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Lisette Nieves: A champion of Social Entrepreneurship

Lisette Nieves is an experienced social entrepreneur, public sector leader, scholar, and longtime champion of Echoing Green. Currently, she serves as the President of the Fund for the City of New York (FCNY), an institution charged with developing and helping to implement innovations in policy, programs, practices, and technology in order to advance the functioning of government and nonprofit organizations in New York City and beyond. 

From reviewing Echoing Green Fellowship applications to directly supporting Fellows as a donor and advisor, Lisette has been a longstanding supporter of Echoing Green since 2008. Recently, Echoing Green caught up with Lisette and asked her about her vast leadership experience, work at the FCNY, and how her support of Echoing Green has grown throughout the years.

You have been involved with Echoing Green since 2008 as a donor, advisor, application reader, and more. How did you become introduced to Echoing Green?

I first became introduced to Echoing Green through Cheryl Dorsey. I’ve known of Echoing Green since the 90’s because I was one of the founding staff of AmeriCorps. And so, I know of quite a few people who were Echoing Green Fellows along the way.

How has your role and commitment to Echoing Green changed or grown throughout the years?

I have always been a champion of social entrepreneurship, considering myself a social entrepreneur as well. Throughout the years, I always wanted to support and recognize the great leadership and team at Echoing Green. We can never underestimate what it means to have a strong leader who is also a woman of color running the organization. That’s not the case for many in this space. And so, I always appreciated Cheryl and her leadership as well as how the organization grappled with issues of equity from the beginning. I went from being a supporter to being a champion as I came into more means.

Can you tell us more about your work as the President of the Fund for the City of New York (FCNY)?

The Fund is focused on highlighting what the public and nonprofit sectors can do in New York City. We run one of the largest loan funds for nonprofits in the country as well as one of the largest fiscal sponsorship incubators for at least 80 nonprofits in the country. We also highlight and recognize public service and stellar service through our staff members who have dedicated their lives to the public good. 

I see the Fund as a real trusted intermediary amongst different sectors and we’re really proud of that. In some ways, we are a nonprofit. In other ways, we give some grant funding, and in other ways we are a fiscal agent and a bank. We have so many moving parts but they all complement one another.

Can you speak more about your experience as a social entrepreneur yourself and how that has influenced your work professionally, particularly supporting Black, Indigenous, and leaders of color and your commitment to investing in their leadership in the social innovation space and in academia?

When I say social entrepreneur, I say it as someone who understands what it means to be nimble and innovative in a particular sector or with a public good. I’ve done that in a variety of different jobs, in a variety of organizations, and I’m proud of that. At the Fund, at least half of our organizations are BIPOC-led. We really have an equity mindset around our programming.  

With my work at New York University as an affiliated faculty member, I have tried to think about, “How do we support executives of color? How do we support issues across women of color in this sector?” Things like that make me happy to work on and I don’t take it for granted. It makes me feel like I can live a life of purpose. 

You’ve worked across sectors, from policy to education and government. What central mission unites all of your leadership experience?

For me, the central mission that unites my experiences is going where you feel you can make an impact. I’m pretty agnostic about where that can be. I like opportunities where very little is written and where there are more possibilities. It’s interesting when taking over an organization that’s existed for over 50 years and reimagining what it looks like and what it can look like. What links my experiences, agnostic to the sector, is their synergy, their impact.

What does being part of the Echoing Green community mean to you?

There is a history of experience and thought leadership at Echoing Green that is always forward-looking and aspirational. Echoing Green inherently believes in what can be possible and knows that change can happen in a multitude of ways. At Echoing Green, there is an ever-present aspirational value, tone, and notion of what it means to make change and impact. And it’s important to me that those values are highlighted in the organizations that I support.

Given your strong commitment to our work, what excites you about Echoing Green and how do you see yourself supporting Echoing Green’s impact in the future?

So often, particularly for women and women of color, their thought leadership and insights—what I would call their “IP”—is stolen. As someone who has experienced that, I find it so powerful to see Cheryl leveraging and owning her thought leadership to shape how we understand both the nonprofit and social entrepreneurship sectors.  

What keeps me supporting Echoing Green is that the leadership at Echoing Green is always growing. There’s always space for new people to join the community and flourish. The community stays cross-generational and we underestimate how generationally isolated discussing this work can be. That power is distributed evenly matters – and I can tell it is at Echoing Green.

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