Kate Molbert, COO, Great Plains Food Bank

Written by: Brady Drake

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Fargo but spent over 10 years away from North Dakota, mainly in the Twin Cities and Boston. I spent those years pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees and working in some pretty intense roles. When I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now five years old, I decided to move back to Fargo to be around family and the great community that I grew up in. For the last one and a half years, I have been the COO of the Great Plains Food Bank, where I get to work with a wide array of amazing individuals, organizations and government entities who are working together to end hunger.

I am very new to the nonprofit or more specifically, hunger relief, field. I have only been working in the field since I began my current role just over a year and a half ago. However, I am able to bring forward a great deal of experience and skills that I developed, such as project management and analysis, from the time that I spent in various finance and merger and acquisition roles over the last ten years.

What is important to you about the work that you do?

The work that I do is so important to me because I believe, in the United States in 2023, there is no reason for people to experience hunger. Even more specifically, in a state like North Dakota that grows and produces so much food, I don’t believe that one in four children should struggle with food insecurity. I am so grateful that I get to spend my working days being innovative, iterative and strategic alongside so many great colleagues and partners to try to end the problem of hunger.

Who are some people who have been influential in your journey and why?

I am very blessed to have a great circle of family and friends who have all supported me and influenced me along the way. The single most influential person in my life is definitely my daughter. She helps to bring out the best in me in so many facets of my life. She really inspires me to focus on what is most meaningful and important in my life and work.

What drives you?

One day, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I had just left work and was driving to lunch. Outside of an elementary school, I noticed a line-up of more cars than I could count. I later learned that the purpose of that line was to pick up no-cost school lunches as classes were occurring virtually. A few days later, I noticed a similar line outside of a food pantry. I couldn’t shake that feeling that I had something more to offer to our community than volunteering or donating financially as I had done previously. I felt a strong pull to do something about that endless line of cars outside of the school and the pantry. I wanted to use my skills and experience to help people who are experiencing food insecurity.

I feel that drive every day when I come into work. I want to do what I can each day to make sure that one fewer person struggles with hunger or food insecurity that day. I am also so inspired to work alongside many great colleagues, volunteers and donors who deeply believe in the mission of our organization.

What are some important lessons you have learned in your lifetime?

Probably the most important lesson I have learned so far in my life is that there is no such thing as work-life balance. There really is just life and you have to find ways to love the life you have at work and at home, even when things are stressful or difficult.

What are some of your favorite things to do in our community?

Many of my favorite things to do in our community revolve around my five-year-old daughter. In nearly any type of weather, we love to go to the Red River Zoo. We also spend a lot of time at the Rustad Center in the winter and Lindenwood/Gooseberry parks in the warmer months. As for adult activities, I love Mojo Yoga and shopping and eating downtown. There is always a new store or restaurant to explore.

Do you have any book or podcast recommendations for our readers?

I love the book Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. She wrote the book after the death of her husband and in it, she essentially backs away from her prior “Lean In” philosophy. The book is great for someone who experienced an event in life that was unplanned and unwanted. The book shares stories of people who have overcome crises and provides insight and guidance on how we can create resilient families and communities.

What are you hoping to gain from the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program?

The program enables relationships and connections with other women leaders in the community that I would likely have not been able to form otherwise. From those networking opportunities paired with various training sessions, I hope to learn skills I can take back to build a foundation of strong leadership for myself and my team.

What do you think can be improved in our community?

I think that our Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo community is an incredible place to live. I have spent about 10 years living outside of FMWF and I do think people here are uniquely kind and supportive. From my perspective, there are a few major investments we can focus on as a community that would yield a strong return over time. First, childcare is a huge opportunity. There is such a significant shortage of quality childcare that many women have fallen out of the workforce over the last few years. The availability of affordable housing is another area in which our community could improve. With the rapid population growth we have experienced over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult for families to find safe and consistent housing that they can afford without forgoing other necessities, such as food or medical expenses.

What do you think can be improved in our business community?

I think that FMWF has an incredible business community. There is a great deal of support for entrepreneurship and strong leadership across large organizations in the region.

However, one thing I continue to think about in my career, in and outside of the FMWF business community, is the shift in focus from a single vision of maximizing shareholder value to including the impact to all stakeholders (employees, customers, communities, suppliers) in strategic visioning. When companies are able to frame business decisions from a larger lens that includes more than just the financial impact, there are often really positive long-term results for all impacted groups.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.