On September 13th, Princeton AlumniCorps Office Administrator Lisa Baumert sat down with Chimere Stephens, Katy Lankester ’08, and Chantel Mrrow after their fourth (and midpoint) Emerging Leaders session in New York City. They shared how the Emerging Leaders professional development program is impacting their work and ability to face challenges and opportunities in the nonprofit sector.
Chantel Marrow, Project Manager for Abyssinian Schools, the educational division of Abyssinian Development Corporation, a community development organization based in Harlem.
Katy Lankester ‘08, Program Associate at the Global Impact Investing Network., an organization dedicated to increasing the scale and effectiveness of impact investments that aim to solve social or environmental challenges.
Chimere Stephens, Director of School Operations for TEAM Academy’s elementary school, SPARK Academy, which is one of four KIPP schools in Newark.
Lisa: How has Emerging Leaders impacted your work and your ability to be a more effective leader and manager at your organizations?
Katy: I think Emerging Leaders has made me more aware and upfront regarding my own strengths and failings at my organization. Being able to demonstrate vulnerability toward my colleagues helps them open up to me, and allows us to support one another in our work. Through Emerging Leaders I have learned that if you create a perception of invulnerability you do not fully tap into resources of your team.
Chimere: The resources we are given, and the discussions we have in Emerging Leaders help me understand that we are all going through some of the same challenges as new managers and new directors in the non-profit sector. Emerging Leaders helps me frame those challenges, provides context to them, and helps me find practical solutions to them.
Chantel: Self-reflection is a significant part of our [Emerging Leaders] sessions. We work to really identify our strengths and weaknesses—things that we can build upon and things that we need to be aware and mindful of. These skills have been helpful for me back at my organization. They have made me more confident. I think that self-awareness begets confidence.
Lisa: How has your participation in Emerging Leaders impacted your organization?
Chantel: One of our peers in Emerging Leaders, Sara, spoke [in today’s session] of the recent partnership that my organization, Team Academy, started with her organization, Generation Citizen. Sara’s organization is now working in two of our schools with students around the topic of civic action and addressing community issues through critical thinking. This is an example of how great opportunities for networking and partnerships can be built as a result of having such dynamic folks around the table.
Katy: It has been great for me to be exposed to different types of nonprofits—that has taught me a tremendous amount about the strengths and weakness of different parts of the sector. Emerging Leaders helps us find ways to engage with the organizations of other cohort members, and learn from them. I have started a binder in our break room at wor, where I put all the articles that we read in Emerging Leaders, and I think everyone on my team appreciates having access, through me, to all of these resources.
Chimere: One component of being part of this program is our stretch project. We are not just putting these projects together to develop nice theories. They are projects that we are trying to actively put into practice in our workplace.
There is a huge focus in the network of schools I work for on professional development for teachers, and there is not really a professional development track for school support staff. I went to the network of schools that I work for and said, “If we really want to see results these are some things that we should consider.” The senior level people in the network said, “That is great. Why don’t you design the curriculum?” My stretch project is creating a professional development track for support staff for the entire network of five schools.
So far, it has been great. I have been able to identify some of the challenges in my network and draw from a lot that I have learned in Emerging Leaders. We are going to launch [the professional development program] this Thursday, and I am really looking forward to it.
Lisa: As you know public interest work is always evolving. How has your experience in Emerging Leaders so far equipped you to face today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities in the nonprofit sector?
Chimere: I feel that being part of this cohort has given us all confidence. This room is filled with dreamers—people who are really optimistic and feel that they can make a difference. When you are around individuals like this, it is contagious, it is infections. Like Katy was saying, everyone here is working in the nonprofit sector, in different fields and in different lines of work, but we are all connected. Our vision to see great things happen is very consistent, and I feel like we really feed off of one another.
When I came to Emerging Leaders I was so focused on the things that I am not good at. So much so that I never stopped and thought, “What am I good at, and how can I utilize those strengths while still identifying my areas of growth?” So Emerging Leaders has given me a safe place to be able to do that, and to continue to try to get better in my professional life.
Katy: I would echo everything both of you just said. I do not think there are a lot of places within the nonprofit world where you can develop the confidence that you need to lead an organization and the skill set to really underpin it.
Chimere, you mentioned that Emerging Leaders is a safe space to come and be in a room full of dreamers. I agree. We work in the nonprofit sector, so you would think that this is what work is like every single day, but in reality it can be a very challenging sector to work in. A lot of folks in the nonprofit sector really are at risk of burnout. Particularly, I think that people like us—who are really driven and ambitious and excited to lead organizations—can feel that we are just not able to move up or gain the skills we need to be able to achieve everything we think we can within the nonprofit sector. Because of this, I think the sector loses people to other pursuits and places where they think they are going to get more recognition in one way or another. So in order to retain talented people in the nonprofit sector, I think programs like [Emerging Leaders] are critical to making sure all of us are able to develop professionally, and step up to lead organizations going forward.
Lisa: What do you think makes this professional development opportunity unique? What sets it apart from other programs you may have explored?
Katy: This program is unique because it is nonprofit-focused. Emerging Leaders is in a price range that is accessible, and it is geared towards where I am at in my career. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there for executives who are late-stage career folks, and there are opportunities for folks who are really early in their careers, looking for a fellowship or something like that. However, when you are making the transition into mid-career positions in the sector, I do not think there is really much out there.
Chimere: Yes, that is true. We are all in similar places in our careers. While we all have different levels of responsibility in our organizations, there are so many things that we can relate to and benefit from in Emerging Leaders, like the coaching and accountability that we receive. It is cool to see the personal investment and commitment that we have all made with one another. I think we are able to get so much out of [Emerging Leaders] because everyone is fully committed to getting better, and committed to seeing the group do well, and also to seeing everyone’s ideas and dreams and thoughts come to fruition.
Chantel: When I first heard about Emerging Leaders, and learned that it was connected to Princeton alumni, I was a little concerned that it would not be a fit for me. I did not go to Princeton and I didn’t graduate from any kind of Ivy League school. However, I do bring seven years of experience in the nonprofit industry. I think that opening up programs and introducing programs like this for the nonprofit sector really allows for a great, dynamic group of people to come together and share what they have learned, from different walks of life, educational backgrounds, and work experience. In my case I think this experience has just been phenomenal and I am greatly appreciative to AlumniCorps, and to Emerging Leaders.