Last Monday, our weekly civic engagement panel focused on nonprofit leadership, a subject that I’m personally passionate about. Throughout my life I’ve had various experiences doing nonprofit work from participating in on-the-ground projects to interning at administrative offices. I really enjoyed this past week’s panel because not only did the leaders share a similar passion to myself, but they also have experience working in API and non-API focused spaces. This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot during CLA ― the importance of having API spaces while acknowledging that these spaces do not necessarily reflect the real world. CAUSE Director of Programs & Strategic Innovation Richard Leong summed this idea up quite well when he said, “...these are the spaces where we build confidence and strength to make changes in the greater world.” This is a mindset that I will try to keep with me during my final weeks as a CLA intern.
Something emphasized by the nonprofit leaders was the importance of treating a nonprofit like a substantial organization, more or less like a business. John Yi, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks, even said that he disliked the term nonprofit because it was a category placed in organizations that didn’t fit corporate America’s capitalistic standards; it almost diminishes the work of nonprofits.
Both Executive Directors John Yi from Los Angeles Walks and Leslie Ito from the Amory Center for the Arts made it clear that they saw themselves as the leaders of complex networks. Something that really stood out was the importance they placed on managing relationships, something that I’ve always seen as important, but have never really thought about from a nonprofit leadership perspective. Although they are both executive directors, they are each beholden to boards of directors, employees, and most importantly, the communities they serve.
Funny enough, this past Tuesday I also had the opportunity to talk to the CEO of Planned Parenthood Pasadena and SGV, Sheri Bonner. The timing for this conversation was nearly perfect because I still had the conversations the other nonprofit directors had introduced fresh in my mind. Sheri Bonner echoed similar ideas, but additionally stated, “Nonprofit has taken some of the work that the government used to do.” I think this is a very powerful statement because we often think of government as an institution that serves the will of the people. In a general sense, the government does take care of its citizens; but nonprofits are able to target specific populations or subjects and can therefore have a larger impact on smaller, underserved communities.
Rather than seeing government and nonprofit work as opponents, it’s best to look at them from a symbiotic perspective ― with each strengthening the work of the other. As someone who prides themselves on the ability to zoom out and look at the big picture, I’ve often seen myself working in government or within cross-sectional organizations. I have yet to find a specific passion that I am willing to devote my life and work towards.
However, this is also something that was touched upon by the speakers. Marilu Guevara, Executive Director at the League of Women Voters, Los Angeles and Tony Hoang, Managing Director of Equality LA made it clear that intersectionality is a key pillar of their work. Intersectionality is a concept that I’ve talked a lot about in the classroom, but to see it being applied was very validating.
Perhaps, rather than finding a specific passion to devote my life to, I will focus on finding communities that I want to serve and big changes I want to see in the world. No matter what guiding principles I eventually choose, I can see those principles being echoed in the nonprofit sphere. Luckily, I have plenty of time to decide what that path of discovery looks like for me!