Laura Malcolm ’00 is CWA’s 2021 Alum of the Year
CEO of Give InKind makes an impact supporting communities throughout the pandemic
by Kimberly Banti
There’s a nautical term describing the part of a boat’s hull that submerges and emerges from the sea with the rolling of the waves: “between wind and water.”
Laura Malcolm ’00, CWA’s 2021 Alum of the Year, grew up in a family of boat captains. She has often turned to nautical metaphors to help her through the ebbs and flows of life. There are the personal tragedies, the rogue waves, such as the losses Laura wrote about in a Spring 2017 TIES essay. And here we all are, a year into a global pandemic, between wind and water with the constant rise and fall of the tides—the tides of public health, of politics, of economics, of education, of family life.
One of Laura’s most devastating rogue waves, the loss of her daughter Layla when she was eight months pregnant, led her to turn outward instead of inward in her grief. She and her husband, James, founded Give InKind in 2016 as a means to provide people around the world concrete ways in which to help their loved ones whose hulls are temporarily submerged. By creating an InKind page, loved ones can customize care requests for the needs of the circumstances, be it a military deployment or cancer treatment or a job loss or an adoption. More than just signing up for meal delivery, Give InKind users can tailor their pages to curate supplies for a teacher’s classroom, arrange for child care and transportation, reserve gift cards for myriad goods and services, and otherwise support the robust nature of the day-to-day logistics of life that often fall by the wayside during difficult times or times of change.
Early on in 2020, communities established InKind pages so that healthcare workers at local hospitals could have lunches delivered. By July 2020, 100,000 meals were delivered to frontline workers through Give InKind, which also put $1 million back into local restaurant economies.
Laura reflects on her time a CWA and her path to founding Give InKind.
“Seventy percent of InKind pages are set up for one of four situations: new babies, cancer support, surgery and recovery, and grief and loss,” Laura said. “When you’re going through a crisis, you have all these people asking, ‘How can I help? What should I do?’ And it’s very hard for you to think about what’s needed, and it’s even harder to articulate it or to feel comfortable sharing it. We have some sort of social barrier that hasn’t allowed anybody to connect the dots for people in crisis to say, ‘This is what I need,” and, ‘Here’s how I can help.’ Give InKind puts it together. And that just makes everybody feel better, right? We want to know when someone we love is going through a challenging time, and we want to help them in the ways they need help.”
Laura and James self-funded Give InKind for the first several years they were in business, moving abroad to Thailand and Mexico with their growing family to live affordably while they built their product and their team. Then, in fall 2019, Give InKind participated in Ready Set Raise, a fundraising-focused accelerator for female-founded startups sponsored by the Seattle-area Female Founders Alliance. Laura was one of eight chosen founders out of a field of over 400 applicants. “Less than 3% of venture capital goes to female-founded companies,” Laura said. “It was a competitive accelerator, very much focused on fundraising, and it worked for us. We thought that we were going to raise a $500,000 pre-seed round, and we raised just under $1.5 million instead in about a week. It was validating, and I also realized getting funding is a checkpoint on the road—it’s not the destination. But they’re huge milestones, and for somebody who had been self-funding this company as a labor of love on nights and weekends, that first paycheck that we got was a big deal.”
They used that funding to bring on more employees—their team now comprises almost 20 people—and to establish a growth plan for 2020. “We got the last team member in place on January 25,” Laura recalled. Then the pandemic hit. “We knew we were in a unique position to help, because the premise of Give InKind was really, ‘How do you support someone when you’re not there with them?’ That was what spurred all of this—we were far away from our families when we went through our stillbirth, and everybody wanted to know how to help.” Early on in 2020, communities established InKind pages so that healthcare workers at local hospitals could have lunches delivered. Laura said that by July 2020, 100,000 meals were delivered to frontline workers through Give InKind, which also put $1 million back into local restaurant economies. “There’s still one hospital in Chicago that just extended their campaigns through next year,” Laura said. “It’s something like 30 departments in the hospital, and people can go and order a meal for any floor at any time.” Pages continue to be built for personal uses, too, such as one for COVID-positive parents with a baby in the NICU who needed help, among other things, transporting pumped breastmilk to the hospital. “That is really incredible to see,” Laura said.
In 2020 more than 10,000 InKind pages were created with one million supporters. “The ways in which we shifted to giving support during COVID is that families were more understandably isolated during this time—there was a lot more support for helping new families stay home, and I would love to see that carry through,” said Laura, who also highlighted the seamless integration of gift-card purchases and Grubhub orders as major recent user-experience improvements. It’s those small acts of kindness—a lunch delivered, a Target gift card to stock up on paper towels—that add up to make sure loved ones are fed and have the supplies they need to get through each day and night. At Give InKind, “we’re taking care of the hearts,” Laura said.
This trait has long been apparent to Laura’s fellow Tarriers. “We’ve followed Laura’s journey and her story for many years—from the deepest heartaches to the enormous contributions to others through Give InKind,” said Upper School science teacher David Kangas. He and his wife, Julie, a former CWA teacher, asked Laura when she was a student to be the first babysitter outside their family to watch their daughter, Brianna ’16—and Brianna then babysat for Laura’s older son Diego ’33. “The timing and choice for this Alum of the Year is perfect. When I think of Laura, I recall a student who was unique in that she always seemed wiser than her age. To me, she simply had this graceful presence as both a student and as a person. She was benevolent, dependable, and compassionate.” CWA classmate and current Trustee Adam Blakney ’00, who is a mentor to Laura and an investor in Give InKind, also admires Laura’s ability to look outward in times of turmoil and find ways to help others. “Over my time knowing her, Laura has systematically taken things that have happened to her and created opportunities,” Adam said. “Laura has experienced things that would derail typical people, and she’s always been able to gracefully say, ‘This is a piece of me, but it’s not the whole thing that I am.’ By putting herself out there, she’s enabling other people to be helped. If anything, I wish that this award would be granted to her when she hits it really big. She’s still in the middle of this journey, and she’s winning Alum of the Year. That’s what’s exciting to me—this is just the beginning for her. My next prediction is that you will be seeing her as a very serious CEO in the future.”
In the meantime, Laura continues to not only innovate but also empathize—she thrives where those two skills intersect, thinking big and finding creative and elegant means to improve technology and build good business that positively impacts others. “One of the challenging parts for the world with COVID is that people have been talking about how hard it is to face these incredible challenges and feel that, because everybody is facing them at the same time, they can’t turn to their community to get the support that they would like,” Laura said. “We saw memes with the boat in the way of metaphors, right? We’re not all in the same boat. We’re all in the same storm, but everybody’s boats are different. I think that on a micro level, perseverance is believing in yourself enough to keep going. If we didn’t believe that our collective efforts in combating the pandemic would make a difference, we wouldn’t do it. Even if we can’t control the challenges that we face, I can persevere because I believe that I can impact the results—because I believe that my effort will have changed the outcome.”