By Erin Reid P '01,'05
Kendall Webb Kendall ’82 followed the advice she learned at Hotchkiss and “listened to her inner voice.” Drawing inspiration from a poem she first heard in an English class—Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken—she has devoted most of her life to giving back.
Kendall is the founder and executive director of JustGive.org, an online giving platform that enables individuals to donate to their favorite charities. She is also a volunteer aid at a free health clinic, an EMT in her hometown of Weston, CT, and a long-serving board member of Nurturing Minds, a nonprofit that aims “to support quality education, life skills, and entrepreneurship to help vulnerable girls in Tanzania become leaders in their communities.” Her inclination to help others surfaced at Hotchkiss where she served as a leader of St. Luke’s Society, the School’s oldest club. It was founded in 1892 and is dedicated to charitable deeds.
After matriculating at Harvard, Kendall became part of a group of undergrads that helped launch WorldTeach in 1986 to serve the global community through education. “This volunteer position in Cambridge gave me my first taste of learning about another continent so rich in culture but so poor in educational resources,” she said. “I loved that WorldTeach sent teachers to Africa for a sabbatical to share education.”
From Cambridge, MA, her path led to stints at Goldman Sachs and the World Bank. This finance experience proved valuable in teaching her to merge the for-profit models of efficiency and effectiveness within the world of social impact organizations. “This was especially useful when presenting to companies like American Express, convincing them to add a charity channel for reward points redemption that ultimately raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charity.”
Prior to founding JustGive.org, Kendall worked at More.com. “Venture capitalists were throwing money at for-profit entrepreneurial ventures to make consumerism more accessible, but none of these funds were being directed toward nonprofits,” she said. “My idea was to build out an internet platform in the philanthropic sector to help individuals find the causes they care about and help create a more equal marketing playing field for all 600,000 nonprofits.” She quit her job and launched JustGive.org in 1999. Her goal was to “operate a social venture organization using a for-profit business structure, with self-sustainability, efficiency in use of funds, and measurable impact.”
Much of her charitable work has been focused on Africa, which she first visited 30 years ago with her husband. “We backpacked through seven countries and fell in love with the people, the culture, and the spirit,” she said. “My strongest philanthropic passion is in education, especially in Africa, where educating one person has such an immense impact globally, and the solution is easily accessible both practically and financially.”
Kendall has worked with many organizations that serve Africa, including Nurturing Minds, which supports the Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement (SEGA) school in Tanzania. “Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the highest early marriage and teen pregnancy rates. SEGA supports 2,000 at-risk girls every year through a boarding school and an outreach program that extends into 35 remote villages, using a holistic approach through quality education, life skills, and entrepreneurship to transform the lives of vulnerable girls,” she explained. “It is said that when a woman gets an education, the benefits last generations and help all members of her community. Educating girls beyond primary school advances the overall health and wealth of society through economic growth, literacy, delayed childbearing, and access to better nutrition and education for her own children.”
Kendall became involved with Nurturing Minds when a friend started SEGA. “My participation began when I simply supported one scholarship for a student, and this continued for over a decade. I got more and more involved, eventually becoming chair of the board.” She remains deeply active in the day-to-day work of the organization, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this April in Philadelphia.
“This past January, I visited the SEGA school with my dearest friend Meg Felton Staunton '82, celebrating 40 years of friendship that started on my first day at Hotchkiss,” she said.
More than four decades later, Kendall still draws on lessons learned in Lakeville. “Hotchkiss taught me to have a voice and to pave my own path—having a passion is to live a truly authentic life. The School gave me the confidence to get off the traditional route and bushwhack through life. I continuously gave up big career opportunities for less prestigious jobs but found such joy in doing what I have done. Following my passion has fueled my overwhelming energy, drive, and excitement every day.
She reflected on the poem she first heard in the class of Hotchkiss English teacher Geoff Marchant P’93,’07. “Frost’s poem has stuck with me as I have made career and personal decisions, often leading me and giving me the strength to go down the road less traveled.”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.