‘We provide stepping stones from poverty to opportunity’ – an interview with Sallo on his 60th birthday

Creating stepping stones from poverty to opportunity is what Philanthropy Connections Foundation (PCF) does. This is known by many people, but certainly not by everyone.

May I introduce myself? My name is Joanne Nihom. I am a journalist and writer, and a cousin of PCF’s founder Sallo Polak. Since the start of PCF in 2011 I have been assisting him wherever possible, together with many other volunteers.

On the occasion of his 60th birthday, I thought it would be a good idea to interview Sallo. That is easier said than done. First of all, he is busy. Not busy the way we are busy in the Western world. Nope, Sallo is actually working day and night, 24/7 for his remarkable foundation. To make an appointment with him isn’t easy. “Can we briefly fit it in during work? I’ve got a tight schedule, there are more important things on my mind, to be honest. (…) All right then, if you really want it, but not too long.”

Sallo is a perfectionist, he has an eye for detail, he is a “people person”, communicative, but also very stubborn. A combination of character traits that helped to make his foundation into a success. But; the stubbornness can be an obstacle as well. Throughout the years we have had serious discussions about his approach and there have been times that we did not even talk to each other for a few months. Fortunately it always ended well.

Now this idea for an interview. Sallo: “I do want to have a say in the content.” But I, the journalist, am stubborn too, so no, no influence on the content this time around. Finally, what is most complicated is that Sallo does not like to put himself on a pedestal. He always emphasises that the work is done together with his colleagues and volunteers, certainly not all by himself. So: “Great, an interview, but please don’t put all the focus on me.” Dear cousin, it is your 60th birthday and therefore we put you in the spotlights for once. It is alright!

Sallo used to be a tour guide in Paris and he worked for Dutch television for many years. “Great jobs where I learned a lot, but I wanted more.” The penny dropped during one of his travels across the globe. “I was in Laos where, once again, I was confronted with poverty. It affected me deeply and marked a turning-point in my life. I wanted to do something for people in need.”

Sallo left his comfortable life in the Netherlands behind and travelled to Thailand, where he worked for a charity organisation for several years. “A rewarding experience, but I wanted to work in line with my own ideas.” In 2011 Sallo founded PCF. “My objective was to set up an organisation that I would feel comfortable donating to myself because everything is done the right way; working meticulously, adhering to well thought-through criteria and not deviate from these.

How does that work? We sit down and listen to the community who asks for help. PCF does not start off with preconceived ideas about what should be done. If a community informs us of their real needs and they themselves come up with solutions which they know will work, then that for us is a guarantee that there is public support for the plans. Of course we never rush into anything without further thought. We conduct a thorough research to determine if the plans are realistic, if they will be effective and done cost-efficiently. We make sure that the project will really improve the situation for the people involved and that we are dealing with capable and reliable partners.

Notwithstanding the risks, numerous challenges and several disappointments, PCF flourishes. The foundation has been around for more than seven years now. “Some of the initial carefreeness has been lost. During the first few years we got money to support a project and we just started working on it. By now, we have supported more than eighty projects. It is like running a business.”

Sallo does not have much free time – which is the understatement of the year – “This is my life, this is the most rewarding work I can imagine doing. We effectively help people in need and thanks to the support we receive from our sponsors and volunteers it is such a huge success. We help thousands of children and adults to create a better future for themselves.”

Sallo has not been on vacation for many years, but that will change soon. “Friends of mine are offering me a holiday in Europe. This will be in September. Recharging my batteries. Of course I will bring my laptop; I want to be reachable.”

Sallo has only one wish for his 60th birthday: “Support for PCF. More donors and more sponsors, so that we can continue our support for current projects and hopefully take on new ones, to help more people.”

Dear cousin, congratulations with your wonderful work and happy birthday!

*note the interview is a translation from the original Dutch