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Ep. 333 Susana Eshleman | Children International CEO

susana eshleman children international

Susana Eshleman grew up in Argentina and has followed a path that took her from a student at the University to Nebraska where she was washing dishes to make money to Harvard Business School, Hallmark and eventually Children International as CEO where she leads 1,500 employees and nine thousand volunteers. She sat down with Joel to talk about leadership, culture and her journey.


Joel Goldberg:
Welcome into Rounding the Bases, the final episode of Season three. My name is Joel Goldberg, and I can’t believe that this thing all began on November 6th, 2017. My first ever guest was Danny O’Neill, founder of The Roasterie in Kansas City. The goal all along was to go out there and tell stories. It wasn’t meant to be a baseball podcast. There are baseball references as you’ll hear in every episode. Biggest home run hit, biggest swing and miss, what does small ball mean? Those are staples in terms of questions, but they’re not about baseball. They’re about business and leadership, about culture, and I have so thoroughly enjoyed telling the stories of so many people.

Joel Goldberg:
It’s amazing to think that this episode will be number 79 on Rounding the Bases overall, but I do want to shut down for about a month. I think most people know that my “day job” or it’s really a night job is traveling with the Kansas City Royals as a television broadcaster, hosting the pre and post-game show, doing all the in-game interviews, the post-game stuff, and this podcast won’t stop. It hasn’t stopped during the season, but I will take the next close to month and recharge the batteries a little bit and then begin season four the week of opening day.

Joel Goldberg:
I want to thank all of my guests from season three, and there were some big names in there like Barnett Helzberg, a legend here in Kansas City, and more recently visiting with Lisa Ginter, the CEO of CommunityAmerica Credit Union, and so many awesome people from CEOs to musicians like my friend Kemet Coleman AKA Kemet the Phantom. If I’m speaking of musicians, I absolutely want to thank AY Young. You could check him out at AY Music. He’s the one with that catchy tune that you hear at the beginning and end of the podcast that he made just for me. So, I’m so appreciative of that, and of course, I just want to thank everybody for listening. It’s amazing to me that people will get into their cars or get on a treadmill or whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re at, for listening.

Joel Goldberg:
Thank you so much. As always, you can reach me at joelgoldbergmedia.com with suggestions of guests, or if you’re looking for a speaker for your company or association, that’s the best way to get a hold of me, but we should get going here with this final episode of season three, and I had the chance to spend time with Susana Eshleman who runs an organization called Children International, and she is just a spectacular woman.

Susana Eshleman Children International CEO

Joel Goldberg:
We came to find out that our kids go to school together. We didn’t know that and then found out just a couple hours later that our two daughters, my daughter Ellie and her daughter Lucia are in class together. They sit next to each other. I don’t know if they’re going to listen to this or not. They wanted to know when it came out, but I thought I’d give Ellie and Lucia a shout-out. But as for Susanna’s story, truly remarkable. Again, thanks to everyone for listening. We’ll catch you in season four. Here is my interview with Susana Eshleman. Susana, thanks for having me at your office, and I am so excited to tell Children International’s story. Thanks for joining the podcast.

Susana Eshleman:
Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here with you.

Joel Goldberg:
All right. I want to get into certainly your background, which is a really, really cool one, but let’s first and foremost begin with children International. Notice I’ve learned already because a lot of people I think say Children’s International. Children International. Tell me about the organization.

Susana Eshleman:
Yeah, we are a global humanitarian organization that is investing in the lives of some of the poorest children around the world. We are based in Kansas City. Our international headquarters is in Kansas City, but we do our work in 10 countries where we directly serve over 200,000 children, and what we do for them, Joel, is we invest and partner with them for the first two decades of their lives from the time they’re three until they’re about 24, and during that time we offer them community centers they can come to. In those community centers, there’s doctors and dentists, libraries, computer rooms, sport courts, meeting spaces.

Susana Eshleman:
We offer them a team of staff and volunteers that really invest in them and help them see a future that they’ve never seen before because they’ve grown up in generational poverty. Lastly, we provide them programs and services in the areas of health, education, empowerment through life skill development and employment, so that they can break the cycle of poverty for once and for all.

Joel Goldberg:
I think you told me 10 countries?

Susana Eshleman:
Correct.

Joel Goldberg:
All right. What are those countries? You can rattle them off.

Susana Eshleman:
Absolutely. We’re in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. So, those countries are Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Mexico. We have a small operation in the U.S. in Little Rock, Arkansas, Zambia, Philippines, and India.

Children International Mission to End Poverty

Joel Goldberg:
So, tell me about this mission of ending poverty and what kind of challenge you guys all have.

Susana Eshleman:
We believe that the families that we serve that certainly experience significant material poverty. They have incredible riches that they also have to offer. We believe that the donors and partners and contributors that come and make our mission possible offer so much to the families we serve but in the process, they gain so much more. So, that’s why our vision states that we’re in the business of bringing people together to end poverty for good. For the kids and families that we serve in the very poor countries, that is a poverty of opportunity.

Susana Eshleman:
But for the donors and contributors that are partners that are a part of this sometimes is a poverty of purpose or maybe a poverty of meaning that when they have the opportunity to support and encourage a child and a family across the world, all of a sudden, that poverty of meaning evaporates, and it’s filled with an opportunity to live a life that really matters.

Joel Goldberg:
I want to talk more about Children International and what you are all doing and some more specifics in a bit, but I’ve got to get to your background because it’s an interesting one and for people that hear a little bit of the accent, she spent a year going to high school in Nebraska. That’s not the accident that you’re hearing. But for a kid growing up in Argentina to now live full-time for many, many years in Kansas City, this was, I’m sure, not a path that you expected as a young child growing up, one of six, in Argentina. So, tell me how you ended up in the States.

Susana Eshleman from Argentina to Nebraska as an exchange student

Susana Eshleman:
Yeah, so when I was 16 years old, I came to the United States as an exchange student, and I lived in a little town in Nebraska. After spending a year there, I ended up going to college at the University of Nebraska.

Joel Goldberg:
Give me the name of the town and the population.

Susana Eshleman:
Okay. So, I lived in a town called Fort Calhoun, which is just north of Omaha. It’s 600 people, and I always joke around that the green signs you have at the entrance of a small city, it’s at 600 before I came, and they changed it to 601 when I came.

Joel Goldberg:
I always liked asking this question to anyone that comes from a different culture and ends up somewhere in Kansas City or Nebraska in the Midwest because it’s not going to look I don’t think anything like what you remember from home, and I always get a kick out of some of these baseball players, and they’ll come in the off season for a Royals fan fest or an event or to see a trainer or whatever it is, and they’ll say, “It is so cold,” and I’m thinking, “It says 30 degrees today. It’s no big deal,” but they’re in from the Dominican or somewhere like that.

Joel Goldberg:
So, a teenager, and think about this. You’ve got three teenagers. So, put yourself in their shoes now. What was going through your mind as you show up, an Argentinian teenager, in small-town Nebraska?

Susana Eshleman:
In small-town Nebraska in a farm.

Joel Goldberg:
Farm.

Susana Eshleman:
I go to live with a family that farms. I was so excited. My mom 25 years earlier had had the opportunity to be an exchange student, and I just came very much with a mindset of learning and having a huge growth opportunity. So, everything seemed interesting, and I think that mindset with which I approached it was very helpful, but the food was different. The way that people interacted was different. I remember getting off the plane, and I come from a Hispanic background. We all hug and kiss each other, and I meet my family, and they extend their hand to shake my hand, and I remember thinking, “No. No. I’m going to have to live with his family for the next year,” and I come, get off the plane, and they’re just shaking my hand.

Susana Eshleman:
So, everything was different, but I came for it to be different. I came prepared for a growth opportunity, so I loved figuring out how to help my family feed the cattle in the morning, and I loved figuring out how to be part of a cross-country team even though I had never been a part of one and being part of a small school that was very different from where I came from.

Joel Goldberg:
You eventually end up at the University of Nebraska and as you were telling me, that wasn’t easy or a given either. It sounded like you wanted to study in the States, but that opportunity for a girl who had gone back home to Argentina was not easy. So, what I want to know is how did you end up there and then how hard you had to work to stay there?

Susana Eshleman:
So, after being a year as an exchange student, my grandpa had always said that if I had the opportunity to go to college in the U.S., that would be amazing. So, I started to look into the opportunities available, but the simple fact was that I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t have the means to do it and being an international student, there was not much federal aid I would qualify for. So, the family with whom I had lived for a year helped a tremendous deal, but additionally I had to do all kinds of interesting things.

Susana Eshleman:
For example, I found out that at the University of Nebraska, there were geology scholarships that nobody was thinking. So, I became a geology student for a while. I was a dishwasher at one of the dormitories my first semester. My second semester, I was promoted to dish room supervisor, and I worked extremely hard because I knew that if my grades were good, I would be able to qualify for additional aid, but I remember my apartment was far from campus. I would walk every day with a very heavy backpack early in the morning, take my classes early in the morning, work the dish room at lunch time. Study in the afternoon, work the dish room in the evening, and then walk back with my backpack full of books another other 40 blocks back to my apartment late in the evening.

Joel Goldberg:
Having no choice, if you want to stay and make this all happen you had to have that, how much did that work ethic earning everything that you achieved help you to where you’re at today?

Susana Eshleman:
It made a world of difference. That work ethic was something that I grew up seeing in my family, and I worked very, very hard for what I earned, and therefore I valued that which I was earning and that education, and I took advantage of every ounce of opportunity that I had in college. I think I had shared earlier with you that I was amazed that the opportunities given at the university both through student organizations, through office hours that professors would have… So, every opportunity that was available I took advantage of, and I just worked extremely hard and because I worked extremely hard, I valued it a lot, and I am certainly was never in the position of some of the kids that we served today who are experiencing significantly more poverty than I ever experienced.

Susana Eshleman:
But how hard I had to work along the way certainly helps me connect with them, empathize with them, and appreciate the journey that they have.

Joel Goldberg:
Well, I think perspective is everything. We’ve talked about that a little bit, but how many kids going to… This isn’t a knock on anyone, but I’ve thrown myself in this too. How many kids in college are thinking, “Wow. How amazing that the professor has office hours?” You just expect it, right? So, you had that outsider’s perspective of appreciating and taking advantage of everything that sometimes many of us take for granted.

Susana Eshleman:
Yeah, yeah, and because of that, I was able to develop amazing relationships with the professors that later opened ways for opportunities, for post-graduate, my graduate degree, and lifelong relationships that I still have to this day.

Nebraska farm town to Harvard Business School

Joel Goldberg:
So, let’s talk about that because you just had the usual Argentina to farm town in Nebraska to University of Nebraska to Harvard Business School. I think most of us in the world would say, “Wow. Not a lot of people make it to Harvard,” and you did. I’m sure that’s not something you thought about when you were a kid in Argentina. “I’m going to end up at Harvard Business School.” So, tell me about how that came about and really how that sets you up for your professional career.

Susana Eshleman:
So, while I was at the University of Nebraska, I mentioned to you how I so enjoy the quality of education that I was getting and the opportunity to really get to know the professors. One of those professors, I was in one of his economics class, and one day, he pulled me out aside and he said, “What are you doing after college?” I said, “I’ve always thought about getting my MBA, but I’m not sure if I will be able to afford it or when I might be able to do it,” and he said, “Well, I believe that you should apply to the Harvard Business School, and I would love to be your recommender. I would like to write your letters of recommendation and help you make it happen,” and I know we’ll talk a little bit more about leadership, but that was a very important investment that he made in me, one, because he saw potential in me.

Susana Eshleman:
He was somebody that I greatly admired, and he called out that potential, and he helped me live into that potential, and that’s the reason. That was the path, and he helped me get into Harvard, having had the opportunity to get some outstanding world-class education there. I had a class of about 800 people there, 63 countries represented. It was an amazing opportunity and certainly critical to my ability to do my current job.

Susana Eshleman Leadership Style

Joel Goldberg:
Well, let’s talk about that then and leadership and lessons learned at the University of Nebraska, certainly, at the Harvard Business School, and then you’re at Hallmark for 16 years, and now you’re leading this amazing organization. Tell me about your leadership style.

Susana Eshleman:
Well, I believe that my most important role as a leader is to unleash the potential of others and to be a multiplier of others’ talents and skills. So, my role is to do everything possible to help people dream, bring the team together, support the team, support each individual person and the team so that we can go and set out the objectives that we set up as an organization, but it’s one of the things I figured out a long time ago that my role is not to be the smartest, the most charismatic, the most anything. My role is to create the platform, so that everybody can be their best version of themselves.

Joel Goldberg:
When you have this ability to change people’s lives… I’m not saying you. I’m saying Children International. How much does that help from a leadership standpoint of being able to show all of your employees every single day the impact they can have?

Susana Eshleman:
It makes all the difference in the world. In fact, we have five core values as an organization, and the second one of those values that we are very formally calling out is that we see potential in everyone everywhere. That is true of our staff, of the volunteer work force that makes our work possible, as well of every one of the kids that we serve.

Children International bringing people together

Joel Goldberg:
Well, let’s go through those values because I’ve got the list right here. “We live the mission. We see potential in everyone everywhere. We believe human connections matter. We are always learning, and we own the impact.” Let’s talk a little bit about we believe human connections matter. I know that what you have learned, I have learned. Any of us that have had an opportunity to be somewhere where we’re giving back, and what we end up finding out is that we oftentimes get more out of it than maybe we understood.

Joel Goldberg:
But just the unique dynamic of bringing people from different worlds together, what you are all doing, and how that has affected say someone that has everything and someone that in theory has nothing, like they don’t. They’ve got so much more what they’re learning from each other.

Susana Eshleman:
Yeah, so we have two very important groups of people that are part of our mission. The kids and the families that we serve and the countries where we operate that are living in places that are just desperately poor, desperately, desperately poor where everything around the kids, everything about their environment tells them that there’s no reason to hope. Then we have the donors and the partners who see those kids and have a sincere desire to help, and they engage whether that is to sponsor a child or that is to create college scholarships for these kids.

Susana Eshleman:
They engage with a desire to help the kids, but what we always consistently see is that their lives are radically transformed when they really get to know and engage with the families that we serve. So, it’s really cool how the haves and have-nots, if you will, come together, and in that coming together they have the opportunity to really transform each other’s lives in ways that neither one of them would have predicted and to be the organization that’s bringing them together, and watch that transformation in both of them, it’s a pretty incredible privilege to do that.

Joel Goldberg:
I don’t know if there’s an answer to this, but what do you get more joy out of? You mentioned need and greed. So, bringing those two worlds together to end poverty, do you get more joy out of seeing that? We’ll just say that wealthy person whose life has suddenly changed because of the relationship that they’ve built that they’re suddenly vulnerable or is it more watching that kid or that family that has helped? Or is it equal?

Susana Eshleman:
I think it’s equal. I love people. I believe people are amazing, and I believe we’re all created to really help one another. So, when we’re living into that role for which we were created to exist, I think it’s amazing to see. However, I have to tell you that seeing our youth which sometimes when you first meet them, around five, six years old, they’re shy, almost discouraged by the environment around them because some of these situations are pretty desperate and after a decade of partnership and investment with them, when that youth that was shy, couldn’t look in the eye, didn’t find much sense of worth. A decade later, you meet them, and they’re leaders, empowered, multiplier agents of change in their communities.

Susana Eshleman:
There is nothing that is as rewarding as seeing them discovering their own potential and moving from being victims of their circumstances to actors in their future and empowered leaders within their community.

Joel Goldberg:
I love little slogans that resonate. The Kansas City Royals new manager, Mike Matheny, I heard him recently saying something about “we’re going to chase excellence”, not we’re going to win this championship. Everybody wants to be first, and they do too but chasing excellence, and I asked them a little bit about that. He said, “It’s getting better every single day, learning, and all those type of things.” Here it says, “Multiply good in the world.” Tell me about that.

Multiplying good in the world at Children International

Susana Eshleman:
That is our brand promise, and we are committed to multiplying good in the world. So, what we do in the communities that we work is we invest in those children, but that investment, it’s very clear from when they’re very young that we’re making that investment in them, so that they’re the multiplier of hope and opportunity in their communities. We’re not investing in them just so that they can be better off themselves. It’s very clear that what we’re hoping for them is that they become the agents of multiplying good in the world. So, we have a leadership program, an empowerment fund, that our youth have the opportunity to use.

Susana Eshleman:
So, last year alone, they completed over 1500 community projects. This could be in Zambia. Our youth in Zambia, these are very poor youth. They invested in a home for handicapped children. They got mattresses for all the children, and they had festival for the children. We had youth in Colombia that had a day for the homeless. So, they provided them haircuts and new clothes and new shoes.

Susana Eshleman:
So, when somebody makes an investment in one of our youth, there’s a ripple effect of goodness that happens. So, our brand promise is that everyone who is part of our mission would have an opportunity to multiply good in the world.

Joel Goldberg:
With all the different lives that you’re affecting, you are trying to connect with different communities that have different cultures, and you would know this better than me but just from my baseball experience, just because somebody’s from the Dominican, and then we’ve got other kids that are from Venezuela, they’ve grown up in different worlds and sometimes, it’s easy to lump… Well, they’re all from Latin America, and they all speak Spanish, and it’s different. So, you talk about those 10 different countries. How important and how challenging is communication and adapting to the different places that you go?

Susana Eshleman:
Well, it’s critically important to ensure we do so, so that we can have the impact. So, all of our working country is being run by a local staff, so there’s no expats going to run those operations. It’s a local team and local volunteers. We have very clear objectives as to what we’re going after. We want to ensure that our kids are healthy, educated, empowered through life skills and employed. But for example, what it takes to ensure that a girl is educated in India given the practice of early marriage is different than the programs and services that we have to provide for example in the Dominican Republic.

Susana Eshleman:
So, while the objective is the same, how we implement our programs is different. So, understanding that local culture and really being connected and addressing the local challenges and opportunity is critically important.

Joel Goldberg:
Then a trust in your people in each of those countries, right?

Susana Eshleman:
Absolutely.

Joel Goldberg:
So, what are the challenges of that? I always find this question interesting at least for companies that are starting to scale and maybe they started here in Kansas City, and suddenly, they’ve got offices in Seattle or wherever it might be, and that’s always challenging and can contest the strength of any leader or the CEO to be able to place that trust in someone somewhere else. So, how about for you knowing that that there are critical moments happening all over the world and you can’t be everywhere.

Susana Eshleman:
Absolutely, and the beauty that we have is in many of those countries, we’ve been operating for several decades. So, the beauty is we take selecting our country leaders and all of our staff in country. It’s selecting them, investing in them, and then being very clear about what our values are and what are the behaviors that go with those values. Those values, the five values you spoke about, those are consistent around the world, and you see them being lived out everyone around the world. So, having that team that you can trust is absolutely critical.

Baseball Themed Questions: What is the biggest home run hit by Children International?

Joel Goldberg:
Let’s get to the baseball-themed questions first off for you, and it could be personally, or it could be Children International, wherever you want to go. Other than saying that you married your husband because that should be everybody’s home run, what is the biggest home run that you have hit?

Susana Eshleman:
So, I’m going to answer in the context of Children International. I joined their organization about a little over five and a half years ago, and I think one of the most important things I and we as an organization did at that time is to really listen to our teams, those teams that we trust in the field who are delivering the programs and services day in and day out. We knew it was time for us to become the next better version of ourselves and to really take some time to listen to them and understand where they thought we needed to go, and their input was critical to defining how we were going to increase our impact to give our kids a greater fighting chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Susana Eshleman:
So that very intentional time to really, really listen to them and have them have very much an imprint in the next version of what Children International was going to look I think was a very good play.

Joel Goldberg:
Listening is so obvious, yet a skill that could be so difficult or underrated, right?

Susana Eshleman:
Yes, I completely agree.

Joel Goldberg:
But when you have it, it’s very powerful.

Susana Eshleman:
Yes.

Biggest Swing and Miss

Joel Goldberg:
Biggest swing and miss you have taken and what did you learn from it?

Susana Eshleman:
So, over the last five and a half years, Children International has gone through tremendous transformation, evolution, perhaps revolution. We had changed the way we deliver impact, how we deliver programs and services to the kids, what those programs and services look like, how we fundraise. We’ve changed our leadership team. We’ve tried to redefine our culture. So, perhaps one of my biggest misses is to I underestimated the complexity of global transformation of that skill, changing so many pieces of our organization at the same time.

Susana Eshleman:
So, I underestimated the energy it would take, the time it would take, the investments that it would take, and I probably also either underestimated the impact of that pace of transformation over several years. So, what I’ve learned is to have a perhaps healthier respect for the complexity of transformation and to ensure that transformation is sustainable. You and I just when we were chatting earlier, we were talking about the importance of when you’re doing really important purposeful work, you have to have time to replenish, and that’s both true as an individual as well as an employee of an organization that is going through significant transformation.

Susana Eshleman:
So, be mindful of the need to replenish and the pace that you have to keep and having a very healthy respect for the complexity of that transformation is what I’ve learned.

Joel Goldberg:
There’s a listening element there too whether it’s observing or just reading your people, and you also did something there maybe by design. I’m guessing maybe not. When you talked about the home run, you said “we.” When you talked about the miss, you said “I,” which I always think is an important part of leadership too. You see it with the greatest of athletes and leaders and sports where any of the positive voice is we. Think about a good quarterback, star on a team, but when accountability matters and something went wrong, it’s I, not you. So, it’s just something that I noticed there.

What is small ball (the little things)?

Joel Goldberg:
Culture, small ball. This is my favorite question. What are the little things at Children International that add up to the big things? What’s small ball in your world?

Susana Eshleman:
That human relations really matter. I tried to role model this, but this is something that we see throughout the organization. We are in the business of really bringing people together. So, how we treat each other, how we treat the families that we serve, how we treat our donors and our partners, and it’s how we treat them not just as business partners but how we treat them as human beings with dignity, with respect, with love, with a desire to really see their potential.

Susana Eshleman:
I have to tell you. This is certainly true now that I’m leading the organization, but it was true before. The quality of people that this mission attracts is really amazing. For most of the people that are colleagues around the world, both in Kansas City, I am always blown away, and I have to pinch myself because I have the privilege of working with people who are great professionals, but they really, really care about what we do. So, my job is to really, really care for them because they’re amazing human beings.

Susana Eshleman:
So, creating a caring culture and respecting, a culture of respect, of dignity, where we really support each other, where human connections really matter. It’s an organization where humanity is very much alive. Oftentimes when I come back from… I just came back from Ecuador. Somebody said to me, “Well, what was the highlight of the trip?” I said, “I came back recharged with the power of humanity.” When I see our staff, our volunteers connect with our families, what I see is that human relations really matter, and the way they care for each other and the way we all try to care for each other I think is it’s what makes the organization different, and we’re very intentional about it. It’s not by chance. If you noticed of our five values, that one is the middle value, and there’s a reason for it.

Joel Goldberg:
It’s your fuel, right?

Susana Eshleman:
It’s our fuel. Yes, yes, and we have a lot of incredible programs and services, but for the kids that we invest in is that volunteer that really believes in them that has really invested in that relationship that the content and the curriculum of the program matters, but those relationships that are created, that’s what really transformational for the kids.

Final Rounding the Bases Questions

Joel Goldberg:
So powerful. It really is. I’m going to hit you with my four final Rounding the Bases questions. You don’t know what these are, and I didn’t know what they were coming in but just ideas that pop into my head. The first question is… I always like asking people, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” That’s usually your why, but I think we’ve already covered that. I think it’s very obvious, and I don’t mean to minimize it. What keeps you up at night?

Susana Eshleman:
What keeps me up at night? I-

Joel Goldberg:
Other than being the parent of teenagers, which we have in common and we’ve discussed, but that’s all of us.

Susana Eshleman:
Yeah, that’s part of what keeps me up at night. Evolving the organization in a way that the pace is right is one of the things that keeps me up at night. The other thing is just thinking about… Unfortunately, there is no shortage of kids to serve. So, constantly thinking about how we can innovate and be better stewards of our resources, so that we can help more kids with the resources we have.

Joel Goldberg:
That’s worth staying up at night for. As long as you get some decent sleep, you got to sleep sometimes. Okay, second question. Was there a place, a visit? I know that you and I talked before we started recording about an impact on a trip to India. So, I don’t know if that’s where you want to go or elsewhere, but you’ve been to so many places and will continue to do so that I know without knowing that every one of them has an impact on your life. But is there one that just will stand out and that you’ll always carry with you?

Susana Eshleman:
That story that I shared with you earlier when we were chatting, and this happened in 2011, and I had gone to India. On my way there, I had had a layover in Dubai, and then I… Dubai, one of the richest places in the world. Then I spent a week in the slums of Calcutta. The poverty in Calcutta is just overwhelming. The sights, the noises, the sense of it, and I finished that week in Calcutta by going to visit the Taj Mahal. So, in one-week period, I saw so much excess and so much need, and I really… As I was returning back from the Taj Mahal on my way to Delhi in the bus, I remember just really struggling with the amount of excess and the amount of need that’s in the world and the fact that there’s haves and have-nots that live in the same world almost as if the other one didn’t exist.

Susana Eshleman:
That just really bothered me, and I shared with you that in that trip back to Delhi, I was reading a book. The book had a message that was a bit of an epiphany to me not because the concept I hadn’t thought about but for the first time I was able to find words to express something that I… A thought or a feeling that I had long held in my heart, and that is that the haves and have-nots, the answer to their problems. The solutions to them come and bringing them together that as long as these two groups of people are kept apart, one dies is in need, and the other one dies in greed.

Susana Eshleman:
But when we bring them together, somehow and mysteriously, their needs are fundamentally met. So, some have opportunities and other one, the other group has a chance to live a life that matters. That is the time that really stands up because it gave birth to our current vision, and it made it very clear that in order to serve the kids, there was another very important stakeholder group, our donors and partners that were very much a part of our mission. They were not just a way to make our mission happen. They were indeed a big part of our mission, and that bringing these two groups together was what we’re all about.

Joel Goldberg:
Third question as we round the bases. I’m guessing at this point you’ve probably spent more time in the states of Kansas then Missouri than you have back in your native Argentina. You’ve been here that long, and you even told me before that you had said to your husband you want to get back to the Midwest, which is funny because he grew up in the Midwest. So, you’re clearly a Midwesterner now. Two-part question, what do you miss about Argentina? I know we’ve got our barbecue. That’s what we’re known for in Kansas City. So, what do you miss about Argentina and is there a go-to food for you here in Kansas City that gives you a piece of home or something close to it?

Susana Eshleman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). What do I miss about Argentina? I miss the people. There is an exuberant joy that is part of our culture, a constant, and the great warmth of the people there, but there are amazing people in the Midwest. It’s different, but we still have just an unbelievable warm and amazing quality people in the Midwest. It’s just how we interact and how we do life’s… Life is a little bit different. Thank goodness there’s a lot of beef in Kansas. I love the beef in Kansas City, and I love the beef in Kansas.

Joel Goldberg:
Is there a meal or a restaurant that at least takes you… I don’t know if there are any Argentinian places here. I know there’s some good Venezuelan. Is there anything that gives you a little piece of that?

Susana Eshleman:
Yes, there are a few restaurants in [Pedopos 00:39:30], and Parkville has been a good one in the past.

Joel Goldberg:
All right, final question. The walk off question as we round the bases. I know that there’ll be a million of them. I asked you about India, the impact of India. Is there a story of one kid? I asked Joe Knittig from Global Orphan Project this question too. Is there a story of one kid that just stands out in your head that changed your life or moved you?

Susana Eshleman:
Yeah, I have hundreds of them.

Joel Goldberg:
I’m sure.

Susana Eshleman:
But I’m going to share with you one from a young lady. Her name is Jessica in the Dominican Republic. As part of our empowerment and life skills program, we have a wonderful music for life program, and just last year I had the opportunity to go see it, and I had the opportunity to visit it with my oldest teenager. So, it was really special to be sharing this time with him and have him meet the kids that I work with, but I listen to them. These are kids that go back home to sleep on a dirt floor and who were playing amazing music on quality instruments. So, I asked them what being part of this music program had meant, and this young lady raised her hand, and she said, “This program absolutely changed my life.” She said, “My life skills teacher,” because there’s music and there’s life skills, “has been able to support me and love me like my mom has not been able to.”

Susana Eshleman:
She said, “I come from a very dysfunctional environment, and this coach, teacher, has just… The love that she’s given has been amazing,” and she told me the story that she had started being a part of the music program, but when things got so very difficult at home, she said, “I’m not going to kid myself. I’m never going to get out of this situation that I’m in.” So, I think I’m just going to give up and stop being part of the music program. So, that day, she decided not to go to her class, and she said she was sitting against the wall in her very basic home, and she was crying.

Susana Eshleman:
All of a sudden, she hears some noise outside her home, and her teachers and her music group who knew she was really struggling and things were very difficult at home knocked on her door, and they said, “We’re worried you weren’t in the session today,” and we want you to know that we’re not giving up on you, and that sense of family and community that gave her such an incredible sense of worth was so powerful because what I feel like we do… I think in visual metaphors. What we do in the communities that we serve is we come around and circle the kids, invest in them, and we keep hope alive, which when you see some of the conditions in which they live in, it’s extremely difficult. So, that’s one story that stands out.

Joel Goldberg:
One of many, many, many, and do you know what has come of Jessica or-

Susana Eshleman:
Absolutely. I just got to see her a few months ago, and she continues to play. She’s a leader in her violin section. Her smile is bigger than a house. She’s finishing her high school and making plans to go on to college.

Joel Goldberg:
Unbelievable. That’s what it’s all about, and that sums it up among everything else. Susana, thanks so much for sharing what you and all of your employees and the volunteers… Vicki told me 9,000 volunteers-

Susana Eshleman:
Correct.

Joel Goldberg:
… around the world and how many employees?

Susana Eshleman:
About 1,500.

Joel Goldberg:
1,500 employees, 9,000 volunteers making a massive impact and eradicating poverty. So, it’s, I know, a huge task, a huge privilege, and one that you’re all doing well. If people want to find out more and get a hold of you, how can they do that?

Susana Eshleman:
The best way to learn more about us is to go to our website. It’s children.org, and you can learn about what we do, how we do it to… I think it’s really important for people to really understand the problem of poverty and how it’s solvable. So, check us out there, and there you’ll see how you could get a hold of me.

Joel Goldberg:
Really simple. Children.org. Susana, thank you so much for sharing their stories and for being so generous with your time.

Susana Eshleman:
Thank you so much, Joel.

Joel Goldberg:
My name is Joel Goldberg. You can reach me at joelgoldbergmedia.com, and hope to catch you next time on Rounding the Bases.


Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg Podcast was created to share the stories of men and women in business and entrepreneurship that are both well knowing and or hidden gems. Joel believes that everyone has a story and their story matters which is why Joel is eager to connect with individuals that are bringing value to their community through innovation, leadership, entrepreneurial journeys, and developing company culture. If you would like to be a guest on Joel’s podcast please email us at joel@joelgoldbergmedia.com.

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