Resource Foundation's Finnell Receives Peace Corps Award

by Judy Silberstein

(October 4, 2006) “It was a heady thing to go to Washington, DC and have a luncheon in one’s honor,” said Loren Finnell, the executive director of the Resource Foundation, the non-profit organization he started in his Larchmont basement in 1987. He was referring to the 2006 Sargent Shriver Award he received from the National Peace Corps Association last month at a luncheon held in the US Senate Caucus Room.

Loren Finnell (left) receives the Sargent Shriver award on September 14 from Harris Wofford, the co-founder of the Peace Corps.

The award recognized Mr. Finnell's "leadership, vision and commitment to service," largely for starting and directing the Resource Foundation, whose mission is to increase both self-reliance and quality of life for the disadvantaged in Latin America.

Recently, the foundation outgrew its Larchmont basement. Mr. Finnell now shuttles between his home office and one in Manhattan. His group's goal has gone from “getting off the ground” to raising $4.5 million in 2006 from individual and corporate donors to support “sustainable private development organizations (PDOs) in Latin America.”

“Loren started this organization on a wing and a prayer,” said Carla Volpe Porter, the current chairperson of the Resource Foundation board, general counsel at Renaissance Technologies Corporation, and a Larchmont resident. “And it has really taken off, in large part because of his perseverance and his personal commitment.” Mr. Finell has been with the foundation full-time since 1987, “at great personal sacrifice,” said Ms. Porter. “His attitude is respectful – he knows the Latin American people, and his approach is to support projects that the people themselves view as necessary and helpful to improving their quality of life,” she added.

Despite its expanded funding and scope, the foundation has stuck to some guiding principles, primarily that “local responses to needs are more efficient and effective than expatriate ones.” Hence most of the over $20 million it has raised since 1987 has gone towards strengthening its network of PDO’s, now numbering more than 100 in 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Mr. Finnell’s interest in supporting Latin American indigenous organizations goes back to his years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ibarra, Ecuador from 1964 to 1966. Ibarra is where he met his wife, Pilar, and where he worked with his first grassroots group, a local woodworking cooperative. In selecting him for the Sargent Shriver Award, the National Peace Corps Association noted: “The Resource Foundation tackles the most difficult aspect of development work – funding and accountability – and combines this with effective teaching and monitoring assistance.”

Much of what the foundation supports comes under the hot heading of “micro-lending.” “Though some people give credit to a gentleman from Bangladesh,” said Mr. Finnell, “our member organizations were doing microloans way back in the early 60’s – even before people were labeling them as micro-enterprise.”

Large corporations, such as Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, Levi Strauss, Johnson & Johnson, American Express, Pfizer and L’Oreal USA along with other foundations and individuals donate funds to support indigenous groups that in turn support micro-enterprises. Mr. Finnell and his colleagues also toss an annual local bash, Dancing on the Water, attended by many Larchmont and Mamaroneck donors.

“Even though we’ve grown to a several million dollar organization at this point, we put a lot in the fact that we were embraced by Larchmont and still are,” said Mr. Finnell. “It was a good place to get started – obviously we needed to go beyond Larchmont, but it was fertile ground.”