Why Career Pathways
May marked my second session of the year-long Council on Foundations Career Pathways program. I applied to the program because several of my philanthropy mentors who are program alumni found it valuable, and enthusiastically encouraged me to pursue the opportunity. More than a decade ago, I was a participant in the ABFE’s Connecting Leaders Fellowship,which was incredibly transformative, and now that I’m in a different place in my career, the content of this program aligned with my next-phase career goals. The leadership training, personal coaching and opportunity to expand my professional network were elements of the program that appealed to me.
I’ve had an exciting, rewarding and unique career in the nonprofit sector, particularly in philanthropy. I’ve worked as a funder for a public agency and several private foundations. I’ve been able to develop programs and initiatives that are still making an impact, including Community Connections, a resident small grants program; the Detroit Equity Action Labat the Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights; and working with the W.K. Kellogg Foundationinvestment team, a skilled team of local and national consultants who designed and implemented the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, nationally replicated by JP Morgan Chase. It has been a remarkable career and I am grateful, but I know I am called to do more. As a Black woman, I am underrepresented in this field, and I believe I have a responsibility to be intentional, thoughtful and courageous with my privilege and leadership.
A Focus on Self-Reflection, Coaching and Next-Phase Career Goals
Prior to the first session in Houston, TX, the 23 other cohort members and I were provided with the syllabus, reading list and video and audio learning tools. I quickly discovered that this fellowship was going to demand a lot of myself and the other participants. The curriculum is substantial and relevant, and has already pushed me to better organize my time and prioritize space for self-reflection and coaching.
The second session coincided with the annual COF conference, and several of us attended the conference, too. It was indeed a philanthropy immersion! I was able to catch up with many colleagues, attend conference sessions and bond with cohort members. There was even a special reception attended by alumni from almost all prior Career Pathways classes. It was great to talk with them and hear that many believed the program provided the boost and confidence they needed to reach the next level in their careers.
Generosity and Support from Peers in the Field
The 2019 cohort is fairly large, and I worried I would not have the opportunity to get to know everyone in the group. To my surprise, by the second session it was clear that the program design allows for small group interaction, networking and breaks that provide opportunities for deeper connections. In fact, this weekend, a Midwest-based fellow was on business in New York City, and several of us in the area gathered to have dinner together. I know that my cohort colleagues are accomplished, educated and ambitious people, but what excites me most about the program is the generosity and support many have already shown. My takeaways from the program so far are that in addition to my coach, I now have several accountability partners that are motivating and encouraging. I am proud to be in a field that has so many incredible thinkers working on some of the most difficult problems in our country and aboard.
Upon returning back to work after session two, I was eager to talk about the conference speakers, some of the readings and my project. I’m looking forward to the third session this summer and connecting with my cohort members, as we work on our projects, serve as resources for one another, and hopefully enjoy a social outing or two to balance the ratio of work and fun of the fellowship!
About the Author
Sharnita serves as Program Director, Arts, at The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. She directs the Foundation’s Arts grants, which foster a diverse and vibrant arts ecosystem, create broad-based public support of the arts, and support communities engaged in creative placemaking in New Jersey. Prior to joining Dodge, Sharnita managed a $25 million grantmaking portfolio in education, health and family economic security at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Michigan. Sharnita holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a Bachelor of Arts from Marygrove College in Detroit.