Dee Koch Fort Bend Community CEO Goes Global

By Christopher Hill | Cover photo by Alisa Murray Photography-

The most common buzz word surrounding Fort Bend County right now is diversity. As projected, Fort Bend will be the first 25 / 25 / 25 / 25 region in the United States. To better understand the shift, we spoke to the woman who is literally the CEO of Community for Fort Bend: Dee Koch.

Listening and Learning

For 30 years, Koch worked for The George Foundation, the preeminent underwriter of grants for the county, where she served as the Grant Officer for 27 years. Koch’s goal in her role?  Supporting and developing the Fort Bend community through volunteerism and inclusion. Since retiring from The George Foundation, Koch has continued her mission of inclusion, education, volunteerism and community building globally. For her, listening is the goal.

“The key is always to listen,” shared Koch.  “By listening, we can absorb new ideas and unique approaches.”

Dee Koch at a local arts center in Taipei with university friends.

Too often Koch notices that people say that they want to understand cultural differences, but they don’t always listen to each other. She believes that if you are looking to understand a new culture, you must listen and include everyone in the conversation. Otherwise, they do not feel a part of the fabric of the community.

Koch has seen firsthand that sometimes cultural differences are ingrained in the past and affect community building. For instance, in many Asian families, extended families take care of one another. The idea of charity is not a new one, but the concept of charity outside of the extended family unit, to strangers, can be.

“As more people travel for school and jobs, we are seeing changes in the global volunteer environment. The exposure to other societal views on giving is having an impact.”

A village woman Koch met in Sa Pa, Viet Nam.

Founder of the Youth in Philanthropy program in Fort Bend, which allows 200 Fort Bend high school juniors and seniors to experience volunteerism and earn scholarships annually, today Koch continues her focus on youth by reaching out to groups throughout Asia focusing on youth leadership development.  “I love working with the kids – talking to young people and participating in their interests. As we work together, we get to exchange what we are passionate about in our lives. They may feel that I am there to teach them, but in reality, they teach me things every trip.”

Koch’s participation in their interests led her to try chicken feet for the first time.  “I don’t think they thought I would do it. For me, I was honored that the kids wanted to take me to a special place for them. While I may never have chicken feet again, I wanted them to know that I was open to new ideas, and I was willing and wanted to see what was important to them.”

Born to Volunteer

For Koch, the love of volunteerism began in grade school as her school’s crossing guard and continued throughout her education as she developed or improved clubs and organizations.  “I was blessed to have the support of my family, and they showed me that there was more that I could do to help others. We were blessed, not financially, but in support.”

Koch making friends with some of the local residents of Sa Pa, Viet Nam.

Koch shared her family history by teaching her kids to embrace the global world and not lament the past.  “When we moved to Saudi Arabia, we told the kids that if they had one bad thing to say, then they had to provide five good things in the same conversation. By doing this, we kept the complaints to a minimum and allowed them to focus on the positive of their environment.”

Travel was a significant influencer in Koch’s life and continues to this day as she spends months at a time visiting her children who live in the Czech Republic and Viet Nam and developing cultural exchanges across Asia. “Travel for all children is imperative. It opens up worlds and ideas – a different way to view challenges. If we have more broadened kids, then there is a greater wealth of knowledge that they can pull from. I encourage any parent to prioritize experiences over items.”

As her career has grown globally, Koch still concentrates on the basics. “Globally I focus on how I treat others instead of how they treat me. I want to ask questions and listen. Ultimately I want to know how people would like us to engage with them.”

Koch with the National Taipei University for Education Leadership Team.

Koch’s mantra is simple:  asking is critical. “You are not expected to understand everything about a culture or their preferred stances, so ask.” She stresses the need to engage, to ask questions and then listen actively for the response.

Koch has built the next stage of her life by reaching out to new communities and exchanging ideas. She has built a reputation in these communities working tirelessly to team-build and develop leaders from youth. She often recites a quote that says, “Sometimes the only thing you have to do is simply allow people to be a part of what you are doing.”

For Koch, building a community based on volunteerism, engagement and leadership is her end goal. “We can overthink this process. Engagement is fun. If you listen and want people to be part of your process, you just need to invite them in. Ask how you can engage with them, and then listen and take in the answers. You will be amazed at what you can find out and learn if you take the time to ask and listen.”