Besa is an army of change agents, of difference makers and of superheroes who, one act of impactful kindness at a time, are lifting an entire city. In our Besa Heroes series, we highlight partners in good. Here, we talk with David Kornberg, President and CEO of EXPRESS, which partners with Besa to amplify its philanthropic efforts around Columbus and beyond.
Q: You're a London transplant who has become a big Columbus advocate. Can you give us your "Six in the City"— describing Columbus in exactly six words?
A: Columbus is America’s best kept secret.
Q: Why do you love it?
A: It’s been my home for 17 years. My daughter was born here. There’s an ease of life that the city provides, and it has a great sense of community. There is also a can-do attitude of all the community partners that is very, very important. And there’s a warmth that exists here that is unique to Columbus.
Q: Who here blows your mind?
A: I think anybody who works tirelessly every day can make a positive difference locally and globally and is therefore somebody who blows my mind. But a couple individuals I would name are Michael Weiss (former CEO of EXPRESS), who has been a friend, mentor and community leader for many, many years. And Dr. Michael Caligiuri (CEO of Ohio State’s James Cancer Hospital), who is doing an absolutely first-class job in the fight against cancer.
Q: Columbus prides itself on being a vibrant, compassionate city. How have you witnessed that as a city leader, as an executive and as a person?
A: I can think of many examples. I’ve worked with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, and they are doing exceptional things. I strongly believe that nobody should experience hunger, especially when you know the amount of food that’s wasted. I also think that the work that’s being done by Pelotonia is just exceptional and is unique to this community.
Q: Have you ridden in Pelotonia?
A: I have. Both as a rider and virtual rider. It’s an incredible experience.
Q: How far?
A: You’re going to make me say it? [laughing] I rode 25 miles. It was a few moths after I had surgery for prostate cancer. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and support The James by doing it.
Q: Is that where you were treated?
A: I was treated at The James. I had surgery there. And you talk about being a compassionate city—the compassion that was shown to me by everybody who I work with and by our friends during that time was something that was extraordinary and unique and something that you don’t see that often. So yes, Pelotonia has personal meaning. Absolutely.
Q: As a human, why is giving back important?
A: You know, there’s an old expression which says that one life is like a universe, and if you can change a life for the better, you can change the universe. And I strongly believe that that’s the case. One person at a time, one act at a time and one day at a time, we can make a positive difference in people’s lives. There are too many who are self-serving, and there are others around us who need our support. I believe a society that looks after the weakest is a society that’s the strongest.
Q: How does philanthropic work affect your company, your team and ultimately your bottom line?
A: I think it helps ground the business. And I also believe that as an individual, it really adds to the character of who you are, and it provides you with a very different perspective on life. Ultimately, that makes you into more of a whole person. We recognize that as a business. We recognize the impact that it has, which is why we allow and encourage our associates to give back to the community in whatever way they are passionate about. And we are passionate about the passion of our associates, which helps drives the business forward.
Q: EXPRESS has a long history of giving back to Columbus. How has Besa helped amplify that work?
A: It’s enabled us to offer a broad range of volunteer projects and opportunities so that our associates can give how they want to give. So we’re not saying to our associates, “This, that or the other campaign should be important to you.” Through Besa, they can choose what matters to them and volunteer where they want. And they can volunteer with their coworkers, with their friends or with their family. People respond to that. It resonates with them.
Q: You also have personally given back through Besa, volunteering with EXPRESS' C-level team to serve dinner to homeless women at Van Buren shelter. Any takeaways from that experience?
A: Ultimately, we lead together. And it helps us as a team to work together in a very different capacity. It removes us from the day-to-day focus on the business and reminds us that there are bigger and more pressing challenges in the world than the ones that we may face in the office. And that’s not taking away from the importance or impact of what we do here. But it’s a strong reminder for everybody on a human level and I think on a spiritual level as well.
Q: What feedback have you heard from your associates about their work with Besa? How has it inspired them?
A: They love it. And I’ve heard that it’s one of their favorite things about our EXPRESS culture. For me personally, I love seeing them in pictures from the volunteering opportunities. You can see the enjoyment and fulfillment that they get from it written all over their faces.
Q: And how does that inspire you?
A: It massively inspires me, because I believe a fulfilled and engaged community is a productive community. I should say more than I believe—I know.
Besa is a Columbus nonprofit dedicated to supporting those who need it most by connecting people and businesses with local charities, from food pantries to homeless shelters. Besa offers a portal at www.givebesa.org where Columbus residents can easily find and register for volunteer opportunities citywide; it hosts drives for various nonprofits; and it helps corporate partners manage and enhance their philanthropic efforts. In four years, Besa has engaged 8,500 volunteers in community service who have contributed 20,000 hours and given $600,000 in resources to those in need.