What happens when a beloved patient-led non-profit advocacy group hires a businessman to run the show? That remains to be seen...

A new era is beginning for the Diabetes Hands Foundation, as the governing board has named a new CEO to take the diabetes non-profit into the future.

On December 16, the 9-person board of Berkeley, CA-based DHF named Eugene "Gene" Kunde as the new chief exec, wrapping up a search process that's lasted most of 2015 following the resignation of longtime leader and founding CEO Manny Hernandez and the interim leadership of advocate Melissa Lee.DHF CEO Gene Kunde

Manny and Melissa are both fellow type 1 patient advocates who brought DHF to life through their personal passion, but the group's leadership says it was time to bring in a business-savvy leader with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds to ensure the organization's survival.

Now Kunde becomes the third head of the DHF since its founding in 2007 and the first to not be living with diabetes himself -- at a time of major operational changes for DHF, with their online communities TuDiabetes and Diabetes Advocates porting to new platforms and the new Diabetes MasterLab training events really taking off.

Needless to say, Mr. Kunde has big D-shoes to fill and many in our community are watching with interest how this popular organization will move forward...

We talked with Kunde within days of his appointment, and the new DHF leader told us he's "soaking up everything diabetes to learn as much as possible." He faces a big learning curve, without any D-experience himself, so he is relying much on those within DHF and the Diabetes Community as he works to shape the group's direction over the coming months.

So far, he says: "I'm impressed," in particular with how the diabetes community unites and uses technology to do social good.

"There’s a lot more going on here than I thought. When I see and hear what we’re doing and hear what people say about us, I can see the credibility of Manny and folks who’ve come before me have worked to create. I think DHF is in a position here to do so much. It’s one of the first to move into this kind of work in communities, and has established itself as a credible, authentic organization. My job now is to add to that and do that in a way that’s not disruptive, but builds on all the work that’s been done to this point."

His plan is to continue and expand on DHF's work, with no immediate plans on the horizon for any substantive changes in what DHF does for the community.

A Giving Leader

Kunde brings almost 30 years of executive leadership experience in both for-profit and non-profits. He's originally from Wisconsin, and he says those Midwest roots are a foundation for his management approach.

Of the DHF, he says: "It's mission and values line up very closely to my own, and that’s extremely important to me and anything I do. I was raised in the Midwest by my mother, and she instilled in my sister and I at a very young age a feeling of helping others, giving back to helping community organizations and church groups. I’ve followed that way of thinking as an adult, and it’s always been a part of my life, even in the for-profit world. To forge ways to help those who are less fortunate. This is important work, and it’s lined up perfectly with the kind of things that are important to me."

He's been executive director and chief financial officer for the past three years of ProInspire, a San Fransisco non-profit that trains non-profit leaders nationally. Before that, he was CEO of two shoe companies -- Birkenstock America and Sanita Clogs -- and COO of both electronics company Epson America and Strive for College that helps underprivileged youth find and finance educations at four-year colleges.

Before the corporate world, Kunde founded a wholesale distribution company of tech products including computer hardware and software, and he eventually sold it to Epson -- which took him from the Midwest to California where he began his corporate career with Epson.

Learning Diabetes

Of course, to those of us in the D-Community, a big glaring gap in Kunde's experience is that he has no personal connection to diabetes. He sees that as a positive, though.

I'm impressed. There’s a lot more going on here than I thought.
Gene Kunde, new CEO of the Diabetes Hands Foundation, on discovering the diabetes advocacy world

“I do think it gives me a perspective that’s important here. Hopefully I can use that perspective to foster even more creative thinking, as someone who doesn’t have the same depth of understanding and experience as others do," he said. "That may help us open up our minds and look for more creative solutions to help our communities.”

DHF Board Chair Dennis Urbaniak, formerly at Sanofi who's now at management consulting and tech services company Accenture, says the CEO search began immediately after Manny tendered his resignation. The board knew they'd have an interim leader in Melissa, who could maintain DHF and deal with the day-to-day in diabetes, as she'd been involved since the very beginning of the organization. But the board also knew it was time for a seasoned executive to take DHF to the next level, Urbaniak says.

A leader who Urbaniak describes as someone "not only for today, but for the future."

Urbaniak says there was a strong response to their recruiting ads, and they whittled down the candidates to a short list before eventually settling on Kunde. Personal diabetes experience factored into the process, of course, but wasn't a deciding factor.

"That personal D-experience is very important, because that's the heart of what drove DHF and we looked at that very carefully," Urbaniak says. "But we are fortunate to have an amazing staff and team, and a diverse board and informed community and volunteers with incredible diabetes experience. We weighed all of that with the strong diabetes connections we have from everyone, and felt we could manage that effectively because this is about more than just one person. Models in other areas show us this can be a successful way to go forward."

Right now, Kunde says he's spending a lot of time playing catch-up to learn about diabetes and everything the DHF does.

Ease of Use, etc.

One of the aspects of DHF that initially intrigued Kunde is the use of technology and social media for patient advocacy and connections, i.e. ever-evolving Diabetes Online Community (DOC). The Internet drives what's going on in business and politics these days, and Kunde sees the DHF at the forefront of bringing its power and support to those of us touched by diabetes.

Programs like Diabetes Advocates, the advocacy MasterLab in July, exercise-fundraising campaign Big Blue Test, and everything happening at TuDiabetes and EsTuDiabetes are key examples of what can be done. Kunde hopes to maintain those programs and expand, as much as possible.

Diabetes Hands Foundation

At this point in time, I am not suggesting any changes in them, as I am too new and see their value," he said. "However, I am a proponent of continuous learning and continuous improvement and my hope is to help our group refine and improve our focus on adding value and innovation for all members of the diabetes community."

Following the 2015 shift of the sites to a new online platform, Kunde says this coming year will be a time when DOC members can expect "ease of use and more responsive returns" on those sites.

Speaking for the board, Urbaniak says the coming year is about continuing and expanding what DHF offers. A big goal is to reach parts of the Diabetes Community that it hasn't been able to, so that those as-yet-unconnected PWDs can find the same support and resources as others who've been involved in DHF.

"Expect more of the same. But in addition, we want to look at unique and novel ways to expand our programming, to work with Gene and the staff to continue this proud heritage of DHF," Urbaniak says.

Naturally, we at the 'Mine want to wish Kunde DHF all the best for 2016 and beyond!

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.