SERRV, director are neatly matched

December 03, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Brian Backe was incorrectly identified in a headline and photo credit in Thursday's Carroll edition. He is the operations manager for SERRV in New Windsor.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

A desire to help end world poverty, and experience with non-profit groups and management, are what brought Brian Backe to the New Windsor Service Center's SERRV program about two months ago.

"I chose a long time ago not to work in the corporate world," said the 33-year-old director of operations for SERRV (Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation Vocation).


"I wanted to be involved in something that advanced my personal mission of eliminating world poverty," he said.

The program, which buys handcrafts from people in developing areas and sells them in the United States, fits neatly within that mission.

But before trying to help others, Mr. Backe said he wanted to make sure his work in non-profit groups would be effective.

"A lot of people in non-profit organizations struggle in management roles they aren't trained for," he said. "So I deliberately got the training I needed."

A bachelor's degree in personnel and labor relations from the University of Maryland, plus a master's degree in business administration, in operations research and marketing, gave him that education, he said.

He gained the experience he needed for his SERRV duties by working in several non-profit organizations, most recently the Support Centers of America in Washington. The group provides training to non-profit managers and volunteers.

"This is a really great fit," Mr. Backe said of his job at SERRV, which was founded about 40 years ago. "I've had a fair amount of computer experience, and the MBA makes me conversant in finance."

At first glance, there is little difference between SERRV and any other small, $5 million-a-year mail-order retailing company.

Both have marketing operations and warehouses, workers filling orders and a management structure.

"That is a reasonable comparison," said Mr. Backe, who resides in Germantown, Montgomery County, with his wife, Christina Herrero-Backe, and three children.

"To the outside world, this looks like a for-profit company. Only when you get into our mission is when [you see] there's a difference."

That mission is fighting exploitation and poverty by buying handcrafts for a fair price, he said. The group also provides $5,000 grants to cooperatives and other non-profit agencies they buy from, to pay for materials or improvements for their work areas.

"We want to keep customers satisfied, but in a different way," said Mr. Backe. "People are more conscious of what they buy and how they buy.

"They want to be buying things that aren't exploiting people in other countries.

"When you buy something from SERRV, you're doing more than buying a toy truck or a beautiful sweater from Guatemala. You're helping people pull themselves out of a difficult situation."

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