Amy Goldman likes investing in heroes.
As chair and executive director of the GHR Foundation, and previously as chair of the Better Way Foundation, Amy Goldman is involved in making contributions to transform organizations focused on improving the quality of life for the less fortunate around the world.
Deciding who gets funding is a daunting responsibility because the needs seem endless and the cases often are compelling, but Goldman approaches the process with the precision of an academic researcher and the heart of a compassionate philanthropist.
"I like the intellectual challenge - to examine a situation and determine the best cause of action - and I like the collaborative capabilities and the leverage we can give to a grantee," she said. "It’s satisfying to know we can help the people who are doing the real work. They’re the heroes. It’s amazing to see what they are doing to improve society.
"And it’s fun to come into work every day and think about how to help people do a better job of serving others."
As a young adult, Goldman never expected she would run a foundation. She was interested in a career that would combine her interests in international issues,economics and political science.
She grew up in Edina, the youngest of seven children of Henrietta and Gerald Rauenhorst, founder and longtime chairman of Opus, a real estate development and construction company based in Minnetonka. The 1982 graduate of the Convent of Visitation School in Mendota Heights heeded her parents’ rule - they would pay only for Catholic colleges - and chose Georgetown University and its School of Foreign Service.
"I knew I wanted to live overseas and learn foreign languages, and I told the Georgetown recruiter that I wanted to be in the White House press corps."
After earning her bachelor’s degree in international economics and politics, Goldman worked at the International Management and Development Trustee Profile Institute in Washington before enrolling in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. As she pursued a master’s degree in international business and East Asia, she took advantage of opportunities to teach and conduct research at Sogang and Yonsei universities in Seoul, South Korea.
Returning to the United States, she enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in political science and met Philip Goldman. They married, she earned a master’s degree in political science and they moved to Washington, where she obtained a MacArthur Foundation fellowship to continue her doctoral research.
She joined International Trade Services in 1993 and worked with clients on a variety of regulatory, investment and trade issues. "There was a lot of writing and advocacy work," she said. "And I found myself using so much of what I had learned at Georgetown, Tufts and Berkeley."
The Goldmans adopted infants Nicholas from the Ukraine in 1997 and Julia from Russia in 2000 (Nadia, their third child, was born in 2007), and Amy became an active volunteer. One day, Philip, who had been working for the World Bank in Washington, came home with news.
"He said, ‘I got a job offer to work for the bank in Croatia, and I’m sure you’ll never consider it,’" she recalled. "I said, ‘Are you kidding? Let’s go!’ "
The Goldmans spent two years in Croatia and returned to the United States - Minnesota, not Washington - in 2005. Amy continued her work with foundations that her father had established, starting with the Better Way Foundation, which she chaired from 2003 to 2009. It proved to be a good fit.
"It was more than just writing a check," she said. "We worked in partnership with our grantees. Every dollar we gave had to make an impact. That was my mandate from the founder and the board."
As Goldman dove into her work with Better Way, she saw pressing needs everywhere. The foundation decided to split its grants between domestic and international programs and targeted areas such as HIV/AIDS education in East Africa. An order of nuns received a grant to pay for a certificate program at Uganda Martyrs University after demonstrating that their most urgent need was to learn counseling and leadership skills.
Louise Myers, an international health care consultant who served on the Better Way board for six years, called Goldman’s formative efforts "brilliant."
"She took a new foundation and did all of the right things to develop a vision, a structure, goals and a program focus," Myers said. "She methodically built the foundation and was able to blend personalities, different agendas and dynamics that are part of any board."
Matt Rauenhorst, her nephew, went on an eyeopening trip to Uganda in 2006 with board members to learn more about programs that could help orphans and children in poverty. "Amy showed great leadership with that trip," he said. "She showed that a foundation like ours can make a difference."
In 2009, Goldman moved down the hall to the GHR Foundation as its chair and executive director. It has a similar mission - "to assist those providing sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues" - and helps grantees establish longterm partnerships with educational and social service institutions.
One program is the Children in Families Initiative, which works with community organizations to create services that place children without parents, or inout-of-home care situations, in stable environments. Another program, Sisters Support,examines declining vocations of religious women, who historically have been powerfulforces in the fight against poverty.
"We have anecdotal data, but we’re funding a research study and then will go back and see who is proposing ways to address obstacles in their congregations," Goldman said. "In Africa, the numbers are high but they don’t have the education, so we need to look at education and training for them."
As infinite as the challenges and problems seem and as limited as the dollars are to address them, Goldman always is heartened by progress that she sees. It’s a result, she said, of making sound choices on programs and ensuring that those who receive funds not only spend them wisely but also have the passion and the wherewithal to affect change in their communities.
If they accomplish those goals, Goldman insists, they’ll become the true heroes of the day.
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