Throwback to Hartford Business Journal's 5 to Watch in 2016 with our President and CEO, Paula S. Gilberto
December 29, 2016
By Keith Griffin
Gilberto seeks smarter spending in leaner times
As a child of first-generation immigrants, Paula Gilberto grew up in a New Britain neighborhood where people watched out for each other. It was decidedly blue collar but the people took pride in giving back even while working long hours to provide for their families.
Those childhood values helped guide Gilberto's career path, which culminates in March when she becomes president and CEO of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. She replaces Susan B. Dunn, who announced her retirement in November.
Gilberto, United Way's current senior vice president, sat for an hour-long interview at her Arbor Street office in Hartford's West End. She joined United Way in March 1998 as vice president of community services, overseeing the organization's nonprofit resource and volunteer centers.
She acknowledges there are challenges both she and the United Way face in 2016. Topping the list will be a focus on not just how much money her organization raises and how many people are served, but how well funds are spent. "[We] are going to be concerned with how many and how well [beneficiaries are served]," she said.
The United Way, which has evolved from strictly being focused on philanthropy over the years, works on community partnerships that help people become independent whether it's through better education in elementary school or job development. "I really believe in the value of collaboration," Gilberto said, adding the United Way in a time of intense competition for resources can be a place where people gather together to work on issues. "No one entity is going to be able to tackle issues. It's on the shoulders of all of us."
David Garvey, director of UConn's Nonprofit Leadership Program, said Gilberto's biggest challenge will be keeping programs going when government funding is declining. He said she also faces the challenge of mergers affecting corporate philanthropy. "Mergers aren't the healthiest thing for a corporate environment. That brings the dollars together, but often there is a potential for a shrinkage for overall giving," said Garvey, adding that Gilberto's strengths are developing partnerships and making them work.
While industry consolidation is a concern to Gilberto, she doesn't seem overwhelmed by potential mergers involving The Phoenix Cos., Anthem, Cigna and Aetna.
She said each of those companies have a "deeply-rooted tradition of supporting health, human services, education and the arts in the communities where their employees live and work." She said it's too early to tell what impact the mergers will have, but she's hopeful "that their commitment to our local community remains solid despite a change in corporate structure."
Joseph Spalluto, retired group head of fixed income for investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said mergers and acquisitions can lead to diminishing philanthropic resources over time, but it's not a new trend.
"This has been going on for years," said Spalluto, who serves on the boards of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center as well as the University of St. Joseph. "All the major banks are gone, like Hartford National and CBT, through mergers and acquisitions," adding that St. Francis Hospital was recently acquired by Michigan-based Trinity Health.
Gilberto said two broad program initiatives she will focus on are jobs and education. The latter includes ongoing efforts to have children reading at grade level by grade four. She said research shows children hitting that milestone typically do better academically and stay in school through high school graduation. The United Way will also focus on having ninth grade students equipped with the skills to succeed academically to graduate high school on time and be ready for college or the workforce.
Gilberto also said the United Way will focus on jobs training to help individuals obtain skills for in-demand jobs that pay a living wage.
"Our intent is to work with other philanthropic organizations that share the commitment to do something of significance for families," said Gilberto.