Episode #48: Dr. Lisa Rawlings, EMBA ’19, joins us on our podcast today to talk about her vision and goals as the new President and CEO of the National Urban Fellows (NUF) Organization.
National Urban Fellows is a rigorous, full-time graduate program comprised of two semesters of academic course work and a nine-month mentorship, leading to a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the City University of New York’s Bernard M. Baruch College, School of Public Affairs.
Episode Quotes:Oftentimes we see that people in power are oblivious to the privilege that they hold. Click To Tweet At Haas, being able to be authentically yourself in a community of people who share your values is a powerful thing. Click To Tweet To make sure that the people who are in decision making positions really reflect America, all of America. Click To Tweet
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.Albert Einstein
[00:00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li and today I’m excited to welcome Dr. Lisa Rawlings, the new president and CEO of the National Urban Fellows organization.
[00:00:21] She’s also a 2019 Executive MBA alum. Congratulations on recently graduating.
[00:00:28] Lisa: Thank you, Sean. And thank you for having me on the show.
[00:00:31] Sean: So, before we dive into your rich experiences that I see in front of me, can you share with our listeners a little bit about your background. Where you grew up?
[00:00:42] Lisa: Sure. Yeah, I’m a native Washingtonian. Been born and raised in Washington, DC and I also spent about three years of my childhood living in the Caribbean.
[00:00:53] Sean: Wow. What, whereabouts in the Caribbean?
[00:00:55] Lisa: A very small Island called Saint Kitts. And I went to fourth, fifth, and sixth grades there.
[00:01:01] Sean: And then what move? You moved back to Washington afterwards.
[00:01:04] Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. My father is from St. Kitts, and so we moved down there to live there for awhile, and then we moved right back to DC so I could start the junior high school.
[00:01:13] Sean: And what’d you do after high school?
[00:01:15] Lisa: Undergrad at Rutgers in New Jersey and studied African American studies and public health there.
[00:01:22] Sean: I see. And then you did a master’s afterwards, right?
[00:01:25] Lisa: I did, I did. I studied social work. My first job out of Rutgers was working with high school youth, and I realized that I wanted a little bit more training to do that really critical work. And so, I went back for a master’s in social work and then continued on to get a PhD.
[00:01:41] Sean: Got it. Amazing.
[00:01:43] You just recently became the new president and CEO of National Urban Fellows. Can you share with us a little bit about what National Urban Fellows, the organization, is with us?
[00:01:55] Lisa: Yes. Thank you so much for asking. The National Urban Fellows is a public service leadership development program. It’s really a talent accelerator for diverse voices in the public space. It is a 14-month intense journey. So, people who decide to go on this journey make a full-time commitment to leave their jobs and possibly leave their home towns to get a master’s degree in public policy or public administration.
[00:02:22] And to have a nine-month residency at an organization that serves the public good.
[00:02:27] Lisa: And so, the two major components of the National Urban Fellows program are the academic enrichment and then the mentorship placement. And these mentorship placements are in organizations you are assigned to a senior leader, it could be in philanthropy, it could be in a nonprofit, it could be in local state government, it could be an academia, can be in a number of these sectors that are really mission driven. And so, you’re paired with a mentor who helps you navigate the space and is able to help you develop some of the softer skills and also understanding more of the political dynamics involved in leadership.
[00:03:04] And so you are able to pair both an academic preparation with kind of this brought into network and added professional experience to pivot into a leadership role at the conclusion of the program. And so, it’s been around for about 50 years. It was actually created in 1968, ironically, in the aftermath of the uprisings resulting from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. And at that point they realized the critical importance of making sure that there were more representative voices in the public space. And today, you know, we’re kind of back at the same place of seeing some of those same dynamics. It’s still existing in the need for NUF being more prevalent than ever.
[00:03:50] Sean: Right. I want to take a step back, actually, I’m really curious, you know, when I was looking at your background, you’ve always been involved in helping people and giving back. I’m wondering who or what, you know, inspired you to go down this path.
[00:04:15] Lisa: So, helping others has really been our family business. My father is a physician. My mother was in education. A number of my aunts are psychologists and my grandfather a very important force in my life was also public servant.
[00:04:30] And they all impressed upon us that our purpose here was to help others. And so, it was second nature, really kind of going to undergrad. It was just really figuring out what was the way or my route in helping others. Not whether or not I would.
[00:04:48] Sean: That makes sense. And, what made you come pursue an MBA? You know, you gotten your masters, you had your PhD, why an MBA and why now?
[00:04:59] Lisa: So, after working in the public sector for about 20 years, I was getting a little frustrated that I wasn’t making enough impact, that we were doing the same thing and that it wasn’t moving the needle much. And I felt like I needed new tools.
[00:05:21] And I felt that given the innovation and the disruption that happens in the private sector, I really wanted to understand how do we think about problems in the private sector? How do we approach them? And always thinking about how do we do it better, faster, more efficiently. And I was really anxious to learn how to apply that approach in that orientation to some of the social problems I’m most concerned about.
[00:05:47] Sean: To piggyback off of that, what is your vision as a president and CEO NUF?
[00:05:54] Lisa: As I mentioned, kind of NEF is really an accelerator for talent. And there’s often this misnomer that, you know, people can’t find diverse, qualified candidates. And so, one of the things I want to one, disrupt that notion and two, position NUF as a go to place for diverse qualified talent for people who are interested in public service leadership and more broadly making social impact. And so, having leaders that are courageous and committed to equity but that are also extremely competent, you know, operate with integrity, perform excellently and are committed to service.
[00:06:34] Sean: I think an important question is why is NUF so relevant now?
[00:06:39] Lisa: Yeah. So, there are many reasons why. I think first that there’s a crisis in public leadership. The civil servants have really been under attack and so competent,
[00:06:57] There’s also an under-representation crisis and so leadership at every level does not reflect the population in America. We also know that the challenges that we’re confronted with as a society, many of them are rooted in inequality. And the people who either are oblivious to it or benefit from it are responsible for leading us and there’s no avenue to be able to disrupt that.
[00:07:25] In addition, there’s really an underinvestment in leadership development in the nonprofit sector in particular. And in fact, Haas Center for Responsible Business did a study with, I think it was McKinsey that really delved into this leadership crisis gap. We know that there’s a baby boom bubble.
[00:07:47] And, there’ll be many opportunities for leadership that will emerge as these baby boomers retire, but they’re not investing in a talent coming through the pipeline. And so, we’re approaching a crisis where we will have a great need for leadership, and we won’t have people prepared to step into those roles.
[00:08:06] And then there’s also this false narrative about finding qualified, diverse talent. And even that is a misnomer as if those two can’t coexist in the same sentence. Often I think that people may not see talent because it may not come in a package that they’re looking for.
[00:08:24] And they also don’t know where to look for it. And so, we know so much of about how people get engaged is through their social networks. And if your social network does not reflect America, then you know, that’s the world in which you see, and you may not know how to penetrate into other networks and to be able to connect with talent that is more reflective and representative of this country.
[00:08:50] Sean: Makes sense. Yeah, I never thought about that. I mean, I think I just automatically assumed that once the baby boomer leadership generation goes, that naturally, you know, it’ll fill with a more diverse pool of candidates, but that’s a huge assumption, right? That doesn’t happen if we don’t put work into it proactively.
[00:09:12] And that sounds like that’s something that not only NUF is doing, but that is a huge part of your mission. It’s to make sure that we don’t perpetuate the same type of leadership moving forward. Right.
[00:09:24] Lisa: Absolutely. And if we aren’t intentional about it, then it won’t change. Because what we found is that even in the organizations that are serving the most vulnerable populations in the most marginalized populations and that are overwhelmingly people of color, most of the leadership is white.
[00:09:42] And so there has not been a recognition of the need to have people of color led organizations, particularly serving communities of color.
[00:09:53] Sean: Why is this mission so important now?
[00:09:56] Lisa: Yeah. I mean, I think there was a brief period of time doing the first that Obama administration when there was this idea that the issue of racism had been lit. We figured this thing out. And what we really found was that it came back more voracious than ever. What we’ve seen lately is an evolution into a much more pernicious, insidious, aggressive form of racism that will really cause this country to implode if there’s not a proactive, constructive solution. And I believe organizations like the National Urban Fellows and other organizations that are similarly positioning themselves to be a solution.
[00:10:42] To really hold the country to account, to make sure that the people who are in decision-making positions really reflect America, reflect all of America.
[00:11:06] Sean: So, what is the bridge to the private sector? If any?
[00:11:12] Lisa: I’m so glad that you asked, because
[00:11:32] We see that in the business round table statement or the purpose of the corporation, but there seems to be a recognition of there’s a problem, but not understanding about what to do about the problem. And this is where having leaders that understand these issues both intellectually and experientially, you know, really allow us to be able to more fully understand the problem and then begin thinking about how do we solve for these problems.
[00:12:01] Oftentimes we see that people in power are oblivious to the privilege that they hold.
[00:12:08] And if they can’t see how it plays out in kind of small, subtle, and kind of maybe larger, more systemic ways, then you really can’t address it.
[00:12:20] Sean: So, in terms of the opportunities, residencies, mentorships that NUF provides historically, it’s been in the public sector, but now you want it to grow into both the public and the private sector in terms of influencing leadership in both areas.
[00:12:37] Lisa: Yes. Yes. It’s always focused on the social impact and the greater good, but they’re opportunities in the private sector to address social impact issues in those externally facing functions, whether it is in their corporate philanthropy or if it is in their social impact space, whether it is in their public policy space, or if it’s even in their diversity, equity and inclusion space.
[00:13:06] Lisa: I think there’s a great nexus there between the public service facing work that NUF does and the intersection of public service and corporate interests that’s evolving now in the private sector.
[00:13:17] Sean: No, that totally makes sense. And the idea would be to bring in leaders from the private sector to also be trained as a NUF, a National Urban Fellow.
[00:13:29] Lisa: That would certainly be a great possibility that, you know, private sector leaders could become National Urban Fellows so we can have national urban fellows placed at corporations and where they could do a nine-month residency. And they could also work with that organization on a project.
[00:13:45] I didn’t mention this is that as part of this nine-month residency fellows are working under the tutelage of a mentor who’s a senior leader in the organization and they are assigned a capstone project. And so, they’re really working to address the organizational programmatic issue. And they get the academic support from their mentors at Georgetown university.
[00:14:08] And so it’s really a great opportunity for an organization or a company to do a deep dive into an area of concern that they may not have been able to address in their day to day work. And they’re able to benefit from this broadened perspective of a fellow who’s also getting this cutting-edge academic experience.
[00:14:25] And so it’s really a wonderful opportunity for companies or organizations or foundations to really infuse their work with new perspectives.
[00:14:37] Sean: And it’s amazing that you’re leading this initiative.
[00:14:40] Lisa: Yeah, I’m really excited about it. I wouldn’t want to be any place else right now.
[00:14:45] Sean: I have this Daily Drucker book. Basically, this book compiles Peter Drucker’s management wisdoms and on June 24th, the topic was called Civilizing the City and the subtitle is – only the social sector can create what we now need, communities for citizens. And the action point was to reflect and hire favorite nonprofits can help create new communities and cities. And this is a book on management and business, because it was saying that I’ll just read this to you, “Civilizing the city will increasingly become top priority in all countries and particularly in developed countries such as the US, UK, Japan, et cetera. However, neither government nor business can provide the new communities that every major city in the world needs. That is the task of the non-governmental, non-business, nonprofit organizations.” And, I thought that was really on point. That’s exactly what you’re talking about and what you guys are doing.
[00:15:48] Lisa: Absolutely. And even within the corporations now we are seeing that there’s a greater investment in social impact. And so, there are these 1% pledges, you know, there’s a lot of focus on employee activism. There’s a desire to make sure that the workforce looks more representative. But they’re still developing the strategies to do that. Like I said, that they weren’t designed to ensure equity. And so, this opportunity that we’re in now where there is increased attention to these concerns and a greater appreciation for the need to have other voices in the room.
[00:16:32] Sean: Right.
[00:16:32] Lisa: And, one other model that I think has provided a lot of hope and promise for me when thinking about what can businesses do is the B Corp model. And so it was really intrigued by that model when I was in Haas because they really provide a structure in a way to self-evaluate companies and to benchmark them against other companies to really see what is the impact on the environment, the community, their suppliers, their employees, what is their impact on the environment and how can we measure ourselves so that we can hold ourselves accountable to these standards that we espouse. And so, I’ve been really excited about that and I’m hoping that this moment provides an opportunity for people to think about models like this that really are about accountability to these values that are so widely touted.
[00:17:24] Sean: You know, what could that relationship with the private sector look like through NUF?
[00:17:28] Lisa: Yeah. So, in this time where corporations are really struggling with how do they respond to the concerns around systemic racism and in the activation around the black lives matter, what are they going to do? And so, employees and the public have really taken these companies to task to say it’s nice to have a hashtag and it’s nice to make a statement, but how are you going to follow that up? How are you going to follow that through? And an example of what that could possibly look like would be partnering with the National Urban Fellows and having a mentorship experience where a fellow would have a mentorship at a company and they could be specifically focused on developing strategies working within the employee resource groups or within the organization.
[00:18:21] To really help understand these challenges and to help develop strategies and solutions to address the concerns that are risen. To help with analysis, to really understand what the challenges of that particular company are and to develop targeted, tailored strategies to address them.
[00:18:38] Sean: That makes sense. And I think that’s a really important example for our Haas leaders to hear, right. Especially for Haas alumni that are in leadership management positions and their organizations are in need of this type of consulting or this type of influence in their organization on how they can shape their organization to be more diverse and equitable and inclusive.
[00:19:09] I think that’s a really great example. Thank you for sharing that.
[00:19:14[ So, for our listeners and our alumni, you know, what are some ways that we can do to help?
[00:19:20] Lisa: A lot of my EMBA classmates have been reaching out to me after, you know, we’ve all been dealing with this kind of collective trauma of the unrest and wanting to know how they can be helpful. And, I think it’s really important to take action in addition to kind of expressing concern at the individual level.
[00:19:44] And whether it’s the National Urban Fellows or whether it’s another organization that is really taking action to help directly counteract systemic racism. I think those are immediate ways that you can get involved. And with the National Urban Fellows, you know, there are many ways that people can get involved, they can donate money,
[00:20:12] We also have a very strong mentoring component, and so we’re always looking for senior leaders who are really committed to mentoring the next generation of leaders, whether it’s for that organization itself and to become part of a pipeline of talent, or whether it’s just to help prepare the next generation of public service leaders.
[00:20:31] Also share the word about the great work that we’re doing with people in their networks.
[00:20:37] Sean: How do you think Haas has impacted you and your journey?
[00:20:42] Lisa: I came to Haas looking for new tools and new ways of thinking. There’s this Einstein quote that I think of is that you can’t solve new problems with old ways of thinking. But what I wanted to learn was kind of how to think about problems in a different way and how to think about and find solutions for problems.
[00:21:09] So really the emphasis on strategy there has been really helpful. I’ve always been interested in organizational culture and leadership and really deepening my understanding of that. And I think kind of most important for me has been building a new community. You know, I always, I used to cringe when you hear the word network, because I think of, you know, kind of work in the room and glad-handing, you know, with people that you don’t know and trying to sell them something. And that’s certainly not me. But what I have found is kind of being able to be authentically yourself in a community of people who share your values is a very powerful thing and I have been overwhelmed by the support my cohort has provided me throughout the journey. And particularly at this time when I’m starting this new venture, there’s been a huge outpouring and really just reminds me of the value of having community and that it’s much bigger than kind of a network of people.
[00:22:15] Sean: That’s beautiful. Well, thank you so much for sharing that.
[00:22:17] Lisa: Sure.
[00:22:24] Sean: I think that about wraps this up. Well, it’s been an extreme pleasure having you on, Dr. Rawlings. Thank you so much for coming on today and sharing, you know, your background and the National Urban Fellows and your mission and vision that you have for the organization. We’re so happy for you as a new graduate. And once again, congratulations on becoming the new president and CEO of NUF.
[00:22:53] Lisa: Thank you so much, Sean. It’s been such a pleasure and thank you for doing this great work at Haas.
[00:22:58] Sean: No. Thank you.