Five Questions With: Edward H. White Jr.

Edward H. White Jr. has served as the executive director of the National Grid Foundation since being named to the position in June 2017. His responsibilities include serving as chief administrative officer, setting and managing the annual gifting and operating budgets, developing and implementing grant-making criteria, and creating brand strategies while working with nonprofit organizations to develop grant proposals.

Prior to joining the foundation, White held several leadership roles at National Grid. He was vice president/U.S. program lead for National Grid’s internal “Shaping Our Future” strategic review and before that, he served as vice president of new energy solutions, a team focused on building the utility of the future through the development of new, energy-efficient products and services designed to meet the needs of customers, stakeholders and communities. He also led the team that developed the company’s largest distributed solar installation project and served as the U.S. lead on developing National Grid’s energy-management strategy.

White’s career at National Grid spans 25 years. During that time, he has worked with several other teams, including electric operations, environmental and procurement, and he served as chief of staff to the president and CEO of the U.S. business.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a certificate in high-performance management from Northeastern University. He also completed Cambridge University’s program for sustainability leadership.

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PBN: What have you learned about the Rhode Island philanthropic community in the year-plus that you have served as the National Grid Foundation’s executive director?

WHITE: The Rhode Island philanthropic community is robust and strong. Its rich community nurtures partnerships focused on organizations big and small. At the National Grid Foundation, which is primarily focused on supporting educational and environmental programs in underserved communities, we always knew the need was there, and in this role, I am able to get much closer to the need and see the results of the great work firsthand.

Most recently, I had the opportunity to visit with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, where its community kitchen culinary-job program teaches culinary-job skills to unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders.

We also see firsthand how Providence College and the University of Rhode Island work with our Hoops for the Stars program, which provides teachers with exciting incentives to motivate elementary and middle school students to work hard in the classroom and in their community.

PBN: The foundation has awarded roughly $275,000 in grants to Rhode Island communities and organizations since fall 2017. Would you please provide an example or two of the type of work these grants support and the organizations that receive them?

WHITE: As we move into fall and winter, I am pleased to say we will continue to grow our giving in the area. In October, we once again supported Hoops for the Stars and during the winter months we will provide project funding for the Catholic Social Services’ Keep the Heat On fund at the $100,000 level. Over the last five years, we have supported the fund with nearly $500,000.

Some other examples of the types of organizations we support include:

  • Science, technology, engineering and math after-school programming at the Learning Community in Central Falls supports elementary school children from the Central Falls, Pawtucket and Providence areas.
  • We support the Audubon Society’s Environmental Education for Urban Schools Initiative, which allows children with limited economic resources to engage in comprehensive environmental-based science education programs.
  • FirstWorks, which is building community through the arts, will receive support for a new environmental program called Earth First. It kicked off this summer during PVDFest with a bike-powered event celebrating reduction of individuals’ carbon footprints. Earth First will continue this year with a multi-month program that will cover in-school workshops, film screenings and a lecture series for schools participating in FirstWorks arts and learning programs in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Newport County.

All of these are natural partnerships because we are continually looking for ways to solve today’s educational and environmental challenges and improve the lives of people in neighborhoods we serve.

PBN: You’ve headed the National Grid Foundation for a little more than a year now. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as the organization’s executive director?

WHITE: By far the greatest challenge is balancing the enormous need in the community with the available funding and finding the right way to encourage additional support.

Another is looking for ways to help these organizations connect with others, so they can, through a broader social network, increase and amplify their mission.

We view our role as more than a funder; we want to develop partnerships with outstanding organizations that benefit the communities in which we make grants. … My vision is a reciprocal network where these organizations can tap into National Grid and vice versa.

PBN: What are some of the biggest achievements you’ve helped the foundation celebrate?

WHITE: Three achievements come to mind. First, I am lucky enough to have joined the foundation just before our 20th anniversary. I am excited to be part of the energy, spirit and impact the foundation has delivered and will deliver into the future.

Second, we recently added Angel Taveras, former Providence mayor, to our board of directors. He is a strong leader who understands Rhode Island, its diverse communities and unique challenges.

And third, continuing and participating in Hoops for the Stars – an amazing program that has positively impacted and provided incentives for school-age children for more than 10 years.

PBN: For those organizations interested, what types of grant opportunities does the foundation have moving into 2019 and where can individuals learn more about foundation schemes?

WHITE: Our primary focus is education, especially STEM and science, technology, engineering, art and math-inspired programs. Of our $1.4 million budget in 2017, about one-third was spent on our overall heating/emergency assistance programs and about 10 percent was spent on the Hoops for the Stars program.

We believe that addressing global issues begins at the local level. We support and engage nonprofit organizations [that] implement educational and environmental programs and solutions. These partnerships help build stronger communities, the important first step in positively impacting and transforming individuals, neighborhoods, cities and, ultimately, our planet.

I am active on Twitter, @whitee42, and invite those interested to visit our website to learn more and apply for a grant.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, gowdey-backus@pbn.com.