even if I never see them again.

Aaron-Narration:

They were places where I was safe, and comfortable, and loved.

Aaron-Narration:

Everyone deserves a place like this.

Aaron-Narration:

Many, thanks to Jonathan Reckford for giving me his time and

Aaron-Narration:

sharing his personal story and the work of Habitat for Humanity.

Aaron-Narration:

I'm also grateful for the Habitat communications team, especially

Aaron-Narration:

Erika Boyce, for assisting with our conversation and helping

Aaron-Narration:

me learn more about their work.

Aaron-Narration:

If you enjoyed How to Help, please take a moment to give us a positive

Aaron-Narration:

review in your podcast app.

Aaron-Narration:

It really helps us reach more listeners.

Aaron-Narration:

Also be sure to subscribe so you can get our new episodes automatically.

Aaron-Narration:

Next time, I'll have a conversation with Dr.

Aaron-Narration:

Naa Ashley Vanderpuye-Donton, author of the book, Hardship and Hope.

Aaron-Narration:

For the last 20 years, she's run the West Africa AIDS Foundation

Aaron-Narration:

and the International Health Care Clinic in Accra, Ghana, along

Aaron-Narration:

with its founder, Eddie Donton.

Aaron-Narration:

The two have been tireless advocates and caregivers for people with HIV, and yet

Aaron-Narration:

have done it with an abundance of hope.

Aaron-Narration:

Dr.

Aaron-Narration:

Naa is also delightful, and you're gonna love my conversation with her.

Aaron-Narration:

To stay up to date with How to Help, subscribe to my email newsletter, where

Aaron-Narration:

I share ideas for how to have more meaning in your life and in your work.

Aaron-Narration:

You can subscribe or read the archives at how-to-help.com.

Aaron-Narration:

Our production team for this episode included Ty Bingham, yours

Aaron-Narration:

truly, and Joseph Sandholtz, who did the editing and the music.

Aaron-Narration:

Our music comes from the Pleasant Pictures Music Club.

Aaron-Narration:

If you want to use their music in your projects, you can find a link

Aaron-Narration:

and a discount code in our show notes.

Aaron-Narration:

Finally as always, thank you so much for listening.

Aaron-Narration:

I'm Aaron Miller and this has been How to Help.