• Juno House

Elicia, COO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions



Neighborhood:

East Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Hometown/ country:

Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, USA


Company and Role:

Chief Operating Officer, National Fund for Workforce Solutions


Industry:

Non profit-workforce development


Tell us about your business, and what makes it special to you?

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions invests in a dynamic national network of 30+ communities taking a demand-driven, evidence-based approach to workforce development. At the local level, our partner organizations contribute resources, test ideas, collect data, and improve public policies and business practices that help all workers succeed and employers have the talent they need to compete. We leverage the expertise of our local leaders to share learning across the network and identify trends, opportunities, and best practices. Together, we are changing the conversation around workforce development to promote equity and drive greater impact.


Tell us about the defining moment that propelled you to start your business, or follow your dreams.

I started at the National Fund almost 7.5 years ago when we were a small initiative of a larger non profit. At the time, I had just passed the bar exam and was working as a bartender in Boston when my previous boss, Fred (who had been a regular) started to recruit me to join his current company as a program manager-I did. I originally went to law school in 2008 after volunteering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina-rebuilding homes, marching for peace and learning about the culture. I just knew I wanted to actually make a different and the law was the route I chose. 5 years ago, my previous CEO and I decided to make the National Fund independent. We incorporated and created the systems we needed to function. I relocated to Washington DC to open our first office. Last year we built a new office to accommodate our expanding staff before the pandemic hit. When we first launched in 2016, we were a staff of 5. We currently have 20 staff members and are expected to keep growing. My CEO, Fred, left the organization in March 2020 and we now have a new CEO, Amanda Cage. The organization is strong with an amazing strategic place to make in impact across the country. Two weeks ago, I left DC to relocate back to Boston to be closer to my family and loved ones. I am still at the National Fund and loving every day.


What problem is your business solving? Why is this personal to you?

We activate employers to invest in the workforce and adopt policies and practices that make jobs better. We equip workers for success and change the systems that hinder their access to opportunity and advancement. We catalyze our network to co-invest in these solutions so communities have the resources they need to do the work. Together, these solutions lead to prosperous and thriving workers, employers, and communities. This is very personal to me-workforce development is crucial to the success of us as a society.


One area of great interest is around formerly incarcerated individuals. My youngest brother served almost 6 years in prison-he is out and flourishing but has faced many barriers when it comes to getting employed-he's a hard worker. He made a mistake when he was 16 and at 25 he is still paying for it and there are many more like him.


Tell us how you stay inspired as an entrepreneur.

I think about the impact. The stories of the people we are helping. The workers that are able to support their families.


Tell us about a defining career milestone or job that impacted your personal trajectory.

Moving to DC was a hard decision that definitely impacted my career trajectory. At 30, after living in Boston for 9 years, I picked up my entire life and moved to a city where I knew no one. I spent the last 4 years giving my all to this organization going from a program manager to a Chief Operating Officer. It was hard and isolating but I knew I had to do it for my career and to make a bigger impact. I learned a lot during my time in DC and it definitely introduced to me to things I never thought I would be able to experience.


Tell us about a woman who inspired you.

My mother. She did things her way. When her parents didn't support her relationship with my black father, she moved to Hawaii with him, opened a bar and never looked back. After having 4 kids, she brought the family back to the east coast. She now is in real estate and KILLING IT. She is the rock of our family and has more energy than anyone I have ever met. She's also successful and insanely smart with a heart of gold.



Do you feel you've mastered work/life balance? What could be improved or what would you like to work on?

Not quite. My move to Boston is one way I am trying to improve work-life balance. In DC work was life and life was work. After 7+ years of grinding I needed to get closer to the things that matter to me personally. I also have learned that I am human-it's ok to show emotion and empathy and compassion and it makes you a better leader. It's ok to talk about your failures and how it impacts continuous learning. So I try to make sure I am honest with my staff-we are human and we all make mistakes.


How do you release and unwind?

Every night before bed, I light a candle and read for about an hour before going to bed. I look forward to it each day.


What's the next big step for your business?

The next big step is growth for our organization. We have more than doubled our budget in the past 4 years and quadrupled our staff. The next big step is making sure we continue operating in the best way possible and support our staff in a variety of ways.


Is there a quote/mantra that guides you?

"Authenticity isn't always pretty, nor will it always taste sweet. But it will be honest, nonetheless." -Dae Lee


Most importantly! What does the future of business look like for your industry? How are you a part of this change?

Workforce is changing-especially due to the pandemic and the racial disparities that are becoming more present. Making sure that equity is embedded throughout our work; in manufacturing or retail or elsewhere will be crucial. Our organization is focused on racial equity and inclusion in all ways - we have made it an explicit focus to embed in all of our work internally and externally.


Social handle/ website:

https://nationalfund.org/

To see how Elicia's organization is helping rebuild the workforce in the face of crisis, check their website to learn more.



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