When philanthropist Joe Woodford left The Philanthropy Roundtable’s May 2013 conference on how donors can foster entrepreneurship to help their communities—and particularly struggling populations—thrive, he wanted to take action. Gathering a group of local leaders in Colorado Springs, he shared what he learned. Faculty from Pikes Peak Community College decided to investigate Ice House, a curriculum designed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to introduce unconventional populations to entrepreneurial thinking and action. This fall, half of all remedial students at Pikes Peak will be exposed to the Ice House course, the largest use of the program in its two-year history. The Philanthropy Roundtable spoke with Joe Woodford about his vision for Colorado Springs and his philanthropic commitment to economic freedom and prosperity.
Q: Tell us more about your efforts to bring entrepreneurship training to Pikes Peak Community College. What do you hope will develop from this initial effort?
Woodford: Pikes Peak Community College has three campuses that serve approximately 20,000 people in our county. Several members of the faculty came to a session I organized after I was exposed by The Philanthropy Roundtable to the Ice House entrepreneurial training. Those faculty members eventually attended Ice House training in Kansas City, and they are now planning for the Ice House curriculum to be a big emphasis with their students. My hope is that this will be a boost to our local economy three, four, or five years from now.
We also have a charter school that is considering the creation of a trade-school branch. They may use Ice House as well. And one retired businessman is considering using Ice House in his mentorship programs. There is quite a lot of thinking going on in the trial stage.
We try to stay clear of nonprofits that take state and federal funding. That said, I think it’s important not to be doctrinaire.
Q: How else are you promoting entrepreneurship in your community?
Woodford: We host a variety of events to discuss free market principles, primarily through the Bastiat Society and Peak Freedom Forum. We also work with the Colorado Council for Economic Education, which instructs teachers on how to teach economics. At University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, the Center for the Study of Government and the Individual is aimed at getting all students to confront preserving the free and prosperous society in various ways.
Q: When did you become a proponent of free markets?
Woodford: I grew up with very entrepreneurial parents, so my interest in free markets goes way back. In the mid-'90s, I bumped into Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and then a series of tapes and readings called Cato University. It was when I read and listened to these two resources that I got a clearer picture of what I thought.
Q: In addition to fostering economic independence and self-reliance, you also support a broad range of direct human-service nonprofits in Colorado Springs. How do those organizations fit with your free-market perspectives?
Woodford: Ideally, churches, individuals, and charity would replace government welfare to provide direct help to those in need. We try to stay clear of nonprofits that take state and federal funding—we find that local entities are much better at avoiding people gaming the system. That said, I think it’s important not to be doctrinaire. Some great organizations we support are taking government funds. We just try to promote local independent organizations as much as we can.
Q: Do you see a contradiction or divide between promoting self-sufficiency and providing for a person's basic needs in the here and now? Do you think it is possible to do both at the same time?
We have to remember that handouts without initiative on the part of the recipient are harmful and counterproductive.
Woodford: I think you have to be careful when you use the verb “provide.” For the few people who can’t provide for themselves, charity for basic needs can be a good thing. For the vast majority who have the capacity to be independent, it is possible to assist them in the here and now while simultaneously teaching them how to be self-sufficient. But it’s really important that this type of care is administered by private charities and churches and local society, not the government. Private charity is the place for this give-and-take, not the entitlement system.
A book that has influenced me is Overcoming Welfare: Expecting More from the Poor and Ourselves by James Payne. He talks about “expectant giving,” requiring steps forward in exchange for assistance. This is crucial to charity. We have to remember that handouts without initiative on the part of the recipient are harmful and counterproductive.