The early childhood experience of living in a one-room cabin without what many would consider essential conveniences—central heat, telephone and indoor refrigeration—may seem astonishing in an era of increasingly technological dependency, but may have formed the backbone of Loren Finnell’s preparation for the rigors of Peace Corps service and, what would eventually become a nearly 50-year career in the field of international development.
Indeed, the Larchmont resident chanced upon his experience with the Peace Corps after graduating from college in 1963 during an era of social change when, “Peace Corps became a thing.” While waiting for his acceptance, Finnell interned at an accounting firm—a respectable career track for many—that taught him one thing: number crunching can be rather dull.
“I knew I would be bored as an accountant,” he said, continuing, “I think I would have gone bonkers.”
Luckily, the self-described Midwestern “country boy” was accepted to the Peace Corps in 1964—the third group of volunteers ever to be sent out—and was shipped off to Ecuador, where, in addition to a complete indoctrination to a new culture, he met his wife of 44 years, Pilar, a woman he lovingly refers to as, “My souvenir from Ecuador.”
Upon completion of his tour, now as a married man, Loren and his wife traveled to Laos to work for International Voluntary Services (IVS)— a nonprofit organization founded by Mennonites, Quakers and Brethrens that the Peace Corps was modeled after—from 1966-68 during the Silent War period.
Arriving in Larchmont in 1972, Loren worked for a nonprofit he co-founded, Private Agencies Collaborating Together (PACT), and did consulting work in Latin America.
In the mid-‘80s, however, Loren realized that his in-depth knowledge of the local nonprofit organizations within the region could be beneficial to potential donors who wanted to trace the progression of their contributions. It was also easier to provide financial support for a U.S.-based company, said Loren.
“We were fortunate to do it at a moment when corporate organizations had more interest in philanthropy,” he said.
The Resource Foundation began in Loren’s basement in 1987, as a bridge between donors and the “organizations in Latin America that needed to be assisted and empowered,” said Loren.
One of the things the Resource Foundation does is to guide funding toward specific projects, rather than utilizing guesswork and/or funneling aid through corrupt government channels.
“The outsiders going in don’t always know how to best invest the money,” said Loren, continuing, “There’s a lot of mismanagement…a lot of money having expatriates go down there and live down there.”
Additionally, said Loren, the organization maintains a close watch over aid money, by way of, “reports, visiting projects on a regular basis and [working with] local organizations that are very unique in creating new types of incomes or projects.”
Today, the Foundation has corporate clients that include Caterpiller, Dow Chemical, Kellogg, Johnson & Johnson and Deutsche Bank. The organization received $8 million in donations this year and expects to get $10 million in 2013. According to their website, the Foundation has provided over $55 million to 1,100 projects within Latin America and the Caribbean since 1987. This is a long way from where the organization started, when both the volume and value of grants were equally small.
Loren’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. In 2006, he received the Sergent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service; in 2008 he was presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree from Manchester College and, in January of this year, he published a memoir called Still a Country Boy.
His advice for others seeking to start their careers?
“Don’t be limited by what you studied in school…go outside the box,” he said.
“Better to take a stab at it while you’re young—I surprised myself by being able to take a chance,” he said, a trace of Midwestern twang still present in his voice.
These days, Loren is considering a second book and potentially traveling the college circuit as a speaker.
When asked what excites him about the work he does, his answer was simple.
“Getting up everyday to know your challenges are to make sure money goes to the right group and letting the world know about projects.”