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Field Notes

Get to know our new board members

November 22, 2022

Root Cause has welcomed four members to our board: Debbie Nguyen, Amanda Northrop, Marvin Vilma, and Crystal Collier.

Get to know these new members below! 

Debbie Nguyen

Executive Director of the Alray Scholars Program

Why did you choose to pursue a career in social impact? Tell us about your journey. 

I grew up with my younger sister and single mother who worked in factories for minimum wage, so I know what it’s like to live without much. For much of my childhood, my family and I were focused on making ends meet and surviving. I was fortunate enough to win a full-ride scholarship to college. Since college, I have dedicated my life to ensuring that children and families have enough not just to survive, but to thrive. I have been especially drawn to the child welfare and education sectors as these systems were critical to my family’s survival. My hope is that, one day, these systems will go beyond enabling survival to foster strong, healthy children and families.

Root Cause’s mission is to be a transformative partner in building, improving, and sustaining social change initiatives that enable all people to thrive. We help nonprofits, public agencies, and philanthropies achieve their goals while advancing racial and economic equity and justice. How does Root Cause’s mission resonate with you, your life, and/or your work? 

My work has always been about advancing racial and economic equity and justice–not just through the missions of the various social impact organizations to which I have had the honor of contributing, but also through the ways that the organizations are managed. How can we advance racial and economic equity and justice as a sector if we as leaders are not creating the conditions where we, staff, and volunteers can thrive? This is what resonates the most with me about the work that Erin and the rest of the Root Cause team are working on: the commitment that Root Cause is making to interrogate their own structures and share those learnings with the broader field.

What is one thing you hope to learn or accomplish during your time on Root Cause’s Board?  

As a new nonprofit Executive Director, I am looking forward to learning from the many years of nonprofit management experience that is represented on the Root Cause board and staff. In terms of what I hope to contribute, my goal for Root Cause is the same as my goal for my full-time work at the Alray Scholars Program, which is to center the perspectives and leadership of people and communities most impacted by the work. Because Alray is a small, direct service organization, how to meet that goal is more obvious—we invite program graduates to serve on our board, staff, contractors, volunteers, everything! I look forward to creatively brainstorming on the question of centering lived experiences with Root Cause.

Root Cause Mad Libs:

  • I am passionate about… treating all people with dignity and respect
  • Here’s what I’m currently reading, watching, or listening to… reading Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters; watching White Lotus; listening to Reggaeton
  • In my spare time, I like to… run, walk, be physically active.
  • In 10 years, this is the change I hope to see…. We let go of individualistic values and beliefs and embrace collectivism.

Amanda Northrop

Executive Director of The Ceres Foundation

Why did you choose to pursue a career in social impact? Tell us about your journey. 

I had a college internship at my hometown’s community foundation where I was first exposed to the world of philanthropy. I was amazed that a career field existed where you could make investments in nonprofit organizations and help advance social change. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to leverage the things I was learning in school as a sociology major and to do something that had a positive impact on the world. I moved to Boston after college and took an internship at the State Street Foundation. I was fortunate to grow that initial experience into a 20-year career, which culminated in managing its grantmaking program in Massachusetts. I made the pivot to the family foundation space in 2021 when I became the Executive Director of the Ceres Foundation.  Ceres is headquartered in Maryland and makes grant investments in Washington DC, California, and Massachusetts. 

Root Cause’s mission is to be a transformative partner in building, improving, and sustaining social change initiatives that enable all people to thrive. We help nonprofits, public agencies, and philanthropies achieve their goals while advancing racial and economic equity and justice. How does Root Cause’s mission resonate with you, your life, and/or your work? 

Root Cause’s mission aligns with what drew me to my career in philanthropy initially, a desire to contribute to making the world a better place. I firmly believe that addressing racial justice and equity is at the heart of solving some of this country’s most pressing social issues. I’ve also had the pleasure of working firsthand with Root Cause on the development of the Boston WINs initiative when I was at State Street and have experienced the impact first-hand of their collective action work. 

What is one thing you hope to learn or accomplish during your time on Root Cause’s Board?  

I am especially interested in being a part of helping Root Cause think about and navigate its next stage of growth. The Ceres Foundation is undertaking an expansion phase as well, so I  look forward to opportunities to share learnings and approaches between both organizations.  

Root Cause Mad Libs (please fill in the blanks below):

  • I am passionate about… ensuring this country lives up to its promise to offer equal opportunities regardless of your zip code or family background, which I think begins with access to high-quality education pathways.  
  • Here’s what I’m currently reading, watching, or listening to… reading Us Against You by Fredrik Backman; watching Insecure; and listening to Nathaniel Rateliff
  • In my spare time, I like to… cook for family and friends (I strongly believe food is love), travel, especially to visit our kids at college, and walk in the woods with my husband and dog. 
  • In 10 years, this is the change I hope to see… more civil discourse and less polarization in American life. 

Marvin Vilma

Managing Director of Development for Let’s Get Ready and CEO of Bevy Studio

Why did you choose to pursue a career in social impact? Tell us about your journey. 

I chose to pursue a career in social impact because the sector supported me in meaningful ways throughout my life. I grew up poor in New York City and lacked access to resources that would enable my economic mobility. I didn’t feel challenged at school and it was hard to take advantage of However, I was afforded many opportunities to pursue my education

Root Cause’s mission is to be a transformative partner in building, improving, and sustaining social change initiatives that enable all people to thrive. We help nonprofits, public agencies, and philanthropies achieve their goals while advancing racial and economic equity and justice. How does Root Cause’s mission resonate with you, your life, and/or your work?

I believe that data and technology can transform the way nonprofits operate, provide services and measure impact. When I began working with small nonprofits, I noticed they shared a desire to leverage tools to uplevel their program delivery and operational efficiency. However,  the same organizations had little capacity to produce and implement the tools they needed. They are solving big (and audacious) social issues that can change lives, but may not be strategic in their efforts due to a technological gap. 

 

What is one thing you hope to learn or accomplish during your time on Root Cause’s Board?

I look forward to deepening my understanding of the nonprofit ecosystem and the needs that social impact leaders have as they serve diverse communities. 

Root Cause Mad Libs:

  • I am passionate about… diverting capital toward social justice issues and opportunities.
  • Here’s what I’m currently reading, watching, or listening to… reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi, and Lean Impact by Ann Mei Chang
  • In my spare time, I like to… develop my cooking skills, walk around the city of Boston, and practice yoga and other wellness activities.
  • In 10 years, this is the change I hope to see…. more young people can access meaningful opportunities to discover their passions and interests and a growing interest in rethinking.

Crystal Collier

Chief of Staff at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health

Spotlight coming soon!

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