How do we maximize impact to create change in the world that is just and equitable and also fast?
This central question has been the propellant behind my career and has pushed me to take on new challenges.
I started by thinking more at the policy level – working for the lobbying and advocacy arm of the UN Foundation and engaging with Congressional leaders to support policy and funding initiatives. Tiring quickly of the politics involved in working on the Hill, I moved to working for large, global social impact organizations helping to manage multi-million dollar programs, enter new markets and design new portfolios. I also worked closely with funders to bring in millions annually in grant proposals. I learned critical lessons from the work that we’ve collectively done over generations to make the world a better place –about equity, about participatory programming, about sustainability, about the approaches that have yielded the best results in different sectors, and about how to measure those results. The work was exciting, but very traditional. I found myself sitting through endless conversations that talked about best practices, not innovations; about the way we have always done things, not how we should do things in a rapidly changing world.
That brought me back home to Silicon Valley and to work at a ed/tech non-profit that ran like a start-up. The work was dynamic, it was innovative and it was bold – no one talked about incrementalism. The goal and our approaches were about transformative change and massive return on investments. The conversations were about how the world should be, not how it was. I worked directly with a very different set of funders – with agile foundations, and with high-net individuals who were passionate about their giving portfolios and were engaged at the cutting edge of philanthropy. This too was exciting, but this too was imperfect. In the desire for change, I found that we weren’t always being thoughtful enough; we were too focused on innovation at the expense of learning from the past, and while we were keeping up in trends in philanthropy (like impact investing and social impact bonds), we weren’t as steeped the latest science and research in the sector (education) that we worked in.
Through all of this, the one space that most inspired, challenged and invigorated me; that seemed to be putting the pieces together better than anywhere else were movement and organizing spaces committed to building power and changing systems. I spent several years working deeply in this space, supporting broad power building work in the US in support of a more equitable, more just and more liberated world. In this work, I also saw how interrelated all this work is - it's not enough to advocate for the best government policies if we and our teams are burnt out and running on empty. And vice versa - taking care of ourselves with no greater connection to the broader systems we work limits the impact we can have in the world.
That brought me to my consulting work, where I have tried to bridge between these worlds by engaging with a dynamic set of clients – small and large, established and new, organizational, individuals, and industries – to combine what I’ve learned. I’ve also launched a portfolio of work that centers systems-level change with a focus on power and working toward a better future.
And this central question keep me moving forward to take on new challenges.