Going Against the Flow: Jennifer Barker, CEO & Cofounder of Per Diems Against Poverty

12/24/2015 10:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jennifer Barker is the Chief Executive Officer and Co­founder of Per Diems Against Poverty, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded in 2015 to reallocate donated per diems, or meal allowances, to provide food for Americans struggling with poverty and food insecurity. 100% of all donated per diems to Feeding America, the nation's largest network of food banks. Born and raised in a small town in eastern Oklahoma, Jennifer is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Oklahoma State University with a BA in English.

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Jennifer Barker

Q: What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Jennifer: To me, entrepreneurship means being willing to take risks and at times make sacrifices for the ideas and goals you believe in. While entrepreneurs are generally very innovative, I believe it's their bravery and perseverance that sets them apart from others in their field. It takes a brave person to put their career and/or financial resources on the line and seize an opportunity to make a real difference in the world.

Q: What are you most proud of in your professional career? If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

Jennifer:
In my professional career, I am most proud of my decision to co-found and serve as CEO of Per Diems Against Poverty. To be honest, the thought was very overwhelming at first. I questioned my ability to perform the duties of CEO and live up to the standards of the nonprofit corporation we'd created. I could have ignored the call I felt inside and chosen to stay in my comfort zone, but I knew that leading our fight against hunger in America. is what I was meant to do.

If I could do something over in my life, I wish I would have tried to live in NYC for at least a year. After my undergrad at Oklahoma State, I moved to NY for grad school but quickly learned that it wasn't for me. I loved the energy of Manhattan; however, I am a southerner at heart. I think I would have learned a lot more about myself had I stuck it out a bit longer.

Q: Tell me about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

Jennifer: I knew from a young age that I was called to serve others. While I worked in corporate administration and marketing for years, deep down I always felt the need to make a positive impact in my community. I was presented with the opportunity to lead marketing and PR for a private education institution. This job allowed me to work in the field of education, which I am very passionate about, and impact the lives of children in my community. Everyone around me, including myself and my new employer, thought I was crazy for giving up my successful corporate career. My new boss almost didn't hire me because he didn't trust my judgment. I never looked back, though. That was the right decision and helped me realize my desire to lead and work in an environment where compassion is the most important prerequisite.

Q: What drives you at Per Diems Against Poverty?

Jennifer: It's unfathomable that there are currently 49 million hungry Americans, including 15.3 million children and 9 million seniors. Most people view these numbers as an unfortunate condition affecting a minority of Americans; however, we view these numbers as a HUGE, solvable problem in our country. While several anti-hunger organizations exist to alleviate this burden endured by millions, we are the only anti-hunger nonprofit seeking to reallocate 100% of donated per diems from individuals and corporations to help provide food for Americans struggling with hunger. 100% of all donations go to our partner, Feeding America, because we are determined to see the day when no American goes hungry. Per Diems are a previously untapped resource of funds used to fight hunger, and it is conceivable that together, with our generous donors and partners, we can end hunger in America.

Q: What advice would you give to your 22 year old self?


Jennifer:
If I could give advice to my 22-year-old self, I would tell her to take more chances. I've always been the cautious one in my family, afraid of making a mistake or not living up to expectations. I now know that passing on some of the opportunities I've had out of fear was a form of failure itself-- failure to meet my true potential and learn many valuable lessons along the way.

Follow Jennifer Barker at @PerDiemsOrg, and check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ or goagainsttheflow.com.