“I have had an identity of being different from such an early age that it's never even occurred to me to try to fit in with those around me.” That’s how Adriane Armstrong, CEO of the nonprofit social enterprise Juma Ventures, explains why she chose a career in the nonprofit sector while her classmates were pursuing for-profit, high tech startups.
For many, going against the grain isn’t easy. In this interview, Adriane tells her story including the early experiences that motivated her to want to help others and the strategic, deliberate steps she took to build a career where she could do exactly this. It’s an inspiring story filled with practical advice that anyone can use, especially those considering working in the nonprofit sector.
Our long-time listeners know that every year around the holidays, we like to feature the career journey of someone making a difference in the lives of others. This year, we’re thrilled to have Adriane as our guest and to highlight the work of Juma Ventures. Juma operates businesses with the purpose of employing young people. Its mission is to break the cycle of poverty by paving the way to work, education, and financial capability for youth across America.
Meet the Guest
Adriane Gamble Armstrong has dedicated her career to the nonprofit sector, working on issues ranging from education and community development to public health and environmental justice. Common threads in her work have been the pursuit of social justice and serving underserved communities. Adriane found Juma as a volunteer in 2005, joined staff as Managing Director of Programs in 2011, and became CEO in 2017. Prior to her appointment to CEO, Adriane served for three years as COO, and oversaw the programs & partnerships, evaluation, finance, information technology, human resources and operations functions of the agency. Through Adriane’s efforts in team building, partnership development and strategic execution, Juma has grown from a $3M organization in three cities, to the current footprint of six markets serving more than 1,000 youth per year with a budget of $7M.
Adriane serves on the board of the Hidden Genius Project, and sits on the Council of Nonprofit Leaders for Charity Navigator. She previously served on the board of Huckleberry Youth Programs, and is an alumna of the American Express Leadership Academy. Prior to joining Juma, Adriane managed a housing and social services program for youth aging out of foster care with Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Adriane holds an MBA with an emphasis in nonprofit management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as an M.A. in social psychology and a B.A. in comparative studies in race and ethnicity from Stanford University. She resides in Oakland with her husband and two sons.
If you’re interested in getting involved or donating to Juma Ventures, visit Juma.org.
Beth Davies, host: Welcome to Career Curves, where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are. I'm your host Beth Davies.
It's the holiday season, and like in past years, we see this as the perfect time to feature the career journey of someone making a difference in the lives of others through work in the nonprofit sector.
Our guest is Adriane Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer at Juma Ventures, a nonprofit social enterprise that operates businesses with the purpose of employing young people. Juma's mission is to break the cycle of poverty by paving the way to work, education, and financial capability for youth across America.
Adriane has three degrees from Stanford, including a master's and an MBA. Many people with a Stanford MBA get involved in high-tech startups, yet Adriane has chosen the nonprofit sector. She's deeply committed to this space, having grown from an unpaid volunteer to her current role as a CEO.
I'm thrilled to have Adriane here to tell us her story, including how she got interested in this work and how she's navigated her career to get where she is today.
Adriane, thank you so much for joining us.
Adriane: Thank you so much for having me.
Beth: I want to get started with the present and where you are today, what you're doing today, and then go back in time and find out how you got here. So, let's start by talking about Juma Ventures and what exactly does Juma Ventures do?
Adriane: As you mentioned, Juma is a nonprofit social enterprise and we operate businesses with the purpose of employing young people. We make sure they earn a paycheck, learn how to manage their money and gain essential skills like personal responsibility and how to communicate in the workplace. Ultimately, we connect them to their next job and we set them on a path to their career.
Most people in the Bay Area know Juma through Giants games. So, if you've been to a Giants game and you've bought coffee or ice cream in the past 27 years, you've actually bought it from a Juma Youth.
The businesses that we operate are at sports entertainment venues and operating in six cities, in more than 20 venues, we're able to employ nearly 1000 young people every year.
Beth: That's unbelievable. It also means – because I can put two and two together – we're sitting here in COVID and you're talking about sports arenas. So, this pandemic has to have hit you hard. How have you adjusted for COVID and the pandemic?
Adriane: It was pretty much devastating when the sports leagues suspended their seasons and all of the stadiums closed, but our team is very resilient and our youth are incredible, so we very quickly pivoted and brought our programming online. We had an astounding 92% of our youth stay engaged with us every week through this summer and continue in their professional development through workshops, small group meetings, one-on-one coaching. And we've been able to get some youth back to work slowly but surely.
We also really counted on the support of our community to help fundraise for youth stipends. We were able to support youth through this time financially because they weren't able to earn the paycheck that they otherwise would have been earning in the stadium.
Beth: Over the weekend, so I think maybe a day or two ago, I saw an email that you had a new venture and... Actually, why don't I just let you tell us what that is? Tell us about the email that I saw.
Adriane: So when the stadiums closed, one of the things the team did was quickly get together into a task force to try to figure out what are new business opportunities that we could be exploring to help youth get back to work. And so one of the business ideas that we landed on this fall is to curate holiday gift boxes. We are ordering products from socially responsible companies like B-Corps and minority-owned businesses, small businesses, and we are employing young people to assemble gift boxes for the holiday season. We're really excited about this idea and if it gets any legs, we will definitely be expanding it next year.
Beth: It's super impressive because it could be easy to say that you employ people at stadiums, but you really went back to your mission and said, "No, our mission is to employ youth and if we can't do it by our usual way, then we're going to still figure out a new way to do that because that's the mission." The mission isn't about ballparks, the mission is about employing youth.
Adriane: That's exactly right. The number one goal that we were looking at in deciding to pursue this new micro-venture is how many hours of work would we be able to provide to our youth? So we are probably not going to make much money off of this venture, but we will be able to provide up to 450 hours of work for our young people, which is approximately the same as a football season, which they're currently missing out on.
Beth: That's fantastic. So now you're the CEO of the organization. What does it mean to be a CEO of a nonprofit? So what do you do in this role?
Adriane: Most of my time is spent in meetings, about half of that is with external people and about half of that would be internal. Externally, I meet with funders a lot. I meet with strategic partners. Folks at the teams where we're running our businesses. And then internally, leading the organization by example, making sure that I'm fulfilling our values, making sure that I'm encouraging folks and helping them develop. Things that a normal CEO would do.
Beth: I think sometimes people think that CEOs are always about the for-profit business. Is the role different, do you think, in a nonprofit CEO as a for-profit CEO and if so, how different are these roles?
Adriane: Technically, I've never actually worked at a for-profit company, so I'm guessing a little bit, but I do think that there's a lot about the nonprofit environment that requires a lot of empathy and a lot of interpersonal skills. So almost by definition, we are working with people who are drawn to the work because they really want to make a difference. They have a passion. There's emotion behind why they're working here. And so that can create different dynamics.
That is probably true at any nonprofit. And then, I think it becomes particularly acute when you are at a direct service organization, because the decisions that you make every day and what you do with your time and the work that you're putting in has real implications on people's lives.
Beth: You just mentioned that you've never worked in a for-profit business. So clearly this is a passion for you. Where do you think this passion to be impacting lives the way you are, where do you think this passion came from? What are the origins?
Adriane: I have dedicated my career to serving underserved communities and the pursuit of social justice, and I think that this goes back to my own childhood, growing up feeling and being very different.
I grew up in Santa Barbara, which is quite segregated in the neighborhoods and the schools. And in my childhood, in most situations, I was the only person of color in a room. In high school, I was the only student of color in my AP classes and our classes were held in the main hallway of this beautiful, historic school building. And the classes where most of the Latino students were, were literally in the basement. So, it was very clear from a young age that not only were we physically separated, but we had different access to resources and opportunities. So I think it was this early awareness that really laid the foundation for my career and wanting to pursue equity and justice.
Beth: Did you have any other early influences?
Adriane: So as long as I can remember, I have been involved in community service. That was something that was ingrained in me from an early age with my family. When I was six, I walked precincts campaigning for Dukakis with my dad. And I think I was only eight or nine when I started volunteering with my mom for a local arts organization. So from a very young age, I was always involved in community service and it's always been part of my identity.
Beth: Tell me a little bit about your parents and your family growing up. What kind of work did they do? What kind of modeling did you see in the home?
Adriane: My dad was actually an attorney growing up, but he hated being a lawyer. My mom stayed at home when I was a child, and I remember going with her to visit him during lunches and he would be in his suit and he was just miserable. So, he actually exited the workforce for a bit when I was nine or 10, and he went on his own journey to find his passion and he actually became a high school teacher. So I'm actually quite proud that my dad is an ex-attorney turned high school teacher, and I think that while I have pursued my own interests in community and education, he laid a great foundation for pursuing that passion.
Beth: I love that. I love that because he really showed you the difference between what it's like if you're doing work that's just work or if you're doing work that is a passion.
So, you mentioned that you'd done political canvassing as a very young child. Did you actually also have any jobs as a teenager that, again, helped to shape and influence who you are today?
Adriane: My very first job was as a barista at the Coffee Cat, so I worked at a coffee shop which is actually the same job that a lot of Juma Youth do, being a barista. The Coffee Cat was a couple blocks from my house and from my high school, and it's a place where my friends and I went every day after school. I would go there with my dad on the weekends. And so, when I started to think about getting a job when I was turning 15 or so, I wanted to start earning my own money, I thought that that would be a really fun place to work.
I actually remember the day that I walked into the Coffee Cat with my dad and I was trying to muster up the courage to ask the manager if they were hiring. I was so shy and I couldn't get the words out and so my dad actually just swept in and asked for me. The manager happened to be a family friend, so he basically on the spot said, yes, I could work there.
I actually think about that moment a lot at Juma.
Beth: Why is that?
Adriane: Because the job that I ended up with is the same job that Juma Youth do. But if Juma Youth don't have coffee shops in their neighborhoods, if Juma Youth don't have dads around that go with them to those coffee shops, and if Juma Youth don't have dads that go with them to the local coffee shop and happen to be friends with the manager, I don't know how they get their job. I don't know how I would've gotten my first job. And so Juma is really able to provide an opportunity that a young person may not otherwise have access to.
Beth: You know it's interesting because we hear a lot about the importance of mentors in our careers, and no doubt mentors can have a high value, but there's also a tremendous value of advocates, which is really in many ways what your father did for you at that point. Somebody who's going to step up and say, "Here's somebody that you should consider."
Adriane: Absolutely. And I think that being an advocate for us at Juma, it's not just about playing that role when that young person needs that support, but it's also making sure that they ultimately know how to advocate for themselves, because Juma Youth are only going to work with us for one sports season and we want to make sure that they are able to advocate for themselves and progress in their careers far and beyond their time with Juma.
Beth: So, at some point, high school was going to come to an end, your time as a barista probably was also coming to an end, and you were heading off to college. What kind of plans were you making for yourself around maybe what you wanted to be, what you wanted to study, as you were heading off to college?
Adriane: When I was first heading off to college, I think I wanted to be a psychologist. I really enjoyed talking to people. I enjoyed understanding what other people thought, understanding other people's perspectives. Of course, when I got to college and I took a couple of undergrad psych classes, I realized that the degree was going to be more about research, and so I ended up pivoting away from that as a career, although I did still go on to get a master's in social psychology, specifically studying the experience of students of color in education settings.
Beth: So what did you end up majoring in then instead of psychology?
Adriane: I ended up majoring in comparative studies in race and ethnicity. I got the advice when I was going to college to study what you love. Study what's interesting to you. I'd first been exposed to ethnic studies in high school, through an African American studies class, which I was really grateful for. And then when I got to college, by my sophomore year, I realized that I was finishing my ethnic studies books before the quarter even started. So, that was a pretty good sign that I should probably just keep studying that.
Beth: Yeah, like there's a passion here if you're diving into the books that fast and that deep.
Adriane: Exactly. And part of it too was it was an opportunity to really explore my own identity and to delve further into the experience of people of color in this country, experiences beyond what I had witnessed firsthand.
Beth: So you chose a major that was just what interested you. There's a lot of pressure that I see on college kids today to think about college almost as job training, and to really think about what the job is that they're going to get. Did you feel any of that? Did you struggle with any of that, of what am I actually going to do with this degree and what kind of plan were you making based on that?
Adriane: I did have a sense that I wanted to keep working in the community, that I wanted to keep working with people, and so while the degree in comparative studies in race and ethnicity was a deep dive and sort of one angle, it did occur to me that there would be sort of relevant content that I would be able to carry forward in my career.
Beth: And so, at graduation, what was your first job after college?
Adriane: Directly after college I went to work for the California Wellness Foundation. I had a role in evaluation, which was a great match for my skillset since I'd recently completed the master's in social psychology. Your social science / research skillset translates well to evaluation roles.
Beth: Okay, but a moment ago, you mentioned that you didn't like psychology because it was heavily about the research and that that's what you were going to be doing. And now your first job was about research.
Adriane: To clarify, I had a misconception about what being a psychologist would be, but then it turned out that I actually really loved the research side of it.
Beth: Okay. So this role wasn't a complete mismatch in that regard.
Adriane: No, no. I love the research side. I love the evaluation side. I just realized that I was not going to pursue that degree and then sit in an armchair with someone on a couch telling me about their feelings. That's not actually the career path for that.
Beth: Got it. Got it. So now, how did you land the job at California Wellness Foundation? Do you remember?
Adriane: Well, again, I had a pretty unique skillset for someone applying to entry-level jobs, but I also had experience at a foundation prior. So my junior year, I applied to an internship at a foundation through a program similar to Juma that connects students to careers where we are historically underrepresented. So I went out to New York for the summer and I worked at a foundation. That was actually my first job in the nonprofit sector, even though it was on the foundation side.
And then when I graduated, I applied to entry-level roles, really in both direct service organizations and foundations, and I happened to luck out with this role at the California Wellness Foundation. But I also was able to leverage my network from my foundation internship, which again is another testament to the importance of these programs.
Beth: If somebody is not that familiar with the whole nonprofit world, it sounds like what you're describing is two major roles: foundation and then direct services. Can you tell us a little bit about how the whole industry works and what function each of these play? How they're different?
Adriane: Yes. So, at Juma, we are direct service organization.
Beth: And what does that mean?
Adriane: So we work directly with people. We are the ones on the front lines providing services. And so, in our case, that means employing youth directly. Youth are on our payroll. We're running businesses where we are the Youths' managers, and because we are able to be in that direct, frontline position, we're able to really create a supportive work environment that really enables the young people to thrive.
But how we are funded is a mix of earned revenue through our businesses, as well as philanthropy. And philanthropy can come from individuals, but most of our philanthropy comes from corporate foundations, as well as private foundations. Foundations are set up in all sorts of different ways. The ones that I've worked at have had an endowment and a board of directors and program officers who make decisions about grantmaking.
Beth: Thank you for that. I think it's so important for people who are exploring a field to understand that there are all kinds of different ways that they can get involved and get engaged in that.
Oftentimes an early boss or an early mentor says something to us that really impacts us – impacts our perceptions of ourselves, impacts the way we think about the field we're in. Do you remember if there was anything that had been said to you or about you that shaped the trajectory of your career?
Adriane: When I was at the foundation, I got the advice that in order to be really successful in a career in philanthropy and by successful, I mean, having really great impact, you actually need to spend some time on the ground working in direct service organizations. The advice was that you really need to learn what it's like to apply for support and be denied in order to build up that empathy to be on the other side and to be making those decisions.
Beth: Yep. I love that. I would imagine, too, as part of that is also identifying for yourself, which aspect of the field is actually a better fit for you because how would you even know whether you're a better fit for direct services or a better fit for foundation if you haven't actually experienced both?
Adriane: Exactly. I think one of the tenants in my life in general is that diverse perspectives are always helpful. And I always tried to pursue opportunities to put myself in other people's shoes and understand how others are experiencing the world. And so, definitely being on both sides has informed how I've been able to build my career and ultimately really have impact.
Beth: I saw, in getting ready for this interview, that you actually started with Juma Ventures as a volunteer while you were doing this work at the California Wellness Foundation. Was that based on this piece of advice and wisdom that you had gotten? How did you end up starting as a volunteer?
Adriane: So it was precisely because of that advice that I had sought out Juma and started volunteering. Even though I was employed full-time at the foundation, I really wanted to start getting some more substantive experience at a direct service nonprofit.
I'd actually heard of Juma before that time. When I was applying to that internship, my junior year, I had never written a cover letter before. So I reached out to a mentor asking her if she could share a copy of her cover letter as a sample. And the cover letter that she sent to me was her own application to go work at Juma. I think that the name must have stuck in my mind. A couple of years later, I was at a networking event hosted by that same program for students of color that I mentioned, and I reconnected with some Juma staff at that point, and that's when I started volunteering.
But I think what really stands out in my mind from that time is the first time that I walked into the Juma office. There was just so much energy. It was palpable. You realize that you have this opportunity to work with a young person at such a pivotal time in their lives. They could go left, they could go right, and, in most cases, they might end up taking a path that they had never even realized was possible before Juma.
Beth: You just recognized that influence that you can have on real people and real lives.
Adriane: It's a really exciting time to be involved in a young person's life, and it's, frankly, a really exciting environment and it's something that the staff are missing a lot during this year.
Beth: It's such a tough year, such a tough year.
After about three years, you left the California Wellness Foundation. Is that right?
Adriane: That's right.
Beth: You went and got your MBA, right?
Beth: Why did you choose to go after an MBA as opposed to a master's in nonprofit work? So like a master's in nonprofit management. Why the MBA instead?
Adriane: As much as I was interested in the nonprofit sector, I thought at the time that if there was even a 5% chance I was going to want to do anything different in my career that I wanted to keep my options open and the MBA would be more transferable to other sectors down the road.
Beth: Oh, so I totally get what you're saying. That if you go for a master's in nonprofit management, it's unlikely that you could get considered in a for-profit management type role, but the reverse isn't true.
Adriane: That's the assumption that I was making when I was 25.
Beth: And, did it turn out to be true?
Adriane: Well, so it turns out that I've never even tried to leave the nonprofit sector, so it's untested so far.
Beth: Okay, you go to Stanford for an MBA and Stanford is in my backyard. I live in Silicon Valley and I see all of these Silicon Valley executives who have Stanford MBAs. So clearly the dominant path, or at least the dominant story we hear about where somebody goes with a Stanford MBA, is into high tech entrepreneurship. Did you feel pressure to go that same route?
Adriane: The entrepreneurial culture is alive and well at Stanford Business School, but I never personally felt pressure to go the entrepreneurial route. I think it was my time at California Wellness where every week I would see hundreds of organizations, hundreds of models for how to create change. I was really interested in pursuing my MBA and then finding one of those models that I could contribute to, to make better, to make more effective, make more efficient. And, at no point, did I have the feeling that I had this big idea that no one else had ever come up with. I was pretty sure that my model that I wanted to contribute to was out there somewhere.
Beth: As we're going through your story, one thing that I'm noticing is that peer pressure doesn't seem to sway you. I think there are so many opportunities where this type of peer pressure could really sway somebody, and you seem to be strong enough in your convictions and knowing who you are that you're not swayed by that. Is there a mantra you have? Is there something you tell yourself? Is there something you know about wherethat strength comes from? Help me understand that strength that you have to resist peer pressure?
Adriane: You know, it's funny, because I don't even know that I think about it that way. I have had an identity of being different from such an early age that it's never even occurred to me to try to fit in with those around me. I remember being really, really little, five or six years old, and sitting in my grandparents' living room watching TV. My grandparents are white and realizing – it just hit me – that they have no idea what it's like to be watching this TV and never see someone that looks like them. So, from day one, in my family, I felt different. So I don't think I ever really felt a need to fit in.
Beth: That's so powerful that your reaction to it was to say, "This is who I am and I don't need to bend to fit in." So, thank you for sharing that. It's super powerful.
While you were getting your MBA, you also were working, which is also uncommon for people getting an MBA at Stanford. Tell me about that. Why was it important to you to be working while getting your MBA?
Adriane: So nearly all MBAs, I think, have summer internships. Mine was through a program called Education Pioneers, another career program that connected graduate students with careers in education. But I also worked as a consultant for the Ford Foundation throughout my MBA and that is very rare, but I was one of two people in my class who both came from a nonprofit and planned to go back to a nonprofit. MBAs are very, very expensive, so I realized that I actually needed to make as much money as I could. So, through some former colleagues, I got in touch with some staff at the Ford Foundation who were able to offer me project contracts on winter breaks, and spring breaks, and basically any free time I had I would do small projects to try to earn some extra cash.
Beth: You've mentioned a few times that there were programs that you took advantage of, connecting youth to opportunities. How did you find those? How did you know that those programs existed and what advice would you have for people who want to find those same types of programs?
Adriane: I think I first heard of the programs that I had participated in because they had just advertised on campus or maybe I got an email. But part of it too, is that I love to explore every opportunity. I'm also a compulsive yes sayer. So, someone says, "Do you want to go check out this program?"
"Sure." And so I was also primed and predisposed to figure out any and all opportunities out there that could support me in what I was trying to do. Because I'd had some early experiences taking advantage of participating in programs, I knew that they could have a lot to offer.
Beth: What was your first job after getting the MBA? Did you stay with Ford Foundation or...
Adriane: So I did actually continue to do some project work for Ford Foundation, but I also started with a nonprofit called Sweat Equity Enterprises. They were exploring an earned income model. It was a startup. Tiny. There were two full-time staff and two consultants, including myself.
Beth: What's an earned income model?
Adriane: The earned income model was that the program delivery and earning the fees were one in the same.
Beth: Got it. How did you find that opportunity and what motivated you to join Sweat Equity Enterprises?
Adriane: I actually heard of the startup through my Education Pioneers network. In addition to being interested in earned income models and part of it was that it was a startup, and I was coming out of Stanford, and you sort of feel like you've got to give a startup a chance. But it was also...
Beth: So even though it wasn't necessarily a high-tech startup, you're like, "Look, I'm still doing startup. I'm still doing that thing."
Adriane: Right, I've gotta try something small. But it was also, frankly, the recession and so there were limited opportunities. It was crazy graduating in the summer of 2009. So it was a great fit for my interests, but I pretty quickly realized that the idea didn't really have legs, and so I moved on from that opportunity fairly quickly.
Beth: You mentioned earlier that one of the big skills or attributes you need as a CEO of a nonprofit is empathy. And I would imagine that starting your career in the middle of a recession, or your post-MBA career in the middle of a recession, probably gives you a fair amount of empathy for what people are experiencing right now, who are trying to start their career in the middle of a pandemic. Do you find yourself drawing on that experience at all in the current state of what's happening today?
Adriane: Absolutely. I, in general, I'm constantly thinking about how other people are feeling and what they might be experiencing, but I have often thought through this, if I were in their shoes, whether it be graduating from high school, whether it be graduating from college, in the middle of an MBA program, how would I be feeling at this time? What would I be missing out on?
I mentioned that 2009 was a crazy year to graduate. Normally when you graduate from Stanford Business School, 100% of the graduates have job offers lined up. People's job offers were being rescinded. Companies were closing left and right. It was a pretty crazy time and I have imagined that it is quite similar to how things are now, with the difference that I could hit the street and go find an opportunity. That's more difficult right now. You can't go out there and network and create opportunities the way that I was able to in 2009,
Beth: Especially, if we add to it, what you shared before that people need to learn how to advocate for themselves. So now you've got people who don't really have yet the skills to advocate for themselves, and they can't go out and just pound the pavement and meet people face to face. Together that makes it a pretty difficult and scary environment to be getting started right now.
Beth: You mentioned that you left Sweat Equity Enterprises after just a short amount of time, I think it was about nine months. Did you worry at all about having a short stint on your resume? I know some people, especially early in their career, even that first job, worry that that's going to brand them somehow in a negative light. How did you process that?
Adriane: You know, I don't recall being particularly worried about that because I was operating with the backdrop of both the recession and taking a chance on a startup. I also didn't leave that startup until I had landed my new job with Local Initiative Support Corporation, which is a very well-known, well-respected entity. So, I was not particularly concerned about having that short stint prior.
Beth: How did you land that next opportunity?
Adriane: I'm pretty sure that I networked my way to that job as well. But I also remember that that role had such a unique set of responsibilities that almost seemed designed for me. So half of the role was managing a program for youth aging out of foster care. So again, sort of like the empathy program side, the direct service side. And then half of the role was managing the finance and the operations for the New York city program, which my MBA came in handy for.
Beth: How long did you stay in this role and why did you end up leaving it?
Adriane: I ended up only staying a year, another short stint, but that one was more motivated by the fact that I was tired of living in New York City. So in the winter of 2011, I decided that I'd had enough with New York, I was way too cold, and I got in touch with Juma's former CEO and let him know that I was thinking about coming back to California. He replied almost immediately that he had a job for me. I actually had a trip planned for Presidents' Day weekend that year to visit some friends. I took the flight out to San Francisco and I just never took the flight back
Beth: What was it about this role that made it such a great match for you?
Adriane: Juma has a very unique culture that I had always been drawn to, and it was a place where I felt like I could really grow and thrive. Part of the role that we were discussing was to really help as Juma embarked on a pretty aggressive geographic expansion phase. And so, personally I was going to be able to grow and quite literally I was going to be able to help the organization grow as well.
Beth: Do you remember if there was anything that you were doing when you were volunteering in the organization that created the kind of memory that this executive had of you?
Adriane: I think I've always made it easy for my supervisors to really appreciate my work ethic. I've always been very reliable and so I was a volunteer, but I was coming in almost every day during lunch and after work to help out whether it be applying for funding or organizing meetings, helping to design programming. I probably just proved myself very dedicated and very reliable, and that, I'm guessing, stuck out.
Beth: When you think about some of the volunteers that work with you, do you see most people leveraging the opportunity the way that you're describing or do you see a lot of people kind of missing what they could take away from, or impact they can make, as a volunteer, even in their own careers?
Adriane: So I was pretty unique in that I was a volunteer, but I was essentially fulfilling a staff role. I think a lot of volunteers that come to Juma these days are looking for one day experiences or are looking to mentor one young person, which is an amazing contribution, but it's a little less core. But part of that, again, was what I was driven by was really wanting to experience the day-to-day operations of a direct service nonprofit, and so I endeavored to put myself in that position where I really wanted to understand what it was like to be a staff person, even though I was technically still a volunteer.
Beth: I would imagine some people who are stepping into a role as a volunteer and doing responsibilities that feel like a staff position actually could get a little resentful and say, "Wait, this is a staff position. I should be paid. I shouldn't be a volunteer." Was that anything that had crossed your mind? And again, how did you reconcile that disparity of it being a staff position, but essentially doing it as a volunteer?
Adriane: I definitely was never resentful at all. I mean, I was so excited to just have the opportunity to learn and to get exposure to the organization. So, yeah, it never occurred to me that that was something to be resentful for.
Beth: So you started with Juma in 2011?
Beth: 2011. We are now just coming to the end of 2020. So it's just nine years later and you've gone from that role in business development to now becoming CEO. So you've really risen in the organization. How did you make that happen? Can you tell me some stories of these different promotions that led you to keep getting increasing responsibility, increasing scope, and now essentially to becoming CEO?
Adriane: So before I actually joined Juma full-time in the spring of 2011, I actually had come on as the interim COO. And so from sort of day one, I was exposed to the general finance and operations of the organization, but we knew that my permanent role was going to be managing director of programs. And so that's the role that I took on that spring. And, as I mentioned, we were at the beginning of a geographic expansion phase.
My very first day on the job was actually in San Diego helping to set up programs in that site. And so as our programs grew, as we grew to more cities and the site directors of those new cities reported to me, my role grew to chief program officer. And then a couple of years later, when the role of COO opened up as I had already done that job and now at this point, I was already overseeing about half the organization on the program side, it made sense for me to step into the COO role.
I had the opportunity to apply to become the CEO in 2017. And that was probably... Well not "probably". That was by far the biggest jump. In part, just because of the responsibility of the role. But also because I'd just had my second son. I'd only been back to work full-time for a couple of weeks when I had to make the decision about whether or not I could step in and take this responsibility having an 8-month old and a 2-year old at home.
Beth: What made you decide to say, yes, you could?
Adriane: I was and I am obsessed with Juma. And so part of me always knew that if this opportunity ever came up, there's no way that I could say no. I really wanted to do everything I could to make sure that Juma was strong and that Juma succeeded. I also knew that if I said no, there's going to be a high chance that I would regret that down the road. Whereas if I said yes and I gave it a good try, at the very least I would learn something.
Beth: I'm hesitating asking you this next question, because I have to be honest with myself and say I don't know that I would ask this of a man and I don't necessarily like the idea that I'm going to ask you a question that's based on being a mother that I wouldn't ask somebody who's a father, but I'm going to ask it anyway.
Did you have to put in place for yourself any type of support structure because you had the two young children to allow you to step into the role of CEO?
Adriane: Yes. The support structure was essential. So my husband and I are both from Southern California. Our families are down there, so we don't have any local family that was able to help out. And my husband's role is also very demanding, so he also has a lot of evening work, which I do being at a nonprofit, and a lot of travel, which I also have. So it was essential that we had help at home. That first year, when I took on the CEO role and I had an under one-year-old and a two-year-old, we had the 2- year old in full-time daycare, plus we had another 15 to 20 hours a week of help at home. Plus, we had a full-time nanny. So we had probably 60 hours a week of childcare help, just to keep it together and moving.
But one of the ways that I sort of rationalized it at the time, and looking back it was absolutely the right decision, is that period does not last forever. That's what we needed to get through about a year of transition of me in a new role and the kids as young as they were. But now, we just have some part-time help and eventually, maybe one day, my husband and I will be able to hold down the fort on our own. But, if you can afford, and if you're privileged enough to be able to get that support, it definitely made all the difference at a critical point in my career.
Beth: Such an important point you're making about the fact that that's not the forever piece.
Another question for you about the rising in roles at Juma. Sometimes people think that getting promoted is because they've done really good work and have the work stand on their own. And you even mentioned when you were volunteering, having the work speak for itself. So some people believe that doing good work is what leads to getting promoted. Some people believe it's about having an advocate or having a sponsor. Some say that it's about advocating for yourself. Based on your experiences, what would you say of those contributed the most to your getting promoted? And what advice would you give others as a result?
Adriane: I think it was probably all of the above. So my predecessor definitely created opportunities for me and saw my potential. At the same time, I'd like to think that I was pretty easy to support. I always did a really good job. I was always very reliable, very responsible. And when it came to moving into the CEO role, I really did have to advocate for myself. I ended up auditioning for that role for about five months. I think one of the things that I had to overcome, having come from the COO role, was this impression that I wasn't going to have a vision for my role as CEO. And so, it took a while for me to really convince the board that I had a vision and that I could lead with vision and that I could be exciting enough to lead the organization.
Beth: Sometimes that could be one of the challenges that we have growing up inside of an organization, that people have these preconceived ideas about us that we then have to recalibrate. And so I think that's a powerful story you just shared of five months of actively working to recalibrate this perception that you wouldn't have a vision to be able to say, "No, I actually would."
So you have this deep expertise in nonprofits, and I'd love to ask you just a few questions about nonprofits in general, which is, do you think there's a certain type of person that's best suited to the work of nonprofit and any thoughts on the flip side, too, of who should avoid this space?
Adriane: Well, I think I've mentioned this before, but there's definitely a lot of interpersonal dynamics in nonprofit work. So I do think it's important that people going into nonprofits have a knack for understanding people, have high emotional intelligence. Again, there's a lot of passion in the work, which can make it so exciting, but it also creates its own unique management challenges.
Beth: I know some people have that kind of interest and they can say, "I've got that. I've got the emotional intelligence; I've got the empathy. I love people, but I'm also graduating from college with a lot of debt and debt makes it hard because how can I go into nonprofit?" What advice would you have for somebody who's in that position where they're really trying to struggle with the debt?
Adriane: I am so glad you asked this question because I actually think that it's one of the biggest issues that our sector faces in really progressing social change. I believe that the best leaders have proximity to the communities that they're serving, whether they experienced the same things as the people they're serving, or they're from the same neighborhoods, from the same communities. What that means though, is if you're coming from a low income community and you might be the first person in your family to go to college, you might be in the position to break that cycle of poverty, but that's going to be much less likely if you go to work for a nonprofit.
Sector-wide, I think that it's an issue with our salaries and how our work is valued. Individually, I don't begrudge any person who's worried about student loans who goes to work at a for-profit to pay off those loans, and then eventually comes back to the nonprofit sector, and I see that a lot.
I was only able to go directly to a career in nonprofits because I was in the very privileged position that my grandfather actually paid for college. I see stories similar to mine with nonprofit leaders a lot. And I think that's a problem.
Beth: You, I'm sure, interview quite a few people and have interviewed people over the years. When you've had people who are coming from a for-profit job and are transitioning in, what do you see as the most effective ways to make the case or convince somebody like you who's a hiring manager that I'm the right person to make this shift coming out of for-profit and into nonprofit?
Adriane: So the number one thing that I look for is self-awareness. Number one. For entry-level roles that could be asking someone about a time they'd made a mistake and how they felt once they realized they'd made a mistake and what they did about it. And literally all I'm looking for is for them to admit that they made a mistake, and it's an extra bonus, if they can identify the feeling that they had at the same time. So I'm looking for self-awareness.
I'm also looking for familiarity with nonprofit culture, to appreciate that people are there for very personal reasons, and that should affect how you work with your team.
And then, of course, it's always an extra bonus, if you've put in some work to get to know an organization, whether it be Juma or you just have a record of volunteering and you can show that you can move beyond yourself and dedicate some of your extra time to causes beyond yourself.
Beth: So self-awareness is probably the perfect transition into my final four questions. These are questions I ask everybody, I call it the lightning round. And my first question for you is what would you say is the smartest career move you made, whether intentionally or accidentally?
Adriane: Going to Stanford for business school was definitely the smartest move. It's opened up a network that I wouldn't have otherwise had access to. And it gives me a lot of credibility.
Beth: If you could have one do-over, what would it be and why?
Adriane: I wish I had been more intentional about preparing for the CEO role before I had the opportunity. I used to do a lot of informational interviews and I used to spend a lot of time on my own professional development, but in those few years when I was COO and having children, anything that was not a day-of priority got de-prioritized. And so in retrospect, I had a lot of hard lessons learned in that first year that I could have gotten some perspective on before then.
Beth: What's one piece of career advice that you wish you could go back in time and give to the young Adriane?
Adriane: I have struggled with imposter syndrome, this feeling that I didn't belong or that I wasn't good enough to be in the role that I was in. I wish I could go back to my younger self and share some confidence and some reassurance that it was all going to work out.
Beth: I'm so happy that you shared that as your answer to this particular question, just going back to what we were talking about before of the conviction that you have to resist peer pressure. It could be easy to look at somebody like you and assume that that means that you don't suffer from imposter syndrome and to recognize, as you just have, that those two things might co-exist, that confidence and that conviction can co-exist with imposter syndrome, unfortunately. (I don't mean to say that like that's a good thing.).
Beth: And my final question for you, how do you define success for yourself?
Adriane: On a daily basis, I want to positively impact people. I want everything I do to have a positive impact and to do more good than harm. And sometimes I think about this question from the perspective of what would I want people to say about me at my funeral? And I want people to say that I was a good person.
Beth: Well, I think this podcast is yet another way that you will be getting out there and impacting people and having some real positive influence and being that good person.
So thank you so much for spending this time with me today. I've really enjoyed hearing your story and getting to know you. So thank you. And I look forward to hearing what Juma Ventures is doing when we're on the other side of this pandemic.
Adriane: We'll see you at a Giants game.
Beth: Oh, I love that. Okay, I'm going to have my hot chocolate.
Adriane: Thanks so much for having me.
Beth: Thank you.
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