Welcome to the Forty Over 40 blog. We frequently spotlight one of our honorees and their thoughts on reinvention, mentorship and momentum…plus a peek into what makes them tick.
This Q & A is with Caroline Boudreaux, founder of Miracle Foundation. Caroline is innovating her field of work by transforming struggling, institutional orphanages in the developing world into stable, loving, nurturing homes and developing proven three-phase method to close gaps in quality of care and helped codify international standards based on United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
1) What was a pivotal momentum of reinvention for you?
May 14, 2000. Mother’s Day in the United Sates. It was the first time I ever visited an orphanage, the first time I saw the plight and the pain of orphaned children. Here is the story:
At age 28, I was an account executive at a TV station in Austin, Texas. I was making more money than I had ever dreamed of and had the material things that seemed to define success: A beautiful home, flashy new car, and active social life. But even though from the outside it looked like I’d made it, I felt empty inside. I was sure there had to be more to life, but I didn’t have a clue what that was. I knew in my heart I had a bigger purpose that I wasn’t fulfilling. It was about that time I decided to take a sabbatical from my job and life. My friend Chris Monheim (now Poynor) and I came up with the crazy idea of taking a trip around the world to chase summer for a year. We pulled out a map of the world and began plotting our course. Chris insisted that one of the stops along the way had to be India; she had been sponsoring a young boy there and wanted to meet him. I was skeptical and thought she was wasting her money. I doubted she was making a difference and told her that it was a scam. In January 2000, we set out on our global journey. By May we had made our way to India and the small, rural village where Manus, Chris’ sponsored child, lived. Upon our arrival, we received a ceremonial welcome from the entire village. Chris was absolutely thrilled to meet Manus and see how her money had been helping him and his family. I couldn’t believe that he was real. We would soon learn that Manus and his family were the lucky ones. A few days later we were invited to dinner at the home of a local family. Nothing could have prepared us for what we were to encounter there. When we arrived, more than a hundred beautiful, hungry, smiling, parentless children greeted us. Our host, Damodar Sahoo, had taken in an orphan child nearly two decades before; over the years he had continued to take in children until his “family” numbered more than a hundred. I had never seen an orphan before in my life. Every single one of them was vying for our attention, sometimes pushing each other out of the way for a hug from us or to touch our hands. It was overwhelming. They were the sweetest, saddest children I had ever seen. There were so many, and every single one was precious and perfect, desperately in need of love, attention—someone to care. A little girl named Sheebani came and put her head on my knee. When I picked her up, she literally pushed her body into mine, in an attempt to get the affection she lacked. I sang her a lullaby and rocked her to sleep. I went upstairs to put her into her crib, and was shocked to see that there wasn’t one. Instead, the room was filled with hard, wooden-slatted beds. No mattresses, just wooden beds that reminded me of a concentration camp. The first orphan I ever held, Sheebani gently laid Sheebani down, but when I heard her bones hit the boards, I broke. I couldn’t believe it that any child had to live like this. Here I was, traveling around the world without a care, and these children were going to bed hungry and lonely every night, on hard wooden beds. I was angry, hurt, and embarrassed. Sheebani’s sleeping quarters with hard, wooden-slatted beds How many more were there? Where were their parents? How could we possibly help? How could we not? The day was auspicious — it was Mother’s Day in the U.S. Right at that moment, I decided I had to do something to help parentless children. I simply could not go on with my life as if they didn’t exist. I prayed that others would help me. The idea for the Miracle Foundation was born that day. A few months later I filed the paperwork and my tiny, start-up nonprofit became official. Donors and sponsors stepped up immediately in order to help these vulnerable children. Miraculously, people of all ages, from all walks of life, and from all socio- economic backgrounds have joined us in this journey over the years. Hundreds have come to India to meet the children we support, and many more have become monthly donors and are financially committed to our work. We’re appropriately named.
2) Who has been a valuable mentor or sponsor?
I’ve had so many of them. Alan Graham who started “Mobile Loaves and Fishes” was our first Board chair and taught me the importance of letting others help me. Joan Holmes, Founding President of The Hunger Project, is a spiritual mentor for me and has taught me how to see the world of possibilities and represent the poor with dignity. Together, Alan and Joan have taught me the real purpose of my work with the Miracle Foundation. When I started on this mission, I believed it was all about the children. But over the years, I have learned that many people have a strong hunger to help others and make a difference. At the Miracle Foundation, we have learned to help people channel that spiritual hunger in productive ways. Ultimately, our work is not just about feeding the physically hungry – it is about finding ways for the spiritually hungry to feed the physically hungry. When you bring these two groups together – the ‘haves’ who wish to give and the ‘have nots’ who need their help – miracles happen. The Miracle Foundation helps bridge that gap between those who want to give miracles, and the children who desperately need them.
3) What is your biggest goal right now?
Our biggest goal right now is to transform every orphanage in the entire Indian state of Maharashtra through partnerships with the state government and other NGOs. Once we prove that it can be done, we plan to expand our model to children who need it all around the globe!
4) How did you get your first job? How did you jump to your second job?
My first job was as a temp here in Austin. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, and my friends who knew me best convinced me to go into sales. I heard Xerox had a really good training program for their salespeople, so I applied there and started interviewing with them shortly thereafter. On the way to my 3 rd interview, I left my temp job. At Xerox, after finishing my 3 rd interview, I was riding the elevator down and a man got on on the 23 rd floor. He complimented my suit, and I thanked him and told him I was there for an interview. We talked briefly, and when we got to the bottom floor, he asked me to please bring his wife my resume. They were starting a television station and were in need of a good salesperson. TV sounded a lot more exciting to me than copiers, so I did what he asked, interviewed with his wife, and was hired the next day. The rest, as they say, is history.
5) What time do you typically wake up? What do you do every morning?
I wake up at 6am, meditate for 15 minutes, go work out, and then start work.
6) How did you feel on your 30th birthday? What were you doing at that time?
I felt sad. I was successful and young, but also single, childless, and unfulfilled. I had everything that money could buy, but I just wasn’t happy. I knew I was going to have to do something radical to shake things up. On the 2nd month of my 30th year, I quit my job and took a trip around the world. I didn’t know what I was running to but I knew exactly what I was running from….an unfulfilled life.
7) How do you unplug? How often do you unplug?
I’m pretty good at unplugging. My husband Ed and I love to cook and work out together. We love live music, enjoying wine together, playing games, and going to the neighborhood pool. I unplug regularly and don’t have any problems relaxing – because I know it makes me better when I am plugged back in!
8) What’s the best networking contact you’ve made? How did you make it?
Matthew Bishop, the US Business Editor and the New York Bureau Chief at the Economist Magazine. I met him because he and I were both named Young Global Leaders with the World Economic Forum. He’s amazing and a much sought after expert on philanthropy.
9) What challenge / achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of hiring and working with the right people to figure out how to truly change the lives of the orphaned children we serve. I’m proud of knowing what I am not good at and I’m proud that my ego lets me admit when I need help. Surrounding myself with experts and giving them the room and tools to do their jobs has made our organization what it is today.
10) What was the last business book you read?
Good to Great by Jim Collins
11) What cause do you most want to advance?
I want orphaned children to have forever families and feel a sense of belonging.
12) What song can’t you get out of your head?
Fight Song by Rachel Platten
13) What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Your job is not to help the starving children. Your job is to find ways for the spiritually hungry to feed the nutritionally hungry. You, Caroline, are a bridge for the have’s and the have not’s.” -Alan Graham
“I love the way you speak for the poor and the way you speak about them. Now it’s time you find a way to let the poor speak for themselves” -JoanHolmes
14) What is your “keep me going” quote?
“You Got This”
15) What is your secret indulgence?
Naps, I love them.
16) Who on the list of prior Honorees would you like to meet?
Paula Froelich, Yahoo Travel Editor-in- Chief/Digital Media
Denise Restauri, CEO, GirlQuake, Forbes.com contributor
June Sugiyama, Director, Vodafone Americas Foundation
Ruth Ann Harnisch, President of The Harnisch Family Foundation; Co-founder of SupporTED; Former Emmy-nominated “recovering journalist”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton Law Professor; President-elect, New America Foundation
Check out Caroline Boudreaux’s full profile here!