Location: Centennial, CO
Industry: International Healthcare Nonprofit
*Second Year Honoree*
Douglas Jackson, President and CEO of Project C.U.R.E., said that his greatest project has been the “Project Pivot” that took place during COVID.
“It has been the ultimate adoption to changing market conditions in Project C.U.R.E.’s thirty-plus year history,” Jackson said.
He explained that specifically, before the pandemic, this organization had focused exclusively on providing medical relief in over 130 developing countries around the world. Beginning March 15th, 2020, they pivoted all seven of their huge warehouses and twelve collection centers to distribute donated personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment such as ventilators to hospitals, clinics and emergency responders across the U.S. For the next 90 days, they emptied their facilities of gloves, gowns, masks, sanitizer and other needed supplies and equipment.
“When those were gone, we launched PPE drives with community partners and professional sports franchises such as the Denver Broncos, Chicago Blackhawks and White Sox, Tennessee Titans, Houston Astros and Phoenix Cardinals,” Jackson said. “Our efforts continued throughout the summer and fall of 2020. Project C.U.R.E. joined with other organizations to procure donated air transportation in order to serve nurses and doctors in America’s rural communities.”
He added that to raise money, Project C.U.R.E. held fundraising events with such people as Elvis Duran and Rob Cordry.
“As fall turned to winter, we had delivered millions of dollars of donated PPE - enough to fill fifteen semi-trucks - to the frontline fight against COVID,” Jackson said. “Those efforts were undertaken with a drastically reduced volunteer force as many of our key leaders are in their retirement age and are at higher risk.”
Now, Project C.U.R.E. is pivoting back to addressing the COVID pandemic on the international front. Working with a large U.S. manufacturer, they are delivering 22,500 custom emergency relief beds as well as other medical supplies and equipment into countries just now being ravaged by the spread of the virus.
“All of this has happened as the economic realities have financially devastated a significant number of non-profits,” he said. “In short, Project C.U.R.E.’s world was disrupted both logistically and financially, all while the demand for our mission and work increased exponentially. Gratefully, we have been blessed and continue to deliver health and hope to a world in crisis.”
Jackson said that he has learned that in times of crisis, it is impossible to over-communicate.
At the onset of COVID, his team was reading news and hearing stories of the tremendous numbers of layoffs in the non-profit sector. The reports from every outlet only increased their insecurity. He began to hold regular, virtual “all staff” meetings with the entire organization on Zoom calls, where they openly discussed fundraising efforts and operational endeavors. All questions were welcome, even if the only honest answer was, “I don’t know.”
“The point was to be transparent and to reassure the team that no matter the challenge, we were committed to fight another day,” Jackson said. “Likewise, our volunteers were concerned both for our work and for their own welfare, and they needed relevant, timely and candid information.”
With his partners expecting a professional level of service, despite the COVID-caused lack of resources, it was important to message carefully, manage expectations and motivate teams.
“The only way to do that was to communicate, and then communicate again,” Jackson said. “During the early days of the crisis, I recalled a conversation with Gen. Charles Jacoby when he was the four-star Combatant Commander at Northcom/NORAD. General Jacoby told me, ‘You have to communicate so often that you’re sick of hearing yourself talk. When that finally happens, you know that you have just started’.”
Jackson confided that the COVID crisis taxed what he thought he knew about supporting a team during a crisis. It quickly became clear that leading a remote workforce, combined with the absolute disruption in a vulnerable non-profit industry was going to require a much different approach.
First came the initial scare regarding the virus itself.
“We had teams of people working abroad, and our first priority was to get everyone home before the airports were closed to international travel. When it became clear that the COVID crisis would not be a 14-day quarantine event, a tremendous percentage of the American workforce became fearful of losing their jobs, being furloughed or taking a reduced salary,” Jackson said.
Jackson said the language of request became the language of invitation. He added that the shift from managing to coaching has been an incredible commitment of his time and energy, and many people have commented that few employees have that type of access to the CEO on a regular basis.
“It was essential to keep the teams together, and to care for them on an individual basis,” he said. “People don’t fear change. They fear loss.”
Jackson said as leaders, the role is to create a compelling vision, and that always involves change, so leaders must understand that the individuals that comprise their teams may see something entirely different in the outcomes of our vision. To that end, he said, it is important to use the language of invitation and create the possibility of what good could look like when the change is realized.
Sharing his wisdom, Jackson shared two words for the generation of leaders: Mentor and Learn.
“Seek and find both,” he said. “Look for a mentor or mentors who have gone ahead of you and have the rare trifecta of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Spend the time to honor them with your receptivity. Be coachable and embrace a quest for lifelong learning.”
He added, “Remember that through life, the most important game to win is between your ears.”
"Be coachable and embrace a quest for lifelong learning."