My Professional Story: How I Got Here
As a consultant, coach and connector, I draw from an uncommon variety of experiences. They shape my ability to view situations from multiple perspectives. I can forge unusual connections because I’ve worked in many different fields and held different roles. Here are some lessons I've taken from my wide range of experienes.
(If you want formal professional run down, visit my LinkedIn page).
I was 28 when I completed my PhD, but realized I wanted a more active role in creating lasting social change. I spent my first few years as an internal consultant for the City of New York during one of the city’s biggest budget crises. I recruited a wide range of city agencies, from the police department to the board of education to the department of corrections, to leverage the power of new communication technologies to improve city services and reduce costs. Takeaway: A crisis creates fertile space for innovation.
Then, I moved to leveraging the power of Silicon Valley for advocacy and community building. At HandsNet, an innovative intermediary, we guided thousands of human-service professionals into the digital age. We designed training materials, managed help hotlines and organized seminars for organizations of all sizes all over the country. We networked food banks, children's advocacy organizations, low-income housing developers and legal service providers to tap into the power of email and the world wide web to share information and advocate for their constituents. Takeaway: Technology implementation is 10% hardware, 20% software and 70% humanware.
Next, I ventured into management consulting. I leverage my knowledge of the human services sector with my research skills to grow a boutique management consult firm for the philanthropic sector. I advised foundations of all sizes and cultures on how to strengthen their “learning muscle” by designing measurement strategies and evaluation systems. I also conducted analysis of philanthropic trends to inform funders' capacity-building efforts. Takeaway: You learn the most from your most difficult clients.
Eventually, I landed my “dream job” -- a staff position at a foundation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recruited me as one of their first organization-wide Planning and Improvement Officers. I spent 8 years largely focused on improving educational equity for low-income students. During my tenure, the foundation grew from 300 to 15,000 employees. I improved the capacity of Gates staff and their grantees to increase impact through learned experience. The skills acquired there led me to a senior leadership position as Chief Learning Officer at the College Futures Foundation, which helps California’s public higher-education system better serve under-represented students. Takeaway: Money and great analytics aren't enough to create lasting social change. You also need trusting relationships.
To build my relationship skills, I began formal training in leadership coaching. In spring 2021, I completed all the requirement to become a Certified Coactive Professional Coach. That involved 150+ hours of course work, 100+ hours of supervised client coaching an an exam! I’ve found that the essence of coaching is similar to activities that first drew me to work in program evaluation: to support social sector leaders to learn from their own experience to improve their work. It requires curiosity, consolidating disparate information and articulating the big picture, all of which helps me serve my clients’ aims to increase their effective leadership. Takeaway: Growing an organization's skills creates a more lasting impact than giving them the answers.
Over the last five years, I’ve seen the social-sector world from the lens of a board member. I currently serve on two nonprofit boards: Since 2016, I’ve served on the board of College Possible Washington, a local college access organization. In 2019, I joined the board of Cristosal, Central America’s leading human rights organization. I wanted to use my privilege as a U.S. citizen and my knowledge of the U.S philanthropy sector to increase the safety and reduce oppression for people in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Takeway: It takes effective meeting management and design to allow volunteer board members to effectively contribute their skills.
To be a credible board member for Cristosal, I spent the first half of 2020 living in Guatemala. While studying Spanish, I lived with a Maya family who spoke no English. The experience gave me empathy and respect for the challenges faced by immigrants in our country. I had planned to travel to El Salvador to do human rights work, but “got stuck” when Guatemala closed its borders in response to the COVID crisis. So I pivoted to working with a local human services organization, coaching them through a strategic planning process and building skills of leadership team composed expatriate and indigenous staff. Takeaway: Be prepared to change plans to take advantage of new opportunities.