Some activists stand in front of television cameras, demanding societal changes. Some orate from stages. Others organize marches down avenues. Yet, there are only a handful of people who work like Santa Barbara-based Natalie Orfalea does—quietly, tirelessly, courageously, and with focus, determination and a kind of unparalleled willpower.
Orfalea is a well-known name in the Santa Barbara community. Natalie and Paul Orfalea (her former husband and the founder of Kinko’s) co-founded the Orfalea Family Foundation, as well as the Orfalea Fund, which sunsetted in 2015. For 15 plus years, the Orfalea Foundation was instrumental in affecting change with local initiatives such as food system reform in the schools, early childhood education, youth development, education and disaster preparedness.
“I’ve always had the mindset that doing philanthropy close to home is a really good model. You can see it, know the people who are implementing the programs and get inside various organizations that are delivering the goods and services,” said Orfalea during a recent telephone interview.
“We (the Orfalea Foundation) had a lot of programming and multiple year commitments,” she says. “We completed those cycles of work and passed the baton on to the next leaders. Now, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start.”
And a fresh start it is, with the founding of the Natalie Orfalea Foundation in 2016.
With new starts come new visions. This time, Orfalea is taking her social activism to a bigger stage—documentary filmmaking as a platform for education and spurring social change.
Together with her partner Lou Buglioli (chairman and chief executive officer of Viewpointe, a director on the board of Direct Relief International and a 45-year veteran in the Financial Services and Technology Outsourcing Industry), Orfalea invests in documentary films that illuminate issues around women and girls, global health, immigration, environment, conservation, climate change and social justice.
As a member of Impact Partners, Chicago Media Project and Women Moving Millions, and on the advisory board of One Heart World-Wide and the Leadership Council for UCSB Arts & Lectures, Orfalea can affect change in a bigger way by disbursing the message on a global messaging platform.
“Documentary films really provide a wonderful way of amplifying the message,” says Orfalea. “Lou and I work with these different organizations and they have hundreds of projects. They curate them, vet them and pass them on to us. We talk about which areas fall into our interests and then look deeper at the filmmaker, director and treatment of the material.”
A sample of documentaries that Orfalea and Buglioli have been involved with include Eagle Huntress—about a young Mongolian woman whose father has to go up against the tribe in order to train his daughter in the ancestral male tradition of how to hunt with the golden eagle; Bending the Arc—about Dr. Paul Farmer, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, activist Ophelia Dahl, Todd McCormack and investor Thomas White’s movement in the 1980s that forever changed global health; and Step—about a girls’ drill team in an inner city school. Orfalea has invested in a total of 22 films to date, the list of which also includes Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Feeling of Being Watched, The Fourth Estate and The Blue Wall.
“We like to get involved in change,” she says. “It’s always characterized how we do our work and it still characterizes how we do our work…It’s so important that we look upon one another as a community and realize how interlinked we are…We are truly all connected.”
This story was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.