Campus News

Maxine Clark shares her purpose during Signature Lecture

To Maxine Clark, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, she believes that one plus one can equal 100.

“If you work with someone else side-by-side, then you can make someone else’s life better,” she said.

Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and founder/CEO of the Clark-Fox Family Foundation, joined Jeff Jowdy, founder and president of Lighthouse Counsel, for “Driven by Purpose: Philanthropy and Social Good” on Nov. 11. The virtual event was part of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Driven by Purpose series and was designated a Signature Lecture.

Their conversation started with a discussion about why purpose is important. Clark said it began with the way she was raised. Her mother served as Eleanor Roosevelt’s private traveling secretary during World War II and shared the importance of doing good with her daughter.

“It goes together with being an entrepreneur,” she said. “I never think of it as a separate part of myself. I think about it as just who I am.”

In 2013, Clark stepped down from Build-A-Bear Workshop to apply her entrepreneurial skills to her passion for improving K-12 public education and to invest in and mentor women and minority entrepreneurs.

Her latest venture is Delmar DivINe, a collaborative space dedicated to maximizing the human and financial capital of St. Louis’ social initiatives and institutions. It’s scheduled to open in 2021 and is housed in an old hospital—about 500,000 square feet—that will have a variety of tenants.

“What I saw was the possibility to bring disparate groups of nonprofits that exist in St. Louis together,” she said of the $100 million project. “I saw the history and the opportunity for commerce again in a really great place to live.”

For Clark, the value of the project goes even deeper.

“In the process, I’ve gotten to know the neighbors, I’ve gotten to understand the neighborhood, and I’ve gotten to study the history,” she said. “We get to respond to the times as they’re changing right in front of us.”

Collaboration has been the key, and Clark pointed out that it’s important to think of the community in total and for nonprofits to not be competitive but to consider how they can fit in to that community’s safety net.

She also said that it’s not always money that makes a difference. Sharing time and talents can build genuine relationships that are important. That allows groups to bring more people to the table.

Those connections extend to professional networking. She encouraged students not to take those opportunities for granted because people want to be helpful and make those connections.

Clark also touched on what makes a good boss. She said it’s important to set a good example. Employees will follow that lead, which creates a good culture.

After her discussion with Jowdy, Clark took questions from Thomas McMullen, co-director of Talking Dog, UGA’s student-led, full-service agency. Topics ranged from how being a first-generation college student shaped her to ways to promote social good to the role social media plays in today’s world.

As far as what’s next for Clark, she said that she still has more work to do in education and will continue to work with new minority entrepreneurs.

“Don’t think that because something is already invented that it can’t be reinvented,” she said. “I didn’t invent teddy bears, and Howard Schultz didn’t invent coffee, and Ray Kroc didn’t invent hamburgers. We invented ways to make them better.”