For many of the guests on Changemakers From Within, the path to a career in social impact hasn’t been exactly straightforward, and Kat Owsley is no exception.
Kat is the president of the Bosch Community Fund, the corporate foundation associated with Bosch in North America. The foundation provides grants to organizations and educational institutions to support STEM education, environmental sustainability, and environmental education.
A Unique Social Impact Setup
While Bosch does have a corporate social responsibility team, the foundation operates independently from it. There’s a lot of collaboration between the two divisions, but there is also a “friendly picket fence” separating the two.
Kat says there are benefits to the setup, which shows that the work of the Bosch Community Fund isn’t part of any strategic plan.
“It’s really meant to show and to be that the foundation supports community for the sake of supporting community and doing good philanthropic work.”
Nevertheless, running an autonomous corporate foundation still comes with its own set of challenges. CSR programs can get employees involved in their volunteer efforts, but Kat says it’s much harder to “bring everybody along in the work” at a corporate foundation. That’s where communicating becomes extremely important.
“You want people to know what you’re doing on behalf of the company. You want them to have pride in it. … That’s something that we work on all the time.”
A Winding Journey
In her first years out of Kalamazoo College, Kat thought that she was going to be an attorney or a history professor. Back in 1995, she left her research assistant job to go backpacking in Ireland, and she ended up attending graduate school in Belfast.
At one point in her master’s program, Kat returned to the United States to finish her thesis and make some money before returning overseas. She ended up temping at Bosch for three months — and while she loved it there, she ultimately left to go back to Belfast to finish up her master’s program.
After returning to the U.S., Kat found a job at the Detroit Regional Chamber, and she knew that she was meant to move back to Michigan.
“I still have a ton of love for Ireland and for history. But I know my place — it’s like this is where I was supposed to be. Nonprofit and community engagement is really my jam.”
Years later, Bosch found itself in need of a president for its new corporate foundation, and Kat seized the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“At the end of the day, you really do need to trust yourself. And if you have faith in it, and you put your whole self into it, it tends to work out.”
A Growing Foundation
Kat says that in the nine years since she started working with the foundation, it’s grown in every possible way. Kat started her work on the foundation alone, and now she has a team. The foundation has gone from making $0 to $5 million in investments annually. It has also established key performance indicators with the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.
One notable program that the Bosch Community Fund runs is its partnership with FIRST, an international organization that hosts robotics competitions and other educational programs for young people.
“We want to be able to support STEM education, because we’re thinking about, you know, these kids can end up becoming our associates one day.”
The foundation also runs the Bosch Eco + STEM Teacher Grant Program, which provides grants to teachers for funding STEM and sustainability projects for their students.
“Particularly this year, with teachers having to go remote so quickly without a lot of preparation … they appreciate being thought of. They appreciate being asked. That’s been the biggest piece — just really grateful to know that somebody’s kind of got their back that way.”