On Feb. 16, 2012 one of the most important people in the world turned 70 years old. He is not a household name, but the ripples of his influence have been felt across the globe. His name is Jerry Hildebrand, and he is one of the most energetic, relentless and inspiring people the world has ever known.
Jerry is one-of-a-kind and his story reminds American’s about the power of individuals to be a force for good in the world.
Born in Illinois, Jerry was the first in his family to attend college or leave the United States. Jerry ventured off to Peru after college where he served as one of the pioneering Peace Corps volunteers in the early 1960s. There he worked in the Altiplano with Aymara Indians on the shores of Lake Titicaca. He returned to the United States and worked on the Robert F. Kennedy Presidential Campaign. At 26, Jerry watched the nation suffer the loss of two of its greatest visionaries, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jerry’s boss, Bobby. He was such a trusted member of the Kennedy team that he was guardian to Bobby Kennedy’s children at Hyannis Port during the summer of 1969. A year after the assassination, Jerry was speaking at Bobby’s funeral anniversary in Arlington and was also named in the original class of Robert F. Kennedy Fellows to develop socio-economic programs to improve lives in the United States.
The devastating loss pushed him out of politics, though he had once considered a run for Congress. What he has gone on to do for the past 40 years has changed so many lives; yet one must wonder how much better off the United States would be had his leadership found a home in Congress.
Jerry’s work in grassroots economic development started in Appalachia (West Virginia coal mining region) where he worked for 10 years to develop and direct the first rural Economic Development Corporation in the United States to finance community-based business enterprises in a chronically depressed region of the United States. Jerry has a knack for bringing hope to places that are too often viewed as hopeless and neglected. It has become a trademark of his career, and his impact in each region he touches is a tribute to his energy and determination.
Jerry went ahead and worked in Latin America for 17 years building a microfinance organization called Katalysis Bootstrap Fund that provided credit to non-governmental microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador). The Katalysis Network of 22 MFIs provides microloans to over 275,000 clients (70 percent women with a 97 percent repayment rate).
Then he decided to shift his focus to building an institution that would change the future of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. He believes in the institution and wanted to usher in Pacific’s institutional commitment to implement groundbreaking innovation initiatives, which he has achieved in flying colors.
The center that he established there is called the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and it is changing the way universities think about what they offer students, what they exist to do, and what their future looks like. By virtue of his electric personality and enormous heart, Jerry is able to bring together some of the world’s greatest minds — all bonafide social entrepreneurs — into the same room twice per year to talk about the students at the Center and how we can work together to build a better, brighter future.
Among the members is Ron Cordes, Co-Chairman of Genworth Financial, America’s largest mortgage insurer and private wealth management company; Mark Hanis, founder of United to End Genocide the nation’s leading anti-genocide initiative; Karen Tse, founder of International Bridges to Justice, an award winning organization ending torture around the world; Sakeena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, which has educated 250,000 and provided thousands life saving medical access in that war torn nation; Jonathan Lewis, founder of MicroCredit Enterprises, Opportunity Collaboration and now a new initiative to engage millennials in poverty alleviation work called iOnPoverty; Martin Burt, the Paraguayan leader who built that country’s microfinance industry and has pioneered a sustainable education model; Paul Rice, the founder of the Fair Trade coffee movement; and so many others. Most of the people he has brought together are now partners, collaborating on initiatives in dozens of countries.
This is just a few of the individuals in his Rolodex. Many others, just as influential, call him a mentor and a wonderful friend. He has, of course, shared this network with his students who join the meetings, present, share their ideas and passions and ultimately learn an immense amount from the experience.
When Jerry turned 70, the students in his program secretly pulled together a video honoring his legacy. The video is 13 minutes of short clips from just a few of the folks he has personally touched.
Jerry, your inspiration and your impact are incalculable. To many more wonderful years of passionate work!