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Wish Fulfillment

Eva Robertson (’17) highlights the community benefits of matching resources with opportunities


Imagine you have the power to grant wishes. Where do you begin making the world a better place?

Deciding that is, in essence, Eva Robertson’s job. As Protective’s vice president of community relations and executive director of the Protective Life Foundation, she upholds the company’s long tradition of giving back to the Birmingham region. Each year, the foundation contributes millions of dollars in grants to hundreds of local organizations and initiatives focused on improving quality of life through education, wellness, the arts, the environment, and other crucial areas.

Fortunately, Robertson has help from a team of magic-wand wavers—a rotating committee of Protective employees and executives who ultimately select the grant recipients. She describes herself as more of an advocate for the nonprofit organizations applying for foundation support. Together, she and her colleagues seek giving opportunities that sparkle—for example, organizations and initiatives that address the community’s challenges by “opening doors, creating equity, or dealing with [housing or food] insecurity,” Robertson says. The foundation also rewards nonprofits exploring innovative ways to create change, giving them the resources to pursue new ideas as they face tight budgets. Other gifts target initiatives or institutions, like museums or the botanical gardens, that are accessible to people throughout the Birmingham area and help make it an attractive, vibrant place to live.

Leadership Birmingham ticks several of those boxes—enough to earn grants from the Protective Life Foundation every year since 1994, the foundation’s inaugural year. [Protective has an even longer legacy of supporting Leadership Birmingham. In 1982, then-CEO William “Billy” Rushton III (’84), served as the first chair of Leadership Birmingham’s board of directors.] Robertson says that Protective shares Leadership Birmingham’s commitment to the community and appreciates how it elevates leaders and decision makers by providing them with a holistic view of the region and the issues impacting it.

Robertson took in that view herself as a member of Leadership Birmingham’s Class of 2017, and she credits the experience with preparing her to step into the director role at the Protective Life Foundation a year later. Leadership Birmingham “gave me a breadth of knowledge about the city,” she says. “How often, as adults, do we get to spend an entire day immersing ourselves in a single topic?” She also relished the tight bonds and candid conversations that grew from her interactions with “some of the smartest, most engaged, and fun people” in the region. “In my job, I meet a lot of people,” she says, “ but through Leadership Birmingham, I felt like I got to know people.” More recently, Robertson and her colleagues have been tapping those connections and that knowledge to ensure that organizations in all parts of the community have access to the Protective Life Foundation. “We are trying to get out of our own space” and identify potential grant applicants that might not be familiar with the foundation’s work, she says.

Beyond the foundation’s contributions to Leadership Birmingham, Robertson feels compelled to make her own gifts as well. What Leadership Birmingham does—selecting members for each class, organizing program days, and so forth—doesn’t happen randomly, she says. In many ways, those endeavors are akin to her own painstaking work to match applicants with meaningful contributions, and she says it’s important that Leadership Birmingham is able to continue its thoughtful, essential efforts for years to come.

Besides, supporting Leadership Birmingham gives individuals and companies a stake in fulfilling another wish—to realize a brighter future for the entire region. “It’s a way to see themselves as being part of the community,” Robertson says.


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