Frank Schott, William Brindley and Jack Levy were all thinking alike, although none of them knew it at the time. Each was a highly successful executive at a big, well-known company. Each wanted to swap a money-making career for the chance to make a difference in the world.
The trio landed at NetHope, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that operates in 180 countries and helps other nonprofits reduce costs by sharing technology.
Brindley (right), a tenured private banker for Citigroup, joined NetHope more than a decade ago. Schott, a 10-year Microsoft veteran, signed on in 2005, and Levy, a 25-year Accenture veteran, followed in 2008. All three men say they never expected the challenges they would face and wouldn't trade the rewards they now receive.
"I was looking for a form of give-back, something that had meaning in terms of helping others," Levy says.
Levy, a 50-year-old banker, wasn't ready to abandon the skills he had acquired in the financial world. Why toss away all that knowledge built over a career?
For 54-year-old Schott, the idea of putting his tech skills to use for a nonprofit came to him when he still was at Microsoft and working on a project with refugees in Africa. "I was working on a registration system to help reunite families. It was a simple database with a printout." But the impact of such simple technology was, as he says, "inspiring." The identification cards produced allowed family members broken apart by civil conflict to find one another.
At NetHope, Schott (left) uses his skills to develop sophisticated information technology programs, including those that allow nonprofit groups to use mapping software during a crisis to find and share water, transportation, shelter and other resources, and SMS technology that allows organizations to send AIDS prevention information to people via their mobile phones.
"I worked my tail off at Microsoft and I am working my tail off now," Schott says. He, Brindley and Levy say they are working harder now in their second careers than they did in their first -- for less money but a bigger payoff: a sense of fulfillment.
With an annual budget of $2 million, NetHope helps 32 different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) -- such as Habit for Humanity, Worldvision, and CARE -- lower their costs through smarter use of technology. The NetHope team helps these organizations identify solutions that can be shared among other members.
This year, for his work as global program director at NetHope, Schott won the prestigious Integral Fellow Prize awarded by Microsoft's Alumni Foundation. Every year, the awards recognize the positive effects former Microsoft workers are making around the world and are designed "to inspire others to do the same."
Brindley, NetHope's 60-year-old chief executive, says when he left Citigroup in 1999, he was at a stage in his life when he wanted "to move from money to meaning." He had helped run Citi's vast global wealth management unit and was managing director of the company's private banking division. The challenge at NetHope was taking the nonprofit to the next level with a limited budget and to set goals that weren't tied to the bottom line.
"We have a different orientation," Brindley says. Accomplishments are measured by how many people are assisted, not by how much [money is] made."
The transition was perhaps the most seamless for Levy (right). He went from servicing the accounting needs of Microsoft and its nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to serving the needy.
"I was [at Accenture] doing a large consulting project for Microsoft. I was helping architect technology for back office systems. While I was up there [in Redmond], I also helped with the Gates Foundation. When I was helping see the project through, I turned to the COO and said, 'Help me understand something: The solutions that are being built here -- doesn't every nonprofit need these?' He laughed and said, 'Yes, you ought to call this guy.' And he hands me Bill Brindley's business card."
"I had a terrific career with Accenture," Levy, also a global program director, says. "But now I look at those 25 years as setting me up for what I do now."
SecondAct contributor Thomas M. Kostigen is a bestselling author whose books include The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life and The Big Handout (September 2011). He lives in Los Angeles.
Read more: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World