A season of change

Transitions are always a little bittersweet – but we applaud four Boston Foundation leaders headed off for new, well-deserved opportunities

July 8, 2019

By Orlando Watkins, Vice President for Programs

July marks an annual time of transition for the Boston Foundation. It is the end of our fiscal year, and a time when things slow down just enough to pause and plan strategies for the upcoming year.

This year, though, the fiscal calendar isn’t the only place of transition. Since the adoption of our current strategic plan in 2010, we have encouraged our program officers to transcend their roles as grant makers and be bold, strategic leaders. This approach has led to incredible results, helped enhance TBF’s reputation as a civic leader and allowed our impact to be far greater than our grants budget might otherwise allow.

We want that. No single nonprofit or philanthropic organization can solve our region’s most challenging problems with dollars alone. We count on our strategy leaders to be active, involved and visible, to partner with the brilliant minds and organizations in the community and to be leaders, listeners, and innovators.

But there’s a risk for us – talented, dynamic leaders get noticed. They get seen and heard, and then they get opportunities to grow into new, big opportunities. And that’s part of our mission. We work tirelessly to strengthen our community, but we are also a platform for talent to develop their leadership skills, grow and move on to create or be part of positive change in more senior positions. That is how they, and we, can make the greatest possible impact.

But opportunities don’t always respect convenient timelines. Sometimes, they show up in bunches. This is all to say, we are saying farewell to four remarkable leaders this spring. They each leave for new, remarkable opportunities to further shape our field, and I’m proud of what these powerful women have accomplished with us and what they will continue to do in the world. 

Here’s where they are going.

Natanja Oquendo

Natanja Craig

Natanja began her work at the Foundation 11 years ago as an Executive Assistant and has consistently advanced, eventually to the role of Senior Director of the Grassroots Program. Natanja’s work at the Foundation has been nothing less than powerful and has served as a model for how philanthropy can work in support and partnership with community.

Natanja departed the Foundation this spring to become the first VP of Community Partnerships for The Possible Project, an organization in the early stages of developing and launching the Entrepreneurial Design & Innovation Center in Boston, with the goal of serving 150 students by the fall of 2020, and 500 students from multiple high schools by the fall of 2021.

Marybeth Campbell

Marybeth Campbell

Since 2014, Marybeth has led TBF’s largest workforce development efforts, SkillWorks, helping to position SkillWorks as one of the most innovative funding collaboratives in the country. She has also designed and launched our newest effort, Project Catapult, which will work closely with employers to create the next generation of workforce development. 

If you know Marybeth, you also know her passion and love for her hometown of Worcester, MA. She left the Foundation in June to assume the role of CEO of the Worcester Community Action Council, a 100-person anti-poverty organization. An important side benefit for her family – her commute is changing from 90 minutes to five.

Allyson Esposito

Allyson Esposito

In her nearly four years with the Boston Foundation, Allyson has significantly advanced our arts strategy and had tremendous impact on our community. Among her many accomplishments was the creation of our flagship arts initiative, Live Arts Boston (LAB). LAB has become one of the most well-known, field-changing grant programs for performing artists in Greater Boston history. The program has supported 185 projects and more than 450 artists (70% of whom identify as people of color) with nearly $3 million to create, present or produce new work for Greater Boston audiences. 

Allyson leaves the Foundation to become the first CEO of a new (to be named later) arts service organization in Northwest Arkansas that is being funded, primarily, by a $100 million commitment from the Walton Family Foundation. The organization is being envisioned to build the capacity of the cultural sector in Arkansas and to support the programs and activities that expand access to arts, culture, and heritage. 

Nineequa Blanding

Nineequa Blanding

Nineequa’s past two years at TBF have been filled with accomplishments. Among her many contributions, she developed a framework for the Health and Wellness strategy that prioritizes health equity and quality of life, led the design of several major public forums (on local and national platforms) that elevated the importance of prioritizing health equity and successfully led the Health Starts at Home (HSAH) initiative with Soni Gupta, Director of Neighborhoods and Housing – a $3 million effort to improve children’s health and prevent homelessness.  

Nineequa is leaving the Foundation to join Health Resources in Action (HRiA), as the organization’s first Vice President of Grantmaking. This role gives her the opportunity to apply her vision to a growing portfolio of more than $40 million in funding for community health initiatives and medical research.

It’s a lot to lose. And understandably, it can raise questions. But as I reflect on each of these, my immediate sense of loss is replaced by a sense of pride. The Foundation, its leadership, staff, Board, partners, nonprofits – an entire community – has helped make it possible for four talented women to climb into new leadership roles in exciting opportunities. I hope it’s a sense you share. We thank them each for their years of work. We celebrate their growth, and their new opportunities. And we know we will see them around.

Those of you with some time here in Boston know that each of these women replaced other people who went on to remarkable opportunities in other places, both close to home and around the world. I am confident that the same dynamic that led my colleagues to shine and be recruited for advancement will allow TBF to choose from a rich and powerful candidate pool and to succeed talent with talent. 

Is this a sign that we are changing course in some way as a Foundation? No. We have one year left on our Vision 2020 strategic plan, and we will stay the course with that plan and remain committed to our 5 impact areas, 2 cross cutting strategies and Open Door Grants program.

With any transition, however, we take a moment to look at what we do, how we do it, and whether there are opportunities to do things better and more effectively. We will do that here. We will be taking the summer to think through the structure of our department and explore opportunities to engage new talented leaders. I am excited for that opportunity and welcome any thoughts you may want to share.