10 to Watch: The Second Cohort
In the nonprofit world, white individuals make up the majority of leaders and carry the most assets. According to the Urban Institute’s 2021 Nonprofit Trends and Impact Report, “79% of executive directors and 79% of board chairs [in the United States] identify as non-Hispanic white.” Another study by Bridgespan found “on average the revenues of the Black-led organizations are 24% smaller than the revenues of their white-led counterparts.”
But why? Data also tells us that 57% of BIPOC leaders “have lived experience that is representative of one or more of the communities their organization serves” compared to just 18% of their white counterparts. BIPOC-led organizations are also more likely to take public action in support of racial equity to create the long-term systemic change that will support thriving communities of color.
However you look at it, one thing is clear: nonprofit organizations led by people of color are not getting equal access to the resources and relationships needed to create real community change. United Way’s 10 to Watch initiative is just one step in the right direction.
Since 2018, the initiative has invested a total of $1.25M in 20 organizations led by people of color and/or women with annual operating budgets under $1M per year. These leaders also received access to hands-on leadership training and funder relationships through United Way’s network.
2023 marks the end of United Way’s second 10 to Watch cohort, but it’s not the end of their stories. Here’s how these leaders say the experience changed them:
- Annie Schmidt
Senior Manager of Field Capacity Building, National Institute on Mental Illness
At the time she was accepted into United Way’s second 10 to Watch cohort, Annie was the Executive Director of NAMI Wake County. She experienced the program’s benefits for 10 months before leaving to pursue a new position at NAMI’s national organization. While her time with 10 to Watch was short, her insight is still valuable.
“The cohort was really good about holding space for open dialogue on anti-racist work and how we can be effective and efficient at it. I left the cohort feeling empowered to be more vocal in larger group settings about navigating challenges of anti-racism within ourselves and within our advocacy for just mental health systems.”
- Geraud Staton
Echo empowers individuals to achieve upward mobility through entrepreneurship. Echo was founded in November 2022 following a merger between two organizations, Audacity Labs and Helius. Geraud was the Executive Director of Helius at the time he was accepted into United Way’s second 10 to Watch cohort.
“I think that the community is in a better place to accept what Echo is doing. When I started Helius, the groups that we worked with were not seen as viable groups. We had people who would tell us that people who are in or near poverty have more important things than dealing with a business, which is absolutely not true. Many folks that we work with have had side hustles forever. It seems like the worse off they are financially, the more likely they are actually to have a side hustle and the more important it is to get that side hustle actually working. With the exposure that we’ve gotten, we’re able to convince people that no, this is a group of people that not only needs this, but they’re actually more likely to be successful.”
- Jenice Ramirez
Co-Executive Director, Education Justice Alliance
At the time she was accepted into United Way’s second 10 to Watch cohort, Jenice was Executive Director of ISLA (Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition). Jenice left ISLA in January 2023 for her new position as Co-Executive Director at Education Justice Alliance. While her experience with 10 to Watch ended with that job transition, her insight is valuable.
“For a long time, I didn’t see myself as a strong enough leader. I looked at myself as a person that was just doing the work being in community. I loved the work that I was doing but I wasn’t doing it by myself. In the last few years, I’ve recognized it’s not about what you want or what you think. It’s about what the community says and what the community thinks. If you are a true leader that really wants to see change, you can’t think that you’re the one with the answers.”
- Joy Spencer
Executive Director, Equity Before Birth
Equity Before Birth is saving the lives of Black and Brown birthing people by increasing access to critical services and support.
“I would say I completely grew as a leader. I guess, in a sense, I never saw myself as a leader. Even when I was offered the position, I said ‘look, helping families is what I do, but find somebody else to do the actual leadership part.’ This opportunity has taught me I am a leader in my own right. I am an untraditional leader, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a leader.”
- Nora El-Khouri Spencer
Founder & CEO, Hope Renovations
Hope Renovations empowers women and gender expansive folks to pursue living-wage jobs in the construction trades while providing repairs and renovations that enable older adults to stay in their homes as they age.
“What we’re doing is innovative. Having United Way behind us and being part of something that’s so visible has given us relevance to a lot of funders. When we apply for grants or when we talk to donors, I can proudly say ‘I’ve achieved this. Hope Renovations has achieved this. You should put your support behind us for a lot of different reasons but certainly because United Way is putting their support behind us. If they believe in us, you should too.’ I think that’s been a huge benefit to us in terms of just bringing in the funding to be able to develop our capacity.”
- Ronda Taylor Bullock, Ph.D.
Lead Curator (Executive Director), we are
we are (working to extend anti-racist education) provides anti-racism training for children, families, and educators. We use a three-pronged approach to dismantle systemic racism in education by offering summer camps for children in rising 1st-5th grade, professional development for educators, and workshops for parents & families.
“Over these last two years, I’ve put a stronger emphasis on what it means to take breaks and be intentional about rest. Not just so that I can get back up and do more work, but so I can be healthier, have a clearer brain, and be even more critical and present when I’m in spaces. That’s helped me as a leader because when I embody wellness as a practice, my team sees that and it’s a model for how we all can move forward.”
- Tameka Brown
Founding Executive Director, H.E.A.R.T.S.
Helping Each Adolescent Reach Their Spark (H.E.A.R.T.S.) educates and equips all adolescent parents with the tools needed to become independent and self-sufficient.
“[Over the last two years] H.E.A.R.T.S. has been able to grow by providing awareness about who we are and what we do. We have been able to grow our staff. We have been able to grow our policies and procedures. I have been able to grow as an individual and as a leader. I’ve been able to show up authentically myself and become comfortable with networking about my organization and the population that we serve.”
- Tojan B. Rahhal
CEO and President, Engineering World Health
Based in Durham, Engineering World Health engages students and professionals from around the globe to improve healthcare delivery in low-resource countries.
“The 10 to Watch program really supported the growth of our organization’s capacity over the past two years because they believed in us. It comes down to that, right? We were able to attract some corporations to support us because now it’s a program that’s believed in and the leadership is believed in. It really was truly impactful to have that support from 10 to Watch.”
- Tolulope O. Omokaiye
Founder & CEO, EVOLVE Mentoring
EVOLVE Mentoring Inc. serves youth and young adults to help with their transition to holistic adulthood through life skills, mentoring, and collaboration with partner organizations in the Triangle area. In 2018, the organization became the local affiliate of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper (MBSK) initiative to help close the achievement gap for Black and Brown youth and young adults Wake County.
“Being part of 10 to Watch has helped shift my perspective on how to effectively scale our organization to smartly maximize our impact while minimizing burnout. We’ve reduced some of what we do at EVOLVE now because we were busting at the seams with mission creep after COVID. We’ve figured out how to meet in the middle of the spectrum between direct service and all-important aspects of the systems changes needed to really close the achievement gap and champion equity. Being a part of this has helped me almost sculpt and shape the future of my organization. Being a part of United Way helped me figure out the balance of running an organization with heart while not forgetting the business behind it all.”
- Tova Hairston
Executive Director, Boomerang Youth
Boomerang Youth provides alternative to suspension, after school, and summer camp programming for students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City and Orange County Schools.
“As the leader of this organization, my experience with 10 to Watch provided me enough support, opportunities, and resources to really be deliberate about my development as a leader. What is my philosophy as a leader? What are my core values to myself? But it has also helped make sure that I have the storytelling skills, the techniques, and the connections throughout the community to make sure that others understand the importance of our role, not just for students, but literally the future of Orange County. That would not have been possible without the 10 to Watch.”
To learn more about 10 to Watch and meet all of the leaders in the second cohort, visit United Way’s website at www.unitedwaytriangle.org.