It’s been a little over a month since Lori Forte Harnick took the helm at the Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region.
The News Tribune sat down with Harnick to talk about her new role and how her experience at Microsoft Corp. has informed her approach to the Tacoma-based nonprofit.
Harnick took over from President and CEO Terry Hayes, who retired in December after 15 years with the charity.
Harnick’s first public Goodwill appearance will be Tuesday at its annual Ready to Work Luncheon.
This region’s Goodwill serves people in 15 counties, including most of the Olympic Peninsula, roughly from Pierce County to Longview, and from north of Yakima to the Columbia River. Harnick’s answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Tell us about yourself and why you were interested in working for Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region.
A: I came from most recently working at Microsoft, where I had the honor of helping to lead the Microsoft Philanthropies program. In my role, I had the opportunity to think about philanthropy and corporate citizenship from a global perspective and from an overall trend perspective. And we worked with hundreds of nonprofits around the world to help make an impact in their local communities.
The chance to work with Goodwill across this region is an amazing opportunity to apply what I know and what I’ve learned to a place that has great challenges and great opportunities ahead.
Q: What are the challenges and opportunities for this region?
A: I’ve lived in the Puget Sound region for about 10 years, but this is my first opportunity to really get to know Tacoma and the broader region that we serve. First of all, there’s an amazing community here of people who work together to address challenges and opportunities, and that’s wonderful.
It’s a community that’s had its economic ups and downs, and to a certain extent perhaps has lived a little bit in the shadow of Seattle. As the overall Puget Sound region grows, I think there’s great opportunity for Tacoma to grow as well.
As we continue to look at ways as a community to attract more businesses here, one of the things I think is a great opportunity for Goodwill is to think hard about what are the requirements of those businesses when they are looking for employees. What are the skills that they are looking for and how do we help the people whom we serve prepare for those jobs and obtain those skills? That’s where I see the opportunity.
Q: How do you think your work with Microsoft has prepared you to lead Goodwill?
A: Several ways: first, in terms of understanding how to build programs and services in partnership with others. That’s what Microsoft does at its core. It is very much about its partner ecosystem, whether that’s the for-profit side or the nonprofit side. I learned a great deal about making sure to listen closely and understand the nonprofit partner perspective about the community and the people it was serving and then figure out what’s the right role for a corporation to play. Where do we help and how do we need to partner. Where do we need to support, where do we need to maybe get out of the way.
The other of course is the global perspective on workforce and particularly youth. One of the things I did at Microsoft is I helped lead the creation of an entire program and initiative for the company helping young people around the world with education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. Understanding the larger issues of youth, education, workforce development certainly is helping me at this role.
I’d say even more broadly, just the point of leadership. Team leadership, community engagement, tapping into talent. Those are things that I think people who work at Microsoft just get a great set of experiences in. You’re often asked to lead diverse teams. You’re often asked to — especially in the area that I was in with nonprofits — work with somewhat a limited but flat year-over-year budget, not a lot of new resources coming in for that.
So those are many of the skills I developed there at Microsoft and I feel that I’m applying here.
Q: How do you think that experience will shape Goodwill in the next five years?
A: I hope as I look at the next five years we can evolve with the needs of the community and get ahead of the trends. We are looking at workforce development trends that are changing, and that change is going to accelerate.
How do we make sure that we are evolving our programs to meet those needs while also making sure that we are meeting the people we serve where they are now. It’s really interesting to think about how important it is to have a bridge between where people are and perhaps where employers need them to be.
Some people are right there and ready, absolutely, and that’s fantastic. Some people we will need to provide maybe one step in that journey or that process. For others we may need to do more to get them on that pathway or over that bridge so they can really fulfill their potential.
Q: Tuesday is your first public appearance for Goodwill. Can you tell us more about it and what people can expect to hear from you there?
A: The Ready to Work luncheon is an annual event that Goodwill has put on for a number of years. I’m thrilled to be there for the first time. ... One of the things I’ll talk about is the changing nature of workforce development and the needs of employers across the region and the partnerships that we value now and that we want to build upon with others to match our skills with the needs of the employers.
Q: Anything else that you’d like to talk about?
A: Goodwill’s success here has been because of the community partnerships and the team that has worked here for a number of years. As Tacoma continues to evolve and change and serve its community, we are really eager to be a continued part of that.
Goodwill’s annual Ready to Work fundraising luncheon
Cost: $850 for a table of eight seats. Those interested in fewer seats should call Mike Shields at 253-573-6650. The deadline to reserve a seat is noon Monday. Registration is not available at the door.
Time: 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, May 2
Place: Greater Tacoma Convention Center, 1500 Broadway, Tacoma.
All contributions made at the luncheon will go toward Goodwill’s education and job training programs.