Ruth Bolan (EPNL '06)

An interview with Ruth Bolan (EPNL '06)

Published: July 24, 2009

Affiliation:
Social Innovation Conversations Podcast Listener, Stanford Social Innovation Review Reader
What are your causes?

I run a small nonprofit in Honolulu, Pacific Islanders in Communications, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We’re based on the principle that in a democracy, even the smallest minorities should have a voice in public media. So we fund documentaries that raise the profile on social justice issues and the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands.

How do you contribute?

We give grants to new and emerging filmmakers to help seed their projects. For example, we funded a film on racial inequality and health care among the Marshall Islanders who settled in Arkansas. These were people in a We give grants to new and emerging filmmakers to help seed their projects. For example, we funded a film on racial inequality and health care among the Marshall Islanders who settled in Arkansas. These were people in a region where the U.S. government had done nuclear testing, and who developed drug-resistant tuberculosis as a result. Among the many other documentaries we’ve supported is a film that brought ancient Hawaiian hula to people’s living rooms via PBS.

What are important lessons you learned?

We receive $1 million from PBS annually, and that funding has remained flat for 15 years. So while attending the Stanford Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders, I began thinking of how we could run ourselves more like a business. A key component of that was thinking about our competitive advantage: the film production experience of the staff and the time we had to devote to our work. This inspired me to help us shift our focus from giving out many small grants to funding a few worthy projects per year where the creative talent was high. As a result, my tiny nonprofit is now producing a multi-part series for PBS in collaboration with National Geographic to meet with some of the world’s last indigenous elders before they die.

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