After establishing the Osprey Foundation in 2003, Bill Clarke retired from a successful career in finance to devote his full time to the foundation in 2007. His work with Mayan communities in the highlands of Guatemala helped shape his passion for the current focus areas in WASH and cleaner cooking solutions in the developing world. Extensive travel in an ever-shrinking world has highlighted his pursuit of another foundation focus: ecumenical and interfaith relations. Personal contact is particularly important to him in developing a close rapport and understanding of grantees and the issues they are working to solve. In addition to his duties as president of the foundation, he serves in an advisory capacity on the Health Advisory Board of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Advisory Board for OSI – Baltimore as board chair, and the Impact Investment Advisory Committee for LWR IMA. Bill holds a BS degree in finance from Lehigh University. He proudly drives a Tesla and lives in a LEED Platinum home as part of his commitment to a healthy and sustainable planet.
Now that you have retired at such an early age, what engages you?
After a career in finance, I really wanted to have a chance at a second career where I could give back. I wanted to work with people to make change and have an effect on lives that were marginalized. What I want to work on is helping disenfranchised people get a break, get a leg up into the economic structure in any number of ways, whether it’s through education, employment or the justice system.
What motivated you to start getting involved to make change?
I started getting involved with a church group and worked in Guatemala and Cuba, and ironically, it was by working internationally that I also became aware of what the needs are locally.
Because you’ve never lived in the city, what makes you care so deeply for Baltimore?
Most of my interaction with Baltimore for many years was coming in to attend theater or have dinner–not really getting involved in the life of the city. There are so many people who have written off the city, who come in for dinner and say, “Thank God I don’t live in that neighborhood” and go home. Yet we hear Thomas Friedman tell us the world is flat and that concept rings true to me. It applies to the city and urban communities, too, right here in this country. We can’t isolate urban communities and expect that things are going to function right. We have to understand how interconnected we are and how much what goes on in Baltimore affects what goes on around it.
How does OSI connect with your philosophy of change?
One of the things that I like so much about OSI is that we’re asking the questions. We’re planting seeds. We’re trying to make change happen. There are many ways to do things differently, to be much more effective. OSI works with people in the city to make certain they have access to new and different things–not to give handouts, but to empower people. People respond to empowerment no matter what echelon they are in. One of the difficult aspects of work to make long-term change is that you don’t get to see the end product. If you plant seeds, you may not be around for the end result. And you have to have a modicum of faith that what you’re doing is right. You will probably see some of the change beginning to happen, but you’re not necessarily going to see the end result.
Are you encouraged about our future prospects?
We know the level of the difficulties, the depth of the problems. We know that they are all very deeply rooted and difficult to solve. But I think that, as long as we open new doors and challenge ourselves, continue to find solutions and evaluate what works and what doesn’t work, we will be able to continue to make progress. I know we will have failures– but, in a way, you want to have failures because everything you try will not succeed. That’s okay, because that means if you try ten things, there will be two or three that will produce the change you hope to make. And probably the two or three things that work are really good breakthroughs and are worth going after.