Beginning Philanthropic Work at a Young Age
Harry has always been proud of his roots. He said that being recognized in today’s world of philanthropy is giving honor to his ancestors who walked thousands of miles and risked their lives just to get to the land of the free—the United States. Harry is the son of immigrants. He was born in 1941 and belongs to what we now call as the generation of baby boomers.
Harry’s family lived in a run-down apartment in Brooklyn New York where ten families shared one bathroom. They were impoverished and Harry recalls in one interview that he couldn’t wait to go to school because by so doing he could use the bathroom for as long as he wanted. Harry lived with their extended family. His grandmother taught him the value of sharing when he was only around six years old. She fashioned a blue tin box wherein they would drop a penny before they went to bed. There were times when there was hardly anything to eat but they never skipped dropping a penny in that box. It shaped Harry’s ideologies and made him more sensitive to the needs of others. Asked what he thinks a role model should be, he answered:
“I don’t think it is about male or female. It is about being a role model in the broader sense. As I mentioned previously, children learn by mimicking and the people they mimic most are their family and their caregivers…if those people are cruel the chances are the child will be cruel…if they are disinterested chances are the child will copy that behavior and if they are loving and caring then the likelihood is that the child will mimic that.” (Source: World of Children Award)
Fortunately for Harry, he grew up in a family where morality is highly valued. Although they weren’t rich, he was reared in such a way that he became sensitive about the plight of others. In fact, when he got to high school, his philanthropic activities went beyond dropping a penny into his grandmother’s blue tin box. He joined organizations that raised money for the football team. He explained that during his time, the school did not support such organizations and the athletes had to fend for themselves.
Harry lost his father when he was 14 years old. It was one of the most trying periods in his life. Without the breadwinner around, Harry had to help his mother augment their family income. What he did was work at a bakery in the evening so he could still keep going to school in the morning. For a boy of 14, it was an extraordinary feat. He endured lack of sleep and tried his very best to help put food on the table while not abandoning school altogether.
It is through that dark phase in his life that Harry discovered his knack for surviving extreme circumstances. It also opened his eyes to the harsh realities of life. Some kids go through worse and they had no one to help them. This could have left a lasting impression in his young mind and would soon be rekindled as he became more capable of doing something to alleviate kids’ plight.
Educational Background and Procter & Gamble Experience
Through sheer hard work and determination, Harry soon finished his high school studies and made it to college. His involvement in philanthropy was broadened. He joined fundraising activities and even enlisted himself in a theater group to raise money for kids who are differently-abled. How he managed to put himself through to college is extraordinary in itself. He graduated from Brooklyn College and went on to finish his Master’s in the same school.
While he was completing his Ph.D. at Wayne State University, Harry got in to Procter & Gamble. He was relatively young and had no business background. He would later on admit that everything he knew about business, he learned during his stay at Procter & Gamble. Harry is drawn to humanitarian efforts. When he was told about raising funds for mentally challenged kids, he wrote Procter & Gamble CEO and asked for his help. It did not matter to him that he’d only been with the company for three months.
The following morning, Harry was called to the office of the CEO. Filled with apprehension, he regretted writing that letter. He was nervously sweating and was quite sure that he’d get the axe when the CEO started asking questions about his length of stay in the company. Harry tried his best to answer the questions without showing any hint of discomfort. Then out of the blue, the CEO handed him a presidential medal and gave him permission to auction it. It made 1,500 dollars, which according to him was considered a lot of money at the time.
That experience taught Harry a very important lesson. He learned that if someone is involved in philanthropy, he/she should never hesitate to solicit for help. Someone who is bent on making a difference must not think twice of asking for funding. Since then, Harry became more aggressive in his philanthropy.
Starting Focus Group Moderator in Procter & Gamble
Harry quickly rose through the ranks of Procter & Gamble. He’s been given managerial positions because of his inventive business approach. There was a time when he was doing sales calls for Procter & Gamble and he realized that being cramped in his car at 11 in the morning made him too exhausted to pitch their products. He figured that the streets do not get crowded in the wee hours of the morning and the department stores leave their back door open the entire night for deliveries. So instead of doing his calls like the rest of other salesmen did, he began waking up at two in the morning so he could start making rounds by 3 a.m. By the time it gets unbearably hot in Newark, he had already finished his sales calls.
Harry gives this advice to people who want to succeed:
"In hindsight, what I learned from that was that you don't always have to follow the rules exactly as they are—as long as you don't break rules and as long as you are successful."
It takes a lot of maturity from his part not to cross the line.
As a Marketing/Brand Management head, he began doing focus groups and eventually became known as one of the experts in that arena. Merchant Circle’s website defines Focus Groups as “a group of people asked for the purpose of gathering perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and opinion regarding a concept, idea, service, product or advertisement.”
According to them, Harry "pioneered a focus group protocol that many companies use known as “mini focus group” for executive and professional participants. As a Focus Group Moderator Dr. Harry Leibowitz provides extensive Marketing analysis and research, which involves two important research methodologies: qualitative and quantitative research. People considering marketing research sometimes confuse one for the other. It is important to note that there is a clear distinction between these two schools of research."
Years after he has left Procter & Gamble, Harry’s expertise in doing focus groups is still highly valued by different business sectors.
Working for Esmark and Creating Partners In Marketing
After being with Procter & Gamble for five years, Harry left the company in 1972 to work for Esmark, Inc. where he was offered the position of key executive. Working for Esmark gave Harry the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe and Canada. His travels further opened his eyes to the lack of sustainable projects that help children who are abused and neglected.
It took another 10 years of working and travelling before Harry decided it was time for him to put up his own consulting firm. It led to the founding of Partners In Marketing in 1981. He successfully managed Partners In Marketing until 2002 when he sold it due to his involvement in World of Children.
From Cancer Patient to Full-Fledged Philanthropist
By the time Harry was in his fifties, he could already call himself successful. His business is doing well and he has made an impact in the business industry as one of the leading consultants. When everything was just going well in his life and career, he was diagnosed with cancer.
Harry had to go through surgery when he was 51 years old. He survived his first battle with cancer but had to go through another surgery in 1996 when the cancer resurfaced. Watching a Pulitzer awarding ceremony, Harry was still feeling groggy after going through surgery. As the drugs began to wear out, he had an epiphany. Literary people have the Pulitzer, peace advocates and scientists have the Nobel Peace Prize, and actors have the Oscar’s (among many others), but there was no award-giving body to acknowledge the work of people who are defending the rights of children and making life easier for them. That’s when Harry began to mentally create World of Children Award, a non-profit organization that would help children advocates and organizations realize their projects.
Founding World of Children with Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz
Out of his own pocket, Harry funded the World of Children Award using 250,000 dollars of his personal money. It took two more years for the organization to get going. Using his knowledge in Procter & Gamble, Harry began to draw up an organization that would set the “gold standard in child advocacy.” According to its website, World of Children was established to provide “funding and recognition to support life-changing work for children. By discovering and elevating only the most effective changemakers for children worldwide, we set the gold standard in child advocacy.”
Harry met Kay in 1999 and introduced the World of Children Award to her. It did not take long before the retired senior executive of Victoria's Secret fell in love with the organization and its founder. The two became partners in their crusade and in life as they eventually decided to marry.
Like Harry, Kay was raised in a way that made her sensitive and aware of other people’s struggles. She was the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot. Having a fighter pilot for a father exposed Kay to different cultures. She finished primary school in Taiwan and graduated from high school in Ethiopia, Africa. She went on to complete her college degree in the United States where she began an illustrious career in the field of fashion. She was the first female president of the Melville Division, Accessory Lady and acted as president of Banana Republic. She spent another 10 years of her life as Executive Vice President of Victoria's Secret. She retired in 2003 (a year after Harry sold his consulting business) for the same reason as her husband—to focus on World of Children Award.
According to Kay:
"We both have been fortunate. We had to work hard for all we have. We worked to pay our way through college, have taken care of our families, and now share our blessings and any wealth we have with those less fortunate, the world's most vulnerable children." (Source: Alison Kjeldgaard of World of Children)
Although retired, she remains to be a respected figure in her field and has joined GUESS (NYSE) and Coldwater Creek (NASDAQ) as an independent member of the Board of Directors.
Their official website says the following about their achievement:
"In our 15-year history, the World of Children Award has invested $5 million in programs led by 95 Honorees serving vulnerable children in 140 countries. Through our Honorees, we estimate that we have touched the lives of 30,000,000 children." (Source: World of Children Award)
Asked what his advice is to people who are planning to start an organization, he has the following to say:
- It is easy to give money away, but very difficult to give it away well, so be disciplined.
- It is easy to think you know it all, but there are people out there who are far smarter than you and have done it wrong and right, so study and learn first.
- There are so many philanthropies out there now. Before starting another one and creating more overhead and competition, do your homework and make sure there isn’t someone out there doing what you want to do and partner with them.(Source: World of Children Award)
Now in his seventies, Harry is yet to retire doing what he’s used and born to do—making a difference in the lives of people especially of children “one hand and one heart at a time.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- World of Children
- P&G Alumni
- P&G Alumni Network
- Magner Career Center
- Empower Orphans
- International Children’s Heart Foundation
- Chernobyl Children International
- Focus Group Moderator
Awards and Achievements
- 1981: Founded the Partners In Marketing
- 1996: Co-founded World of Children with wife, Kay
- 1999: Received the Starr Commonwealth Child Advocacy Award
- 2006: Received Reclaiming Youth International Child Advocacy Award
- 2007: Received the Procter & Gamble Alumni Humanitarian Award
- 2009: Featured in AWEARNESS: Inspiring Stories on How to Make a Difference
- 2012: Received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor
- Received The Achievement Award from Wayne State University
- He has been featured in:
- The Humanitarian Leader in Each of Us: 7 Steps That Shape a Socially Responsible Life
- When Core Values are Strategic—How the Basic Values of Procter & Gamble Transformed the Leadership at Fortune 500 Companies
Wikipedia (Harry Leibowitz)
UT San Diego (Couple Rewards Amazing Advocates for Children)
World of Children Award (About Us page)
Baby Heart Blog (Stephanie March of Law and Order, visits ICHF Babyheart Medical Mission in Kharkiv, Ukraine)
Merchant Circle (Harry Leibowitz Focus Group Moderator)
Cause Celeb (Changing the World for a 'World of Children')
Teacher World (Sixteen-Year Old Winner of the World of Children Award)
World of Children Award (Q&A with Harry Leibowitz: his thoughts on fatherhood)
Rancho Santa Fe Review (Rancho Santa Fe philanthropist awarded 2012 Ellis Island Medal of Honor)
Forbes (Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz)
Bloomberg Businessweek (Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz)
The Huffington Post (Harry Leibowitz)
Premiere Speakers Bureau (Harry Leibowitz)
Global Philanthropy Forum (Harry Leibowitz' profile)
Building Brighter Futures (About World of Children)
Rancho Santa Fe (Nominations open for World of Children Award)
Blog Talk Radio (Harry Leibowitz Interview for P&G Alumni Network book)