Civic Warriors

A Rise of Women’s Empowerment in the International Music Scene

Civic Warriors Podcast Episode 1: Nvak Foundation

Tamar Mardirossian shares how her journey in becoming a musician created an opportunity for a rise of women’s empowerment in the international music scene. Listen in as Withum’s Brad Caruso and Heather Campisi chat with Tamar about why she started Nvak Foundation, finding her way as an upcoming young artist in the music industry, lessons learned in fundraising, how she’s using social media to find talented musicians and operating a U.S.-based nonprofit with international operations and impact as a young woman entrepreneur.

Music erases the barriers of culture, race and language

Transcript:

This podcast was transcribed through a third-party application. Please disregard any misrepresentations.

Civic Warriors: Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined warrior.

Hosts: This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Our guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Brad: So with us, Tamar, and I can’t pronounce your last name, Mardirossian.

Tamar: It is. Yes, that’s my, that’s my legal last name. But my, my artist last name is Kaprelian.

Brad: Okay. How do you pick that? How does that happen? As far as like picking a professional name?

Tamar: Okay, so there are two, there are two parts of that story. The first part is that I, when I was, when I was coming out with my first album, I was signed to Interscope at the time and they wanted to, they didn’t want me to have a last name at all. They wanted it just, you know, they wanted Tamar to be the way that they kind of put me out into the world as an artist. And I was like, no, that just feels so weird. And, um, and then I was like, wow. You know, my theory was if people can pronounce Kardashian, I was like, Kaprelian isn’t that far off?!

Heather: There ya go.

Tamar: You know, I was like, this should be easy for humans.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. Super easy.

Tamar: So that, that was, that was the one, um, that was my one consideration. The other consideration was that, um, my, I was really close to my grandfather. Um, my mom’s father and his, my mom’s maiden name was Kaprelian and I wanted to do something in honor of him.

Brad: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah.

Heather: That’s great.

Tamar: So, so I, so I decided to use his last name.

Brad: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah, that was, that was, uh, like with our family. My, my grandfather, uh, he wasn’t from Italy, but his parents were born in Italy. He was first generation born over here. And, uh, he was a barber for like, I don’t know, 60 years. He owned a barber shop. It’s still there down in the town they live. But, uh, yeah, me, me and my brother and sister, like a lot of our tattoos are like based on, you know, family. My brother has like a barber pole, tattoos on his arm. It’s, yeah. So totally get it. And, uh, you know, that’s where most of the good ideas come from is family. So that’s awesome.

Tamar: I agree.

Brad: Yeah. So for, for those, uh, those folks that don’t know Tamar, she’s professionally recognized as an American-Armenian singer, songwriter and philanthropist, which is why we’re here today. We’re going to talk a lot more about the philanthropy. Uh, but it’s fun because Tamar is the only person I’ve met that has a Wikipedia page, which is very exciting. And before we started, one of the things that we talked about was how accurate is Wikipedia? And I’ll ask you, how accurate is a Wikipedia?

Tamar: I don’t know. I don’t know. The only, the only thing I think that is accurate about, about telling is my age. And I wish it wasn’t, and I wish it didn’t have that on there, but, but yeah.

Brad: That’s awesome. That’s really funny. Um, but yeah, so, so, uh, so I think we’re going to talk a little bit about Nvak, uh, which means “music” in Armenian. Um, so Nvak is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that recruits talented musicians in countries struggling from social, political and cultural difference difficulties and provides hyper-local, world-class music education and resources to help musicians create and distribute their own contemporary music worldwide. And, I think what the really cool part is that Nvak creates opportunity where there’s none. Um, I think the important part about understanding what a charity does, uh, is really the, the mission and, and who you’re there to serve. So, um, you know, I think when, whenever we, uh, take on a client, whenever we meet people, I’m always curious like, like, why? You know, why did you do it? What, what made you feel that, uh, that you could accomplish what you were trying to accomplish? What made you feel that this was the mission you wanted to carry out? You know, why, why, why that?

Tamar: I think that music is such a powerful tool. I think that it has the ability to bring people of all backgrounds, of all cultures, of all religions together. It’s almost this, you know, it’s such a powerful medium because it erases language. It erases religion, it relates it erases culture. Like you don’t, you don’t need to speak the same language or be from the same place to appreciate a piece of music. Um, and that’s, you know, what other, what other thing can do that, right?

Brad: Yeah.

Tamar: We, I think, I think everybody can, everybody appreciates music.

Brad: Yup.

Tamar: And I think that there’s not enough funding going towards music education and then compound that with the fact that these people, these musicians, some of these musicians live in places that there is no infrastructure for creating original music or there’s no music business or there’s no entertainment business. I mean, unless you live in Los Angeles or New York or Nashville or London, Paris, Germany, some of those bigger cities.

Brad: Sure.

Tamar: Even if you go into, you know, places like Albania or even, I mean, let’s say Greece too, right? You really start to see that. Well, I mean a lot of these other countries are focusing on so many other social, political, cultural…

Brad: Sure.

Tamar: …difficulties.

Brad: So are we in the United States. But…

Tamar: Very true. Very true. That’s said, though.

Brad: Different levels. Different levels.

Tamar: That said.

Brad: Yeah.

Tamar: If a musician in the U.S. wanted to be able to find some level of…

Brad: It’s a lot easier.

Tamar: …if they wanted to get into arts it would be a lot easier for them to do so. So we really kind of focus on, on regions that don’t have any access to this stuff. Um, and, and kind of going back to the why, aside from music being this really, this great equalizer and this, this way to kind of bridge people and bring people together. Um, I think that, well, we’re obviously focusing on women and girls in these regions. So, um, I would say that it’s, you know, 80/20 female to male in terms of the ratio of the people that we’re serving. Um, and I think that music is just an amazing way to be able to express yourself and, and develop, um, your own voice. And I think that musicians in these countries have unique voices that they’re not able to amplify. And we want to be able to use our resources and our connections to be able to tell their stories and the stories of the places that they’re living, which most people don’t know any. You know, people don’t know where Armenia is, let alone anything about the people. Right? Um, this gives us the opportunity to, uh, be able to amplify not only their stories, but of the, of the places, the stories that the places that they live and they come from.

Brad: Sure. Yeah. And I can totally relate to, the only thing I can think of outside of music that everyone can relate to, and this is just because we were there this weekend was, was the ocean. You know, like I, I was listening to one thing that talks about how like connected people are to the ocean. I think the same thing is true about people to music. I think it’s…

Tamar: That’s so interesting.

Brad: …it’s an emotional and a mental reaction. I think a lot of people find solace in music.

Tamar: Yep.

Brad: I think a lot of people find passion and, and happiness in music. Um, and people professionally do really well with music. You know, there’s a lot of, um, individuals who in their own right, who have, um, you know, made a good career out of a great career of it. And, and I think it’s awesome that now you take that, you know, you have, you have a career in music, a background in music, and now you’re taking that and then paying it forward. You know, how do you, you know, what made you say, I want to pay this forward or I want to, I want to help someone else? You know, what, what triggered you to do that?

Tamar: Uh, I think I, you know, two things. I was fortunate in that I grew up in a city where the music business was at my disposal. If I, if I just reached out for it.

Brad: Sure.

Tamar: Um, living in Los Angeles, Los Angeles is really the mecca of the entertainment business. So if you, if you have the, if you have the drive and the persistence and the hustle, you can, you can kind of, and the talent, obviously.

Brad: And the talent.

Tamar: You can’t, you can’t be talentless and do this, but, um, you’d be surprised. Um..

Brad: You, you wouldn’t be surprised.

Tamar: You can, you can rise the ranks, right? You can get to know people and you can get into rooms and you can get the right education. So I felt, I felt very fortunate that I had that.

Brad: Sure.

Tamar: So that was one thing. And then the other thing is that I had a lot of really bad experiences in the music business too. I didn’t have good mentors, and I didn’t have people looking out for me. And as a result of that, I, you know, I got taken advantage of. There…multiple, multiple times as a young woman in the business, you know, not knowing who to trust and who not to trust. It’s, it’s so easy to, um, people in the entertainment business can be very, very predatory as, as we’ve seen now with the #MeToo Movement that’s come out.

Brad: Oh, with everything. Yeah, yeah.

Tamar: So, yeah. So, um, there was a lot of that and I wanted to, um, I wanted to protect young female musicians and I wanted to, um, I wanted to give them the tools to be able to prevent the things that happened to me.

Brad: Sure. Yeah.

Tamar: So I was, and that’s another huge driving factor.

Brad: I think that’s awesome. And I think that’s where, you know, if everybody thought that way, we’d live in a better place.

Tamar: Yeah.

Brad: You know, if everybody kind of took the next person beyond them and help them, you know, come on up. I think, you know, public accounting and our business, our model, like that’s the only thing that makes it work is getting the next generation. You know, they used to call it a pyramid scheme. You need the next generation to pay you out, which is somewhat true. But also there’s an altruistic side of it. Like, I’m helping someone get to where I was and you know, I learned everything in my life through making mistakes, you know.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: There’s nothing I learned from doing something positive. If someone’s like, “Oh, great job!” I’m like, yeah, that’s great, but what did I do wrong? You know, I don’t learn a whole lot from that. Whereas, now you can share some of those, some of those, you know, call them pitfalls, call them traps that people fall into that, you know, if you knew it ahead of time, you still gotta deal with it. You know, there’s still confrontation, there’s still things you got to deal with. But if you have that knowledge, and you have that base, and you hear it from someone that’s been through it, it becomes a lot more real to you.

Tamar: 100 percent.

Brad: Yeah. So, uh, love hearing that. I think that’s awe. I think that’s, that’s, that’s really a great mission. That’s, that’s where you get, um, a strong following. You get, you get, um, you know, you probably feel great about connecting with all these students.

Tamar: Of course. Yeah. And I think that, you know, I think at the end of the day, like one of the things that are, are, are… The Foundation’s built on integrity. I think that’s the most important word for me in, in running this.

Brad: Sure.

Tamar: I think that as long as we’re doing things with integrity and, and being open and honest, not only just with, just in, in all of our practices. I think, I think that that’s, I dunno, I think that’s the only way to really have something that’s long-term that’s scalable that, that other people connect to and, and, you know, that’s, I think how you really build something that lasts.

Brad: Of course. Yeah. And without integrity, there’s no trust without trust, then most people don’t want to work with you.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: You need it in any business, you know…

Tamar: 100 percent.

Brad: …music, non-music. So you have a, I think from, uh, just our working together and an understanding. I think you have an interesting approach towards music education. You know, I think if you go to like your, your typical colleges and universities, you go to your typical, uh, large institutions or, or education, they talk a lot about historical. They talk a lot about classical music. They talk a lot about learning music. But, I think you approach it a little bit differently, right?

Tamar: Yeah, we do. Very much so actually. We, um, we don’t focus on classical music education at all. Um, we kind of assume that if you have that knowledge, it’s great, but you don’t necessarily need a background in classical music.

Brad: Sure.

Tamar: Um, or you don’t even need that as the foundation to really be able to be a successful songwriter or a successful music producer or successful singer. Um, and the reason I’m saying that is because I, you know, I didn’t have a classical music education, and I learned, I picked up piano at the age of 14. I wasn’t even that young when I started playing piano.

Brad: Picked up?

Tamar: Yeah. I just sat down and started playing piano one day.

Brad: Please describe.

Tamar: Literally, literally.

Brad: Literally?

Tamar: Literally, I just, one day I was just like, I should probably learn how to play an instrument.

Brad: And you did.

Tamar: And I just sat down at the piano and just like started figuring stuff out. I was like, oh. Okay.

Brad: How long did it take you?

Tamar: Um, I mean, I don’t know. Not that long. Not that long. And I, and you know, I…

Brad: Because I’ve always had that dream by the way, to just figure out how to play piano. And then I had kids and then I was like, yeah, I got more important things in life. Uh, or I have more things that I have to tend to that take away my time.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: Yeah. But I had that dream forever that I was like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna play that. I wanted to always at my wedding play Billy Joel’s “Piano Man…”

Tamar: Yes.

Brad: …on the piano. And like play it myself. And sing it myself.

Tamar: Yes.

Brad: I didn’t get there, but I did karaoke it. I can karaoke it without, without a screen.

Tamar: Brad, are you a Billy Joel fan.

Brad: I am.

Tamar: Oh my God.

Brad: I am.

Tamar: See, I knew I liked you before and now I just like you way more.

Brad: Yeah. Heather and I were talking about that.

Tamar: He’s my favorite. Do you love Billy Joel too?

Heather: I love him. Did you see him at the Garden. Have you seen him multiple times?

Tamar: Yes, I’ve seen him multiples times.

Brad: You have to.

Tamar: He’s the best. And, and, and. Oh, this was the best. Um, last summer our friends invited us out to the Hamptons. He has a house in Sag Harbor.

Brad: Uh huh. Yup.

Tamar: And um, you know, it’s, it’s this very prominent and unique looking house in Sag Harbor. You kind of, you cannot miss it if you are there. And I, and me being obsessive and crazy, I was like, okay, what are the odds that Billy Joel is actually in his house right now?

Brad: I know he, yeah.

Tamar: I know he is. He must be. The, the, the, the blinds are drawn up. There’s someone in there. And um, and so we were having lunch at this place right by Billy Joel’s house. And we finished lunch and you know, we had had like a couple of glasses of wine. So, I felt like…

Heather: You’re feeling brave.

Tamar: …happy and feeling brave and um, and out we’re walking, we’re walking right past the house and there’s Billy Joel on his, on his like terrace smoking a cigar. And I of course I just had to say something because obviously..

Brad: It’s not going to happen again.

Tamar: No! No. Well it will, I will. Billy Joel will, I will find Billy Joel. He will be involved in Nvak somehow. Um, right? But, um, I told him, I, I, I told him, I was like, listen, you’re the reason why I got into the music business and um, your music influenced me so much in it. And he was so nice…

Brad: Yeah.

Tamar: …and he said, thank you so much and good luck with everything. And so that was like.

Brad: Yeah, that’s like one in a lifetime and that’s where you.

Tamar: An amazing moment in my life.

Brad: Yeah. That’s when you meet your childhood hero. You meet the person that like got you to do what you did.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: Or you know, and especially with music, you know, if you love his music, it’s, you know, amplified.

Tamar: And it’s so nice that he was nice too. And I think that that was…

Brad: And that’s the icing on the cake when you, when you meet him and you’re like, you finally meet him. And he was nice too. You’re like, all right. Everything that I grew up knowing, it validated it.

Tamar: No, totally.

Brad: I didn’t grow up like, and I am not going to use a curse word. I didn’t grow up like idolizing someone I shouldn’t have. Right?

Tamar: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, listen, Billy Joel hasn’t made the best life decisions in his life, but, but it’s, that’s okay. His music’s amazing!

Brad: You don’t, you don’t love him because.

Tamar: He’s an incredible storyteller.

Brad: You don’t love him because of the life he lived, right?

Tamar: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Brad: You love him because of the music he sings.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: His personality and how he is on stage, you know?

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: I mean, he’s one of the best performers out there just as far as.

Tamar: I agree.

Brad: You know, he can go in front of, in front of the Garden and perform in front of 60,000 people and, and it’s, you know, however old he is now too and he’s still doing it.

Tamar: And he still does it night after night.

Brad: Yeah. And he’s still, you know, same way he sung it 30 years ago. He sings it today.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: And it’s, it’s wild.

Tamar: Maybe a few keys lowered, but that’s fine.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure your voice changes a little bit.

Tamar: It still sounds great.

Brad: It still sounds the same. Right?

Tamar: It does.

Brad: Did you ever notice that people’s voice? I know, like with my grandfather, like from the day I was born to like the day he died, I was like, his voice always sounded the same to me and it definitely changed. You know, when people age, especially like it exponentially ages, it always sounds the same though. Like you always remember like one voice and I feel like it’s probably the same way.

Tamar: So true.

Brad: Yeah. That’s funny.

Tamar: I love that we have the Billy Joel connection guys.

Brad: There you go.

Tamar: That makes this way fun. So fun.

Brad: Yeah. So, uh, on that, do you, uh, do you teach what Billy Joel does really well in your curriculum? Teach do you focus on artists or do you focus on “X” – whatever “X” may be.

Tamar: We, we kind of focus. So, so what’s interesting about our programming is that it’s hyper. Like when you, when you were saying in the intro it’s hyper-localized. So what that means is that we do a lot of research prior to going to market and figure out what kind of music are they making in that country.

Brad: Oh, ok.

Tamar: You know, what is their, what is their ethnic domestic music scene? Do they have one? You know, do they have music schools? What kind of music schools do they have? Um, you know, we, we really, um, we try and do a lot of research just so that not only are, you know, are we informed and we don’t want to go in there being ignorant and trying to impose our way of our Western way of doing anything on a country that are already produces incredible music in their own right. You know, essentially what we want to do is we want to, um, you know, take some, take some of the most, um, take the talent with the most potential and, and really kind of not only help them make a community, but help them further their craft.

Tamar: Um, but yeah, we, we, we teach songwriting, we teach music production. We teach musicians how to be able to create music on their own and kind of be self sufficient in creating music. Right? I feel like, you know, if you look 10 years ago, right, there were no female producers. There still really aren’t a lot of female producers or female engineers in the music business. And that’s, that’s, that’s become a really, actually a topic that a lot of people have been talking about recently. Um, how do we educate our girls to be able to be more self-sufficient in the process, in the actual music creation process? How do we, um, how do you do that? Right? It’s literally, it’s literally kind of creating something from the ground up. Um.

Brad: Plus there’s so many different disciplines in that, you know, it’s not just, it’s not just talent. I mean…

Tamar: Sure.

Brad: …you have to have negotiation skills. You have to have the ability to, to, um, influence people. Right?

Tamar: Of course. Of course.

Brad: Dale, Dale Carnegie “How to Influence People” – great book. Uh, but that’s, that’s a huge part of it there. There’s so many facets of teaching music.

Tamar: It’s really the, you said the right word though, it’s the discipline…

Brad: Discipline. Yup.

Tamar: …of learning and applying yourself and wanting to learn the whole… We, we approach music in a very holistic way, right? I mean, even for me personally, right? I think if I could, if I could have gone back and learn how to do something, I was always constantly relying on male producers to help me produce the songs that I was writing.

Brad: Sure. Okay.

Tamar: Right? However, if I had learned the craft of actually creating the music from the ground, from the ground up, which you do in the songwriting process, right? But then when you go into the music production process, you, you need other people if you don’t know how to do it yourself. Right?

Brad: Oh, of course. Yeah.

Tamar: So how do we eliminate the process of other people, of young women needing other people, and they can just do it themselves? Um, that’s, that’s a huge part of what our programming focuses on. And we really, um, again, we really kind of view the creation of music from a very, very holistic standpoint of, you know. Once we leave, if we’re not there on the ground 24/7, which obviously we’re not, we have local community managers in each market…

Brad: Oh, okay.

Tamar: …that really help us do our programming year round. But, you know, how do we leave gear in each market and instruments in each market so that our musicians can create music year round? How do we teach them and train them on the gear that we’re giving them so that they can then continue making the music when we’re not there.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: So that’s the type of stuff that we’re in. And again, each market is totally different. Like Armenia – there, there is no contemporary music scene. Like, there just aren’t places where you can go and create contemporary music. Um, or, or music. Like you don’t have access to recording studios in Armenia.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: Um, they’re usually run by, you know, corrupt people in the government. And that’s not, you know, I’m not going to subject my musicians to having to deal with people like that.

Brad: No, it’s, it’s perpetuating the same problem you’re trying to solve.

Tamar: Exactly. Israel for example, again, totally different than Armenia. They have a very domestic, a very vibrant domestic music scene. Right? And they have, they, you know, there are a lot of studios that people can access and musicians can access and go and record their music. But, you know, this year we’ve partnered with an organization, another NGO on the ground. Um, the NGO is located in a pretty, um, rough part of Tel Aviv. We’re going to be donating instruments to them and, you know, um, it’s, uh, it’s going to be, it’s going to be interesting to see how we can kind of contribute and add to a community that already exists, but to make the community better, you know?

Brad: Oh, yeah. And that’s, that’s, I think you said it best. I think, uh, you know, for anyone we work with just entering any market, you know. Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s a charitable purpose, whether it’s a business, you know, business reason or whatever it is, it’s difficult because you have to, there’s so many levels you have to understand. You got to understand cultural.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: You have to understand what’s already there.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: You have to understand that, like you said before, we’re not trying to impose Western ideology on anybody and, you know…

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: …people get defensive when you do that, which totally, totally respectful and understandable.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. No, I totally, totally understand that, that aspect of it. It’s, it’s interesting, you know. I, I don’t know that I ever could just be like, “Ah, I’m going to go into Armenia and I’m going to start something.” You know? I can only imagine the challenge. Um, you know, that you went, I can’t imagine actually, you know what, it’s how you do that. I don’t even, you just enlighten me a little bit to even how you go about it. Met people there and…

Tamar: Yeah. I mean, even as an Armenian, even as an Armenian, working in Armenia, it’s hard.

Brad: Right, right. Even that.

Tamar: You know, even that. Um, but I think that, I think already having a platform to be able to kind of, as, as I was joking, I was joking with you guys when I walked in. I, the nice thing about me working in Armenia is that people know my music there. People know who I am.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: So it makes that makes the process slightly easier.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: But really only slightly.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: Um, it’s, uh, the culture is interesting in that me being a woman, starting an organization, running an organization for women has been, has been something that I’ve, um, it’s a very patriarchal culture and country.

Brad: It’s definitely counter-culture.

Tamar: So it’s been, it’s been hard for me to be able to convince people that the organization is something that they should be involved in and helping us grow. Um, so it’s, it’s, it’s been, it’s been, it’s been an upward challenge to say the least, uphill challenge. But again, like I, I think the one thing I don’t lack is persistence.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: So, so I will, I will, I will knock on those doors a billion times, and then finally, maybe I’ll get a yes from one person. And that’s all that matters, you know?

Brad: Yeah, yeah. No, no question. Do you find that, um, I guess in 2019 do you find that technology makes things easier, harder, indifferent? Just, just given the fact that, you know, you probably can connect with the students outside of just physically being on the ground. But, there’s also challenges that come along with that. You know.

Tamar: I think it makes it a lot easier.

Brad: Does it?

Tamar: Yeah, it does. Um, I think being a small organization, and you know, we’re four years old, but I didn’t really start ramping up my fundraising. I didn’t really start ramping up anything until about a year ago.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: Um, we’ve raised the most money this year than we ever have in the, in the three previous years. Um, there’s no way that I would’ve been able to build this, had technology not existed because there was no way that I can be going back and forth as often.

Brad: Oh, yeah. The cost is astronomical, the travel cost.

Tamar: It’s just crazy.

Brad: Time.

Tamar: Yeah, time. All of it, you know, um.

Brad: The thing no one considers, which is called jet lag.

Tamar: Sure.

Brad: It kills me. I can’t.

Tamar: No, absolutely. No, it’s a real thing.

Brad: I do these one-day plane rides, and like, I get back, and I’m dead the next day. And I’m like, why do I do that?

Tamar: I know. It’s the worst. It’s the worst.

Brad: I don’t know if it’s like cabin pressure? I don’t know what does it.

Tamar: It’s all of it. It’s all of it. It’s just so…

Brad: And that’s a long flight.

Tamar: It is. It’s…

Brad: How far is Armenia? Is that…

Tamar: So there’s no direct flight. You go to Moscow first, so that’s a nine hour, eight nine hour flight, and then it’s another two and a half hours to Armenia. So it’s like, you know, it’s a full 24-hour leg of just front to back.

Brad: Just getting there. Just getting there. Yeah.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. That’s an entire day getting there and an entire day getting back.

Tamar: Yup.

Brad: Yeah, that’s the challenge. That’s one of the challenges most people don’t factor in like internationally is that fact. Just, you know, in order for me to get from A to B, it’s, I lose a day.

Tamar: Sure.

Brad: And there’s only 365 days here. And I’m sure you’re busy even outside of your foundation. I’m sure you have a lot that you do outside of just Nvak. And, you know, there’s, there’s not that many days in a year.

Tamar: That’s very true. So, so true. But yeah, no, technology has made it easier for us to find talent. We a lot of, a lot, you know, we do a lot of recruitment, talent recruitment through Instagram, which is interesting.

Brad: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Tamar: Through, um, finding young women or, or musicians, um, bands who do covers of songs and put a hashtag and then we click the hashtag and we reach out to them. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting to be able to use that as a tool to find talent. And we found some of our most talented musicians that way actually, which is, which is really cool.

Brad: Now, what does that look like? Because I think it’s funny cause you know, you always hear, I go to a lot of conferences and people talk about this. People talk about, you know, you gotta connect with your next generation and everyone does things differently. I mean, I’m even seeing it with, you know, we hire, we hire like 65, 75 people a year right out of college. And I’ve seen this progression over time where, uh, you know, you could see how, how people respond to things. So you know, and 10 years ago, you know, having conversations and phone calls was the thing to do. In 2019 it’s not the thing to do anymore. Email and Skype and communicating via text message and doing that is the thing to do.

Tamar: Yep.

Brad: And it’s, it’s kind of like the adapt or die concept. But I’m curious, how do you like, take Instagram, right? Everybody views Instagram as this platform where I, you know, I post, you see in my posts pictures of my kids, that’s…

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: …my Instagram is not Brad Caruso’s Instagram, it’s Molly and Chase’s Instagram.

Tamar: Right, right.

Brad: And one day they’re going to shoot me cause they’re going to see all these captions.

Tamar: Yeah, they’re going to be so mad. Be like, “Dad! What is wrong with you?!”

Brad: They’re going to be like, what did you say about me? Nice hair? Yeah, yeah, they’re going to hate me one day. I’m going to delete it before they ever find out when they get their own at the age of six, probably.

Tamar: Yeah, exactly.

Brad: God knows whenever you give them an iPhone these days. But I’m curious like how do you actually tap into, I mean, cause it’s another, it’s another country, it’s another culture, but it’s not. We’re all, we’re all part of the same, you know, same genes. We’re all part of the same world. How do you tap into social media like Instagram to find somebody? Like what does that look like?

Tamar: I mean, I, you know, I think that depending on what country you live in, different countries use different platforms.

Brad: Oh, okay. Sure. Yeah, yep.

Tamar: So, um, in our. I’ll use Malawi for an, as an example. Malawi does not use Instagram.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: So we have been unsuccessful in finding talent in Malawi using Instagram.

Brad: Right, right.

Tamar: Everybody’s on Facebook, which is really interesting. So then we have to then figure out how to target our audience or what we would think would be our potential audience using different social media platforms.

Brad: So how did you find that out? Like what was the giveaway? Was it just someone on the ground told you that or was that?

Tamar: It was interesting. Yana was like, there’s no one, there’s no one using hashtags or.

Brad: Oh, right.

Tamar: Or putting up original music.

Brad: Smart people.

Tamar: Yeah. And then I, and then I was like, that can’t be true. There’s no way. And then we reached out. We have a, we have a community manager in, um, in Malawi as well. And um, her name is Hazel, and Hazel’s a songwriter and a, um, and a musician in her own right, aside from doing the work that she does with us. And, uh, she was like, no, this is absolutely accurate. We don’t, we don’t use Instagram here. Everybody uses Facebook. So it’s, it’s just interesting to see. And then Israel, they, they use Instagram. Musicians use Instagram, but so much of the work that you have to do in the recruitment process in Israel is really just word of mouth and going and meeting people and sitting down with people and having conversations face-to-face.

Brad: Right, right.

Tamar: So it makes things a little bit harder for us. But um, yeah, and again, it goes back to this idea of hyper-localizing programming, right?

Brad: Right.

Tamar: Like no one market is the same.

Brad: You have to understand it.

Tamar: You can not, you can’t do the copy paste method in the work that we’re doing.

Speaker 3: Right. And that’s, I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. And the effort, you know. You’re, you’re, you’re a couple person shop, you were a one person shop for awhile. Now you’re.

Tamar: Until like three-and-a- half years ago. Yeah. Like…

Brad: Until recently.

Tamar: …like until, until like six months.

Brad: Yeah. Literally. Yeah. Yeah. And now you’re, now you’re expanding that and, but you had to figure all this out yourself.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: And I think that’s what, um, you know, you put all your own time and resources, you know, you fronted a lot of money to make this happen.

Tamar: Yep.

Brad: You’ve done a lot. And I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand even in, uh, you know, starting a charity is, there’s a lot of, a lot of effort that has to go into that. And then every new market you go into. Well, I’ve got to figure it out. And in order for you to keep expanding your mission, you’re going to enter new markets. You’re gonna do that.

Tamar: For sure.

Brad: But, but I think the, the takeaway I have from all of that is like, just with any, any technology, um, you know, and I’ll put Instagram as a technology. Um, it’s, it’s, um, it only goes so far.

Tamar: Yes.

Brad: So like in one market you’re using it to find people. But then once you find them, okay, like that technology served it’s purpose. I think that’s the other thing now that, uh, often gets missed, is that people like to use technology and think that you don’t have to be adaptive or, or, uh, I call it like the hybrid method, right? I’ll put it in, in accounting speak, which is really boring, but. But if I only use Microsoft Excel, I would not be good at my job.

Tamar: Yeah, yeah.

Brad: Because I don’t only use Microsoft Excel. I use anything that’s going to get me to the answer.

Tamar: Sure.

Brad: And that’s kind of the same concept. You have to.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: Okay. Now, all right. I’ve never used, and I’m sure you’ve used Facebook before, but I’ve never used Facebook before. I gotta figure it out .

Tamar: Yup.

Brad: Or I have to find someone who can figure it out for me.

Tamar: Yeah, totally.

Brad: And then we have to use it. But then we have to realize the utility of it and realize there’s a point where I have to stop using it. What do you, what do you view as kind of like the bigger or biggest challenges that you faced? Like just the high level points of this was the hardest thing for me or you know, I hate tax returns or whatever it might be.

Tamar: Well, you have made that process very easy for me, so I appreciate that. Cause that was definitely, I had no idea how to do any of the accounting. It’s just, it’s just, it’s just like, honestly I think it’s figuring stuff out that you don’t know how to do. Like I don’t know how, I didn’t know.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: I still don’t know how to properly fund raise, or I’m not, I’m not even like, I’m not even accessing the resources that I probably should be accessing in order to be able to raise more money. Cause I just, I’ve never done it before.

Brad: Right.

Tamar: You know, I’m a songwriter, a musician, I’m a creative and now, now I have this organization that I run.

Brad: Right. Right.

Tamar: You know, and it’s, and it’s stuff that I’m doing stuff that is so not natural to me. Right?

Brad: Of course. And now I have to now I have to bring in dollars to pay the people that are doing this great work and, and to keep my program going.

Tamar: Exactly. The other thing that I think has been maybe the hardest is figuring out…I have been fortunate, and this is really the beautiful thing about New York, is that you meet so many smart, young smart people in this city.

Brad: Yep.

Tamar: And I’ve met so many amazing young, smart women that I wish I had. I had this girl who, who was amazing and I, and she just left me for Spotify because of course she would cause Spotify is going to pay her…

Brad: Right. Oh, yeah.

Tamar: ….seven times the amount that I can pay her. And, you know, give her matching funds for her, for her. Um, what is it, her retirement fund.

Brad: Yup, oh yeah. 401(k) plan and all the benefits you have to offer. There’s a cost to that.

Tamar: 401(k). All that stuff. I can’t do that.

Brad: There’s a cost to that.

Tamar: You know, it’s just crazy. So I, I ended up having this amazing girl for three months and, and she recently left. And it just, it bums me out ’cause had, had, we had, I, you know, it’s one of those things like, if we had the ability to raise more money more quickly, I would be able to retain talented young women and that would then be able to help me grow the organization at a faster rate.

Brad: Sure, yeah. Yeah.

Tamar: Because I think that there’s so much that we could be doing. Scaling to more places and just hiring incredibly talented people.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. It’s going out on that limb and making it happen and it’s, it’s not easy. That’s a, that’s actually a really common challenge in the just charitable organization world to begin with, is that typically speaking, most charities pay less.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: Than a comparable job at a comparable sized company. So, you know, whatever the position is, usually there’s, there’s some income parity that doesn’t exist, if you will.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: And, uh, and, and that’s a challenge. We, Heather and I just interviewed an organization where they were trying to solve that. And this is a 700 person nonprofit, big agency, $35 million budget.

Tamar: Wow.

Brad: And, and they were like, well, how do we, how do we motivate? How do we, you know, what is it that drives people? And what they found in just talking with people and getting to know their employees better. Um, you know, they found that a lot of people don’t work for charities because of money.

Tamar: Hmm.

Brad: And although there are circumstances where, you know, and, and especially if you’re dealing with a lot more, uh, younger employees, they’re starting their career.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: So they’re, they’re trying to branch out, they’re trying to do more. But they, they actually found that most employees were not motivated necessarily by more pay. And I know just Heather and I, you know, our generation, we’re in the quote unquote millennial generation. I’m not driven by compensation. Do I need a paycheck to pay for my kids’ college one day? Yes.

Tamar: Right.

Brad: And I’m going to take a job, and I’m gonna make sure that happens. But, if I had the option of doing something I liked versus making another a hundred thousand, I wouldn’t do it because I totally would be like, well, I don’t want that.

Tamar: Sure.

Brad: Number one, I like who I work for. And, number two, I’m not about it for the compensation. I’m about doing what I want to do. I’m about like, you know, the charitable mission or whatever, you know, and, uh, and I think that’s, I think that’s, that’s an important fact…

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: ..that is, is a, a struggle.

Tamar: However, the other, the other fact, and this is something that’s hard too is unless you come from, you know, it’s New York City’s very expensive.

Brad: New York City is very expensive.

Tamar: So if you have this, if you have young people living in the City, they do need to make a certain amount just to pay for rent. So we’re, you know what I mean? Like, which is, which is just…

Brad: Which I don’t even know what rent is in New York City, but I can’t imagine anything comparable to, uh.

Tamar: No, it’s, it’s insane. So that’s, you know, the, there are a lot of, it’s interesting. There are so many factors.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah.

Tamar: In, in running an organization, a small organization, and that you, you wouldn’t even, wouldn’t even think about. Like, it wouldn’t even cross your mind. And then you just kind of have to deal with it…

Brad: Well, of course, yeah.

Tamar: …as issues start arise.

Brad: Well, and you, and you learn from it.

Tamar: Of course.

Brad: You know, but I think, I think, uh, you know, you’re in a good spot because you’re dynamic. You know, I think you’re carrying out your business the way it, the same way you’re carrying out your mission. Uh, and I think that goes a long way into creating a strong workforce. You’re, you’re, you’re entering into this fundraising, you’re, you know, you’re doing what you’re doing. How did you start? Like, what, what is it that you said, you know, I’m going to do this first when it comes to fundraising, what is it that you just were like, I’m gonna meet this person, or, you know, I always viewed fundraising as asking for a dollar, but it’s not necessarily just asking for a dollar. Would you say there’s a lot more that goes into it than just asking for a dollar?

Tamar: I think so. Yeah. ‘Cause I think that you also have to make sure that you’re aligning yourself with the right types of people.

Brad: Sure. Yeah. Donor selection. Yup.

Tamar: You know, um, I think that that’s so, so important. And I think I learned that as I did it.

Brad: Not all money is good money.

Tamar: No.

Brad: Not all money is good money.

Tamar: No, no, no.

Brad: On multiple levels.

Tamar: It comes with whack strings.

Brad: On multiple levels.

Tamar: And like people who like, I always find it so interesting when, when people who are donating to a charitable cause then ask, “Cool, so what do I get?” And then you just go, wait, wait, excuse me?

Brad: Right!

Tamar: What do you, what do you mean?

Brad: Do you want a sticker?

Tamar: It’s just real.

Brad: My kids made these cool banners. You want one?

Tamar: Like you would be so surprised.

Brad: I’m not. I’m not at all. I’m not at all.

Tamar: It’s insane. It’s insane. So like the, those types of things where you just go, “What?” You know, those are.

Brad: Yeah.

Tamar: You just have to be care, you know, you have to be careful and you have to be savvy and you have to make sure that you’re going to the right people who understand the work that you’re doing. And you know, who will also kind of let you, you know, give you, trust you and give you the freedom to be able to execute your vision. And I think that that’s also been an interesting kind of trial and error process for me, where in the past we’ve partnered with some people who really were trying to micromanage the work that we were doing. And, and it’s really, that just doesn’t, it doesn’t, it doesn’t work.

Brad: Well, it kills free spirit and kills what you’re trying to do.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: That’s more that, that’s, that’s the situation where they want you to operate on their behalf as opposed to funding you, right? I think there’s a difference. There’s a difference between…

Tamar: Big difference.

Brad: …we’re using you to do X, Y, and Z and you’re, you’re kind of doing X, Y, and Z. And so we’re going to force you into X, Y, and Z.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: And then there’s, “Here’s money. Tell me how you tell me what you did with it.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: And that’s a completely, I mean, those, you know.

Tamar: But there are some organizations where, yeah, you take, you take money from them and you have to write report. Remember like there was one where we had to like write a report.

Brad: Write reports.

Tamar: And that’s fine. And that’s all great.

Brad: Very normal.

Tamar: Totally fine.

Brad: They have to do that for their compliance reasons and their accounting reasons. They need to know that you’re accountable for your money. That’s great.

Tamar: 100 percent.

Brad: But it does cross the line. There’s a point where it does.

Tamar: Well, I, yeah, I’m not opposed to any of that. But I’m opposed to, when you’re partnering with, let’s say an organization that might be funding a very small amount of the entire budget.

Brad: Oh, right, right, right.

Tamar: And then, and then they’re like, they’re telling you how you should be running your organization. And it’s just like, or how, or the people you should be or you can or cannot hire. It’s bizarre. It gets, it gets very weird.

Brad: It creates a strain.

Tamar: Yeah.

Brad: It, you know, you’re, you’re moving forward with carrying out a mission and it creates an additional layer of burden. But so if I were, uh, someone who wanted to donate to your organization, how would I do that?

Tamar: Well…

Brad: How do I donate to you?

Tamar: So easy. So easy. You go to our website and um…

Brad: And that’s Nvak.org. N-V-A-K dot org.

Tamar: Yep, N-V-A-K dot org, and there’s a big donate button that you cannot miss it. Brad, so kindly donated to us. Um, last year. Um, yeah, it’s easy. It’s a donate button and then you can, you can specify how much you know, how much you want to donate. If you want it to be one time thing. If you want to be a month, if a monthly thing or an annual thing, a donation. Um, yeah, that’s that.

Brad: It’s easy.

Tamar: It’s so easy.

Brad: It’s pretty easy to donate money. Yeah. That’s the one thing I like about 2019 is it’s, if you, if you like a cause it’s very easy to give to that cause.

Tamar: Yeah.

Heather: So monetary is the only thing. But you’re putting instruments in these areas. Are those things that you also accept donations for or is it strictly?

Tamar: Oh yeah, yeah, no, of course. Any big music company, we accept gear, we accept instruments, we accept all, all sorts of things. We actually recently partnered with this amazing organization called Reverb and they’re this online. Um, they gave us a grant, which is so wonderful. And um, basically what Reverb is, it’s a, it’s a website where you can go and you can buy instruments, new, used, gear, whatever. Really. You can buy guitars, you can buy amps, you can buy interfaces, you can buy microphones. It’s really awesome. And um, so a lot of our really, at least I would say 90% of the gear and the instruments that we’re donating this year is because of this amazing grant that we got.

Brad: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah.

Tamar: We’re kind of asking each, each, um, really, we’re looking again, like we’re looking at each space differently. Like we asked our organization in Tel Aviv, you know, what, the space that we’re doing, the program, we asked them where we’re like, it’s called Children’s School of Jaffa. And we asked, what do you need? You know, and they gave us this entire list, like we need microphones, we need some guitars, we need, you know, I mean you name it like a bass and headphones. And so yes, we, we take, we take donations in all, in all shapes, sizes and gear, instruments, all of it. Because all of the markets need those things.

Heather: Of course.

Tamar: And we want to leave stuff so that our musicians can make music year round and do it in a self-sufficient, holistic way.

Brad: Awesome. So of all the things you’ve done so far, uh, what are you most proud of? You know, I’m sure you’ve had an impact in the last four years you’ve been doing this. What, what’s your most proud impact that you’ve made?

Tamar: Um, that’s such a hard question.

Brad: Of course.

Tamar: Because I feel like every day there, there are little little wins that I feel like I go, “Oh, yeah. This is awesome.” Um, I really think seeing, using Armenia as a case study for me, especially because I’m Armenian and there’s, there’s so much, um, there’s just so much personally for me that, that, uh, and again all ties back to my grandfather who did a lot of philanthropy in Armenia. And I, and I, I really feel like I’m trying to kind of continue his legacy through the work that I’m doing. Um, but you know, being able to provide jobs and opportunities for young women in Armenia is something and is something that is such a big victory for me. Every day, I, you know, I feel fortunate and blessed that I have the tools and the funding and the, um, just ability and the wherewithal to be able to continue doing the work in that region in particular because I really do think that we need it there.

Brad: Yup.

Tamar: We need to empower women’s voices in Armenia. Um, and, um, and, and that to me, every day is a win. To have Yana as our community, to have her working with me every day and to, you know, be empowering.

Brad: And, and just right there, you probably don’t even think of it, but just right there, you’ve touched a life.

Tamar: Exactly. Exactly.

Brad: Right there alone.

Tamar: It really starts with one person.

Brad: One person.

Tamar: And then growing, growing the network and really creating a vibrant community of people who, who are, who are passionate about the creation of art. And, um, and about helping and giving back as well. That’s another thing that we’ve really infused within our organization is that, you know, you also then have to pass it down to other people.

Brad: Oh, right, right. So yeah, it’s the pay it forward, pay it forward. You know,

Tamar: Mhmm, exactly.

Brad: We’re teaching you, we’re doing this, but what we want from you too is then we want you to help the next person and this person.

Tamar: 100 percent.

Brad: Yeah. And that’s how you create a real impact.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: That is the impact is when, when people, not to say it this way, but when people don’t need you.

Tamar: Yeah.

Brad: And that’s, that’s when you know, you, you did your job.

Tamar: Totally.

Brad: Yeah. Which is cool.

Tamar: That’s a beautiful thing, for sure.

Brad: That’s what I know with our profession. Whenever I see someone, they don’t need me anymore. And like, people think that like, you know, I’m a partner. Like I want like, I have all this control. I’m like, I don’t want control. I want you to control it and I’ll be here to help you. And when I get to that world, I love it.

Tamar: 100 percent.

Brad: Because then I’m helping someone. They’re doing it on their own. They know they have a resource but I’m not like controlling them. I love it. That’s, that’s a win for me.

Tamar: The best.

Brad: When I know that they’re going to be a partner. If I have someone that they make partner after me, I’m like great. Like I contributed to their, maybe not contributed, but I helped them however I could to get to where they needed to be or want it to be.

Tamar: Exactly.

Brad: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Brad: Thanks everybody for joining us on the podcast today. On our next episode of Civic Warriors, we have Barbara Heisler, the CEO and Executive Director of GlassRoots. Super cool not-for-profit located in Newark, New Jersey, that’s doing some innovative things, undergoing a capital campaign, expanding their mission by moving into a new space, and really just making a significant impact in the city of Newark. Until then, make sure you subscribe to Civic Warriors to help increase the impact our guests make in their communities. And as always, have a great day. Bye everybody.