Boundless at PartnerHero: releasing the infinite potential of our communities

“People. Without Borders. Without Limits.” is our corporate mission. It means sharing the impact of an innovative company with talented people around the globe. 

However, there’s a much bigger commitment happening at PartnerHero to take it a step further—to intentionally share our mission and culture outside the company with historically vulnerable communities. 

We’d like you to meet Vicky Moreno and Malcolm Brown, who lead the Impact team at PartnerHero, and learn more about them, their mission, and the initiatives that are underway to help create opportunities for everyone.   

What brought you both to PartnerHero, and what has your journey here been like?

Vicky: I originally joined PartnerHero as a contractor, hired to relaunch the Philippines entity. We had 19 people in the Philippines when I started in February of 2020, and now we’re at over 1000 people, so it has really bloomed. 

After we launched, I ended up staying, and got involved in a lot of different things—mostly different workplace projects around the globe. After I had been in that role for a while and exposed to some of the good things that PartnerHero does, I moved into the newly created role of Chief Impact Officer. 

Although I come from technology, I had my own 501c3 (nonprofit group with a dedicated mission) in the US that I started with my best friend. I guess I'm a passionate volunteer—if I were rich, I would just volunteer all the time and focus on doing things that I’m passionate about. It's great because this role lets me do that here.

Malcolm: I've been at PartnerHero for just over a year now. I think my purpose in life has always been to be of service to others. I was in the military for a long time, over ten years. I transitioned out of the military into the medical field and did sports medicine for another eight years. I feel like every sector I was in, it was scratching that itch that I had to serve others and to make the world a better place. 

I always felt like I needed to do more. About four years ago, I came up with a startup idea, and that led me to the opportunity to meet Shervin (Talieh—PartnerHero’s founder and CEO). He became a mentor to me, and it really opened up my eyes to bigger opportunities to make an impact. 

That's how my path to PartnerHero was paved. He allowed me to come into the office to work on my startup from there, and I was always picking his brain.

When this opportunity for Community Impact Manager came up, Shervin and Tracy (Ward, Chief People Officer at PartnerHero) spoke to me about it. I said “absolutely”. I had already fallen in love with everything I knew about PartnerHero, from the culture and the mission to the way the organization was run. And the people—I really fell in love with the people. 

It made sense for me. It was an opportunity to do the work that I feel like is my life's purpose, but to do it for a company that I really believe in. 

Like Vicky, if money was not an issue, I think I would give it all away. I do really, truly believe that giving—whether it’s money, time, or resources—is the true cornerstone. I think I would be an eternal volunteer if I could.

Both of your titles—Chief Impact Officer and Community Impact Manager—have the word “impact” in it. What does impact mean to you (and PartnerHero)?

Malcolm: Impact to me is when you can literally shift the trajectory of where a community or an individual ends up—increasing the odds of there being a better outcome. 

For example, if we think about at-risk kids in Honduras, we know—based off of history and experience—that a large number of them are going to end up dropping out of school, and might even end up in jail, being childhood parents, or—let’s be honest—even dead.

When we talk about Impact, it’s changing that trajectory so the journey and destination are different, improved. That’s the opportunity we have here at Partnerhero, and it’s the opportunity other organizations and individuals hopefully see as they participate in this work. That’s the mark I want us to make here at PartnerHero. 

What is Boundless?

Malcolm: Boundless is our social responsibility initiative. It's how PartnerHero is going to show up to make a difference in the locations where we exist—and hopefully in other areas of the world over time. 

When you think about our mission, “People without borders, without limits”—what happens when we share it with people outside our company, specifically with the most vulnerable in our community? In combination with our culture and core values, it makes for a dynamic that can positively influence people’s lives—allowing them to envision living a life that is boundless, by realizing the potential within them as being vast and limitless. That’s what Boundless is, and what it means for us here at PartnerHero. 

Vicky: When you think about all the things that limit people—limits are the opposite of “boundless”, right? Those limits—they're everywhere in vulnerable communities around the world. Whether it's postcolonialism, systemic racism, sexism, classism—whatever it is, those limits exist.

If we can take aim at some of the ways that those limits have been implemented systemically, we have a good shot at making the outcomes boundless for some of the folks that need it. 

There's a bunch of initiatives within the Boundless program—is there one main area that you focus on most?

Vicky: One of the great benefits that we get with having Malcolm on board—and I'm saying this with love—is that he’s a research nerd. He has looked a lot into SDG—sustainable development goals. From that, we’ve settled on supporting quality education (SDG4) as our North Star.

Malcolm: Yeah, it's not a hunch. 2023 for us was a lot of figuring out and discovery of what the opportunities were with Boundless. We ended up really identifying the one thing that is a common thread with all of our geos—and that is learning poverty, which is the measure of illiteracy in 5th graders in a specific region.

By focusing our efforts on closing some of the resource gaps that exist for both families and schools, we hope to support the sustainability of quality education, and thereby reducing learning poverty over time in the geos we exist.   

If you look at learning poverty rates in Honduras, the Philippines, Romania, South Africa—those numbers are significantly high. For example, it’s 79% in Honduras. By comparison, it's only 4% here in the US, which seems low. But when you think about the population of the US, 4% is still a lot

So, while we are working on a lot of different initiatives, it really comes down to three main pillars for us: Equity in Education (supporting quality education and reducing learning poverty) first and foremost, but also Equity in Opportunity (skill and talent development to help people find meaningful work and earn a living wage) and Equity for People With Disabilities (increasing inclusivity for the disabled community).  

There are individuals who maybe missed the opportunity to learn to read, but still have a passion to work. How can we open up our doors to them here at PartnerHero? How can we partner with other organizations to help support people in their desire to get the skills they need to go out and find meaningful work?

How can we improve inclusivity? We talk about that word all the time, but what does it really mean? To me, it's more of an action verb—being inclusive is just being intentional and really identifying who is that community that exists along the margin that's often being excluded. And that for us is the disabled community. 

So, those are three main initiatives. The one we've made the most progress with so far is reducing learning poverty—improving literacy in the regions where we exist. 

What are some specific actions that we're taking to improve literacy? 

Malcolm: World Bank and UNESCO do a lot of research and put out a lot of data on the overall health of a region or country—things like education, healthcare, safety. They’ve defined learning poverty as the percentage of ten-year-olds in a region who are unable to understand a simple text or sentence in their own native tongue. 

Ten-year-olds equate to about fifth grade. We know kids should learn to read by third grade, which empowers them to read to learn from third to fifth grade. So, if kids haven't learned to read by third grade, there's a greater chance they’re going to not only struggle with reading, but also having difficulty learning other subjects and struggle socially. 

We don't believe that kids in these regions don't have the cognitive ability. Unfortunately, they're just dealing with external factors that are limiting them from attending school on a consistent basis. 

The World Bank also takes into account external factors that exist that are keeping kids from attending school. Poverty is obviously one, but there’s also transportation issues, family dynamics, and also, a lot of schools are simply under-resourced—there are a lot of variables that exist that prevent kids from attending classes regularly. 

Our goal with Boundless is to support the schools and NGOs in a way that makes school attractive to both the parents and the community as a whole—to support a quality learning environment, with the primary indicators being attendance and enrollment year to year. 

So, what we're focusing on is trying to find the insecurities that exist that are preventing attendance, for example food—and helping with those. What we've seen so far in 2023 is that over time, there’s a gradual increase in attendance. And we believe that if we continue to focus on and help with this and other inequities, literacy and reading will take care of itself. 

We’re also getting our associates involved and hoping to create mentorships. I think it's really important that we support a quality learning environment for these kids to get buy-in from their community and their families. That seems to sometimes be the biggest barrier—convincing families that school is a great option for their kids.

A lot of times, for 9-10 year olds, the best option is to go work instead so they can help put food on the table. Getting buy-in from the families and from the community is key—it truly does take a village. 

Vicky: The only thing that I would add is that Malcolm gave a very detailed definition of learning poverty—the percentage of kids not being able to read in their native language at a certain age. So, we really look at learning poverty, and we try and close gaps. We're not saying we're limiting ourselves to just kids. 

If we have out of school youth that are past the age when we would have been measuring them for learning poverty, they are still people whose abilities are being affected by it. 

When it comes to measurements, our philosophy in 2023 was to measure what we can. And what we've been able to measure is primarily around the obstacles that we've removed. 

That's one of the things we'll be doing in 2024—putting more metric points into what we do and making sure that we're measuring things across the board, across the world, the same way. 

Is there a specific, measurable accomplishment so far you’d like to highlight, something extra important to you?

Vicky: I would say when it comes to fighting learning poverty by removing obstacles, the biggest obstacle is food insecurity. PartnerHero has provided 94,000 meals to young people this year (2023). 

In the Philippines, we've provided 5000 round trip rides to school. And at Grace, Honduras, there’s a community that lives on a municipal dump in San Pedro Sula. Families live on a garbage dump, and survive by scavenging through trash. There's a school on that site now. 

There's also refrigeration now, so that the organization we’re working with can buy food and store it in bulk—folks can make meals for the kids (and everyone else). By working with this organization that helps feed these people, we’ve managed to increase school attendance by 30%. So that's a huge win. 

Another kind of life support type thing we've done there that Malcolm has really championed is fixes on the electrical system, so people are safer. And there's a generator in place now, too. That, again, safeguards the food that we provide so that people don't go hungry even when the power goes out.

Malcolm: All of the things that Vicky just mentioned fall nicely into that framework of social determinants of learning. Again, what are things that we can do to create a quality learning environment, so kids can just be kids and not have to worry about other things?

Vicky is really good at reminding me of the measurable impact—the numbers, the metrics. I sometimes focus on just the relationships, the people. And that’s something I want to highlight about 2023—we took our time, but we were really methodical in creating organic relationships, letting these community leaders and members help lead us. 

We were very mindful not to be performative or paternalistic by showing up and telling these communities “Hey, we're PartnerHero and we're here to do this for you”. So for me, that’s a big highlight—the communication and trust between us and these community members. 

Vicky: Yes— we found out early on that the best way to help isn't to tell people “We're going to do this for you”. The best way is to ask “What do you need? What are you trying to do and how could we help you get there?” 

This is definitely a long term investment, and I don't mean investment in terms of something where you see an ROI. It's an investment where we hope and trust that if we listen to the people that have the most intimacy with the problems and the battles that they're fighting on a day to day basis, we'll get the best information and be able to direct our resources in the most effective ways.

Can you talk a bit about the 10k hours of volunteering initiative at PartnerHero? 

Malcolm: Around the second quarter of 2023, one of the things that was asked of me and Vicky was “How do we get our associates involved in the work that we're doing?”

I had somewhat of a hard time answering that because I was still learning my way around PartnerHero. However, the most important resource you can give as an individual is time. 

I think it means so much to people, to communities, when someone shows up, actually cares, and spends time with them. So I wanted us to create an initiative for our associates to focus on a community that was important to them. 

I think everyone would agree that supporting education and literacy is important, but maybe it's not their passion. Maybe it's animals, maybe it's the elderly, maybe it's something to do with the homeless population. 

This was an opportunity for everyone to show up as a PartnerHero representative in their community. The ask was for each associate to spend 4 hours in their community, doing some type of community-facing work. 

As a company, we had a goal of 10,000 hours. We fell short of that in 2023, mostly because we didn’t really have a good tool to centralize our volunteer efforts and to be able to track them.

We're still trying to smooth out some of the friction with this goal, but I think we're at a point now where we're going to be able to relaunch our 10K Hero Hour initiative, and make sure we do a better job of sharing it with people and really creating a clear path to understanding what the ask is.

Vicky: We did fall short on that, but that's not why we do this. We do it because we want to make an impact. We want to be genuine. We don't want to just hit a goal. We laid a foundation for how we want to move forward with getting people involved in what they’re passionate about. 

Besides Boundless and the 10k volunteer hours, is there anything else you’d like to mention? 

Vicky: You may have heard people say that charity begins at home. A few years back we had a year where two hurricanes hit Honduras and two typhoons hit the Philippines. 

A lot of our associates were really badly affected—I mean, water up to their chest in their living room, mudslides demolishing their homes. So, one of the ideas that was already there but hadn't come to full fruition was having a relief fund for when our people globally experience some type of major issue in their life. 

Whether it be weather-related, an unexpected medical issue that isn't covered by insurance, a death in the family, whatever it may be—how great would it be if we had a fund that people could apply for grants. And so, the PartnerHero Relief Fund was launched. 

There were 35 grants awarded globally in 2023, over 20,000 US dollars so far. That doesn't sound like a lot if you're in the United States, but if you're in Honduras, that grant can meet a significant need. 

It's one of the ways we show our value of caring for others internally. A part of what impact is is taking our values outside of the walls of PartnerHero, but before we go there, we have work to do inside. And that inside work is where we hopefully help meet some of the needs of our employees that tragically occur from time to time. 

Is there anything big and new happening in 2024 that you can talk about? 

Malcolm: I think one big thing is taking our initiatives, all of them, and figuring out how to create the opportunity for our corporate partners to be a part of the work that we're doing.

We’ve also discussed what it would potentially look like for PartnerHero to create a 501c3 to help us really magnify the work that we're doing. We don't know if this is the year to do it, but I think it's a conversation we want to dive deeply into.

Vicky: Another thing we want to do is use our employer status by offering internships. We realize that with learning poverty, if someone is able to read, able to close a gap that ends with them having a skill that makes them employable, that has the power to lift them out of poverty.

Using our superpower as an employer and getting an internship program kicked off as well is something that we plan to do. 

There are many more exciting things and initiatives coming this year that we would love to share with you! Keep an eye on our blog for more stories about Boundless and the work our Impact team is doing.