A Conversation with Paula Golden

Story in: Among Peers

A Conversation with Paula Golden

Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is critically important to America’s future. And to interview Paula Golden, president of Broadcom Foundation, is to instantly feel a little more optimistic about our prospects. Paula, who helped establish the foundation in 2009, brings a lifetime of philanthropic experience (actually, multiple lifetimes—she comes from several generations of philanthropists) to her position. She’s been trained as both a lawyer (family practice and constitutional law) and teacher (7th grade); and she has worked in government, politics, and at nonprofits of every size and description, including serving as the Director of Development Neurosciences at UCLA and as Executive Director for The Engineering Center Education Trust. In other words, she’s the right person to lead a serious effort to advance STEM education. She’s also in the right place at the right time.

When Paula joined Broadcom, a Fortune 500© company that is a global leader and innovator in semiconductor solutions, she was given the rare opportunity to build the corporate foundation from scratch. “Broadcom had resources at a time when other foundations were reacting to meeting pledges in a down market in the U.S. Being cash-flush, we had the luxury of defining a mission and identifying opportunities that were closed to others because of their existing obligations,” she explains. “Because the company relies heavily on two fundamental assets, innovation and human capital, it seemed strategic to direct our philanthropy toward achieving goals that would support the company’s mission and values, namely science, technology, engineering, and math.” The question, of course, was where and how to strategically direct their resources.

Broadcom Foundation took an innovative approach, supporting both graduate-level research and middle school engagement through its signature program, Broadcom MASTERS® (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering as Rising Stars), the premier international middle school science and engineering fair competition. With resources now totaling $100 million, the foundation made a serious commitment to their philanthropy, and their efforts have met with tremendous success. President Obama, among others, has recognized the Broadcom MASTERS® as one of the leading middle school initiatives for technology and science deficiency in the United States. In fact, when we caught up with Paula, she had just returned from a trip to the White House. Each year, President Obama has invited Broadcom and other great STEM champions to the White House to showcase the talent of their competition finalists. Here’s what Paula had to say about her foundation, her work, and the road ahead.

1. WHAT CAUSE OR ISSUE IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHY?

Because Broadcom is a Fortune 500 semiconductor company, we wanted a foundation that would brand us as a thought leader in engineering and technology. The challenge became, with the resources that we had, how could we impact STEM? We concluded that we would pick our targets carefully.  Specifically, we would target graduate-level research to inspire young innovators, and middle school, where young people of all genders and economic backgrounds make a critical turn in their thinking about education, their future, and their associations both inside and outside of school.

The graduate university focus was a priority of Broadcom Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, and Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Henry Samueli, who himself was a beneficiary of philanthropy throughout his entire experience at UCLA. The son of Holocaust survivors, he received scholarships over the course of his life as an academic, and he understood the value of supporting young professors and students. The middle school priority was established both by design and circumstance. Scott A. McGregor (CEO of Broadcom Corporation and President of the Foundation), Henry, and I all experienced a major turn in our lives during middle school around STEM, so the opportunity to do the middle school competition resonated with us. Also, having worked at UCLA in neurosciences during my career and having trained as a teacher, I have very strong feelings about the physiological, intellectual, and psychological development of young people between the ages of 8-12. Neurologically, their plasticity is beginning to wane, and they’re beginning to identify the tribes and relationships that will carry them forward in a self-selected community.

2. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LAUNCH A PRIVATE FOUNDATION?

Broadcom’s founders have large family foundations, but the company had no flagship foundation of its own. It was important to brand the company in the communities where its employees live and work, as well as worldwide. An important motivation was to increase the company’s scorecard in social responsibility and the board’s decision to hire me provided it with the opportunity to have someone do the strategic work that would brand the company as a thought leader in the technology industry. Good corporate philanthropy is tied to corporate interest; it creates an identity for the company that speaks to its mission and values. McDonald’s has Ronald McDonald House for a reason—families buy hamburgers.  As chip makers, Broadcom’s interest is the education of our young people who will be the innovators of the future.

3. WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW ABOUT BEING A GRANTMAKER THAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW STARTING OUT?

The most important organ for a grantmaker is actually not one’s heart; it’s one’s ears. The art of listening to people who need resources, which sometimes leads to a yes or a no answer, requires my full attention and appreciation of their needs and objectives. How can our foundation’s largesse advance their goal? Listening well is an art form that one can never practice enough.

4. WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE YOUR COMPANY FACES IN RUNNING A PRIVATE FOUNDATION?

Because our foundation is so new, we are increasingly focused on institutionalizing the entrepreneurial character of a brand new corporate foundation without losing its pioneering spirit. How do we sustain what we have created? The directors of the foundation board also run our company and yet they all serve enthusiastically and chair foundation committees. Unlike many companies, the foundation work is not pushed down to mid-management or turned over to semi-retired executives. We all feel strongly that we need to maintain that energy and commitment at the highest level. It’s not easy and I think about it daily. Success and sustainability are very important for our corporate foundation.

5. WHAT DOES YOUR COMPANY GET FROM GIVING?

We not only improve our social responsibility scorecard, but we also impact recruitment and retention of top engineers because they look to what we do as an asset of their relationship with the company. They view what the foundation does not only as a giving resource, but also as an inspiration for volunteerism. The foundation is a source of great internal pride.

6. NAME ONE PHILANTHROPIST, PRESENT OR PAST, WHOM YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE COFFEE WITH, AND WHY?

George Soros, because he’s George Soros! Every time something comes out with his name on it, I think, wow, I wish I’d thought of that!

7. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING?

The last stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The whole poem matters to me, but that phrase, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,” reminds me on a daily basis of the work we do. We don’t want to waste precious time to achieve our goals. The precision of our action is what matters, not just the good intent.

8. NAME ONE INDIVIDUAL OR ORGANIZATION THAT HAS PARTICULARLY IMPRESSED YOU.

Google. I think Larry Page and Sergey Brin are brilliant. They figured out a strategy to weave philanthropy throughout their company. The various organizations that fly under Google’s banner provide dynamic avenues for social advancement and critical intersections for technology. Not only are Page and Brin successful philanthropists, but they hit the ground running the moment they arrived on the scene. The same value system and innovation that permeates their company permeates their philanthropy. They live it and as a result, their company lives it.  In my opinion, they set the gold standard for 21st Century philanthropy.

9. IF YOU CAN HELP YOUR ORGANIZATION ACCOMPLISH ONE THING WITH IT’S PHILANTHROPY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

To have an adult look back on his or her life and say that Broadcom helped put them on their path. I want that young person to say, “That was the moment that changed my life.”

10. HOW HAS FOUNDATION SOURCE HELPED YOUR FOUNDATION ACHIEVE ITS GOALS?

The word is “partnership.” One of the reasons we’re enjoying success is that the partnership around mission and values is shared not only with Foundation Source, but also with our foundation board, financial advisors, and the legal team at Broadcom, all of whom work closely with Foundation Source in close collaboration. The foundation really thrives on the team approach fostered by Foundation Source. The spirit of collaboration and cooperation is essential to staying vital and current as a corporate foundation. Our partnership with Foundation Source has been critical to our success.