Karen Ansara received her B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College and a Master of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School. She holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Salem State College and is trained in strategic philanthropy. Her husband, Jim Harvey, founded a successful construction business—Shawmut Design and Construction. Today it is a $1.2 billion national construction and management firm.
Philanthropy and Sponsorship
Karen Ansara and her husband Jim began their life together armed with a strong ethic of making the world a better place, a responsibility imbued in them from childhood by their respective families. Karen pursed her mission by volunteering for social organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. As she grew in her philanthropic work, Karen became acutely aware of the importance of building partnerships and strong organizational foundations in order to have sustainability in the mission. Her husband’s work in the community was hands-on, providing real assets to communities to empower and lift them up out of poverty.
Karen speaks often about the power of passion and how it has driven their philanthropic life. Perhaps the earliest seeds of passion were planted during a trip to Peru around 22 years ago. They had already adopted a child from Boston. While in Peru, Karen encountered two impoverished women who pleaded with her to take their children. The return trip was filled with grief for the fate of poor women throughout time who were forced to make the difficult choice of giving up their children in order to give them life. They subsequently adopted three young girls from the Andes, which brought them first-hand experience with the extreme impact poverty has on the physical, psychological and intellectual development of a child.
In 2005, Karen’s husband sold his construction company to his employees and from the proceeds they formalized their life’s work. Not wanting to apply Band-Aid solutions to endemic crises, Karen and her husband were determined to reach the root cause of poverty, believing that with the proper access to resources and civil rights the tragic symptoms of poverty can be erased from the world. To this end, Karen and her husband initiated the Ansara Family Fund at the Boston Foundation, a donor-advised fund. The Ansara Family Fund makes grants to build capacity and develop partnerships among international organizations, working in Nepal, Peru, Haiti, Ecuador, Afghanistan and the greater Boston area to support anti-poverty initiatives.
Karen and her husband became passionate about Haiti in early 2010, prior to the devastating earthquake that struck the country. Karen’s husband had taken on the assignment of building a hospital in Mirebalais in partnership with Partners in Health. That original structure has grown to become a 320 bed medical and teaching facility. After the earthquake Karen and her husband initiated the Haiti Fund, within the Boston Foundation, that would focus on reconstruction efforts and human rights initiatives. Two primary goals of the Haiti Fund are to build infrastructure capacity, especially in and around Port-Au-Prince and to ensure that the voices of local Haitians are heard, giving them leadership roles in the development efforts.