Giving from the Heart
A Conversation with Andrea Lee-Zucker
A writer, activist, impact investor, mother, and wife, Andrea Lee-Zucker is committed to using her passions and skills to make the world a better place. “I am constantly checking that my intentions match my values,” she said. “My grandparents were Holocaust survivors and my parents lived the American dream, going from rags to riches and then recognizing that it was their obligation to give back — a value that they instilled in my brothers and me.”
Andrea takes her life calling seriously and is deeply involved in a variety of organizations. She is the Washington, D.C. City Ambassador of NEXUS, a movement uniting young philanthropists and social entrepreneurs to scale positive solutions for global challenges; a board member of Together We Remember, a movement transforming remembrance of the past into a powerful movement for peace in the present; and a board member of the Conrad Challenge, which empowers high school students to create innovations to solve global challenges. In our conversation, Andrea shared the question she asks herself every day, as well as the importance of being compassionate to ourselves.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a giver?
I think the term giver can have a very broad definition. Any form of giving is important — smiling at someone on the street, lending a helping hand, or giving dollars or time. From a very young age, I realized that helping people made me feel good, and my parents showed me many examples of this. One Sunday, when I was a child, I was watching a charity auction on TV with my dad and older brother. My dad called the TV station and excitedly bid on different items. Then, we rented a U-Haul truck and went to pick up all of the items, which included a bike and games. I asked my dad if I could ride the bike. “You didn’t think this was all for you, did you? You already have a bike,” he told me. He had purchased the toys for the children at Jenkins Orphanage. We delivered all of the items, and I saw the excitement on the children’s faces. That experience, among others, taught me the mutual benefit of giving.
What have you learned from your parents that you want to pass on to your children?
I’ve learned so many things from my parents that I want to pass on to my children. At the heart of it is the idea of Tikkun Olam, repair of the world. Our role as humans is to help complete the creation by seeking increased justice in the world, which we can do through our actions. My father passed away 11 years ago, and he shared a number of lessons with my two brothers and me. Don’t be a bystander to hate. Always have a sense of urgency in everything you do. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with good people. My parents encouraged me to ask myself each day, “What did I do today to improve the world?” They taught me the importance of family and community. They also taught me that building bridges among people of different races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds can strengthen the world.
Why does impact investing appeal to you?
I don’t separate my personal values from my professional values. My values follow me wherever I go and are a part of everything I do. When I decide whether or not to invest in a company or organization, I consider how it is proactively helping issues I care about in which I see significant needs. I am passionate about supporting both for-profit and non-profit ventures that are aligned with my values, purpose, and vision for the world.
Why is it important for women to be compassionate with themselves?
Women are expected to do so much today — take care of our families, get our kids to all of their activities, keep up with our work, and contribute to the world. But we’re not superhuman. We are limited vessels, and we need to remember that. If we’re physically depleted, we can become emotionally depleted and we won’t be able to live our lives according to our values. Look at the various pieces of your life and decide what can slide. I know, for example, that I can’t keep up with laundry and clutter, and when I see those piles gather around my house, they may drive me crazy for a minute. But then I’ll remind myself why I make the choices I make. Sometimes, we’ll mess up in categories that we care about. When I do that, I’ll think about how I want to make different choices in the future and then I’ll redirect my mind because beating myself up won’t make things better. I also recommend surrounding yourself with friends who are compassionate and kind, too. We tend to model the behavior of those who surround us.
How can women harness their gifts to make a difference in the world?
First, that comes through being self-aware. Ask yourself, what makes me feel most alive? What are my personal passions? When you find a cause that merges multiple factors of yourself — your personal story, your gifts, and your passions — you may come closer to identifying how you can make your most meaningful difference in the world. I’ve had a tendency to fight against my strengths. I’m a generalist, and I used to beat myself up for this, wishing I were an expert in something. But then I realized that being a generalist is an expertise in and of itself and is helpful in my ability to integrate information and connect people across silos. I also love people. I have strong intuition. I have a family background that values giving in all its different forms. Since I started to better understand, appreciate my gifts, and tap into my passions, I have found roles that both fit my personality and enable me to make a meaningful difference in the world.