Meet Trooper Sanders, Benefits Data Trust's new CEO - Generocity Philly

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Sep. 5, 2019 5:35 pm

Meet Trooper Sanders, Benefits Data Trust’s new CEO

The Detroit native, and self-avowed history nerd, has more than 20 years of experience working at the crossroads of business, government, and the nonprofit sectors.

Trooper Sanders.

(Courtesy photo)

He’s a native of Detroit, was a policy advisor to Michelle Obama during the Obama administration, and to Al and Tipper Gore during the Clinton administration.

Most recently he spent time exploring the social and economic equity possibilities of artificial intelligence as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. And he has one master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and another from the University of London.

Plus, he has more than 20 years of experience working at the crossroads of business, government, and the nonprofit sector.

To say Trooper Sanders has impressive credentials is clearly an understatement.

But when Generocity caught up with the new CEO of Benefits Data Trust (BDT) today, he spoke less about his accomplishments than the way he — and the organization he will head starting September 16 — can make a difference in people’s lives.

The nonprofit helps thousands of people receive benefits by using data, technology, targeted outreach, and policy change. BDT also focuses on creating smarter ways to access the essential benefits and services — and a portion of the 170 people it employs are engaged in developing and designing the tech that facilitates that.

Which seems to fit neatly within Sanders’ range of expertise.

“What excites me about BDT,” he told Generocity, “is it’s grounded in the two things I care about the most. Taking very concrete steps to help people today, and going forward, looking at how to improve systems.”

“What’s energizing is how strong and robust the organization is,” he continued. “And the quality and talent of people who are working here. We do what we do very well, and we will always continue to look at the large questions we are facing in society and see how benefits can bridge the gaps people face.”

The sort of benefits BDT helps people access can help lift people out of poverty, he believes.

“When we think about moving a family out of poverty, these programs are essential,” Sanders said. “It matters if you have food and healthcare. You can get your children immunizations so they can go to school. If they have food to eat, it helps them pay attention in school, and stay in school. If you are a senior and you have the support, you need, you can remain at the center of your family. This is all a piece of addressing intergenerational poverty.”

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He believes the military family initiatives he worked on with Obama — “which was really about how we as a community engage with our military families” — will be very helpful to work he will be doing at BDT.

Likewise the work he did on A.I. and machine learning while he was a Rockefeller Fellow.

“Issues around technology and data present enormous potential to serve people better and more efficiently,” he said. “And enormous potential to improve systems.”

Sanders has only been in Philadelphia some three or four times, he told Generocity, but he has a familial connection to Pennsylvania. His great-grandfather moved from South Carolina to Mercer County to work in the steel industry, and Sanders visited him there as a child. So he feels like it’s a bit of a homecoming, he said.

“Philadelphia is a lovely city,” he said, “with a great vibe and a lot of diversity. Plus, I’m a history nerd, so I love all the things around the nation’s founding.”

And what kind of boss will he be?

ML Wernecke, the director of policy and communications at BDT, who was sitting in on the meeting with Generocity directed us to BDT’s Twitter timeline which shows Sanders meeting — and charming — the folks who will soon be his staff.

But Sanders’ answer was more to the point.

“I’m about focusing on bottom line,” he said. “Which means, helping people in need, and treating them with dignity and respect.”

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