Diahann Billings Burford

Chief Executive Officer, RISE

How old is your organization? Four years
What sector do you work in? Sports, Nonprofit, Social Justice
How long have you been working in this sector? 10+ years
How long have you been with your current organization? Just over one year.

Describe a key event (local, national, global) that has impacted your sector in the last 40 years?
Colin Kaepernick’s protests of social injustice sparked a resurgence of athlete activism and truly showed the power of the sports community to affect social change. His actions and steadfast commitment to the cause helped to inspire athletes to become more educated, outspoken, and active on issues of social justice. Colin’s ability to draw much needed attention to this critical cause showed other athletes how impactful their voices could be. He elevated a national conversation around race relations and social justice that our country desperately needed to have and still must continue today. At the time of Colin’s protests, we at RISE had already been engaging professional, collegiate, and high school teams and athletes to be leaders in addressing matters of racism and inequality for about a year. Colin’s actions encouraged more athletes and teams to get out in front of social justice causes in their communities, and made them hungrier for the education and programming that we provide.

How has the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion shaped your organization over the past 40 years (or since it was founded during this time until now)?
RISE is based on this conversation — how can we use sport to elevate the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion; and, more importantly, how can we produce positive outcomes from this conversation? Our vision is bold — to create a nation unified through sports that is committed to racial equity and social justice. We are a learning community that is always considering what equity looks like both internally and externally.

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?
I think the largest challenges to the sector are regulations and expectations that hinder creativity and innovation but provide a disproportionate impact on managing risk. I have become enamored with trust-based philanthropy. It limits certain regulations and expectations and thereby builds trust, transparency, and dialogue that actually manages risk.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Nonprofits must figure out how New Power (See Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans) appears in their space and how to leverage it to further their organization’s mission. New Power is reshaping politics, business, and life to be more open, participatory, and peer-driven.

Where would you like to see your sector in 40 years?
The truly aspirational vision, which would require a true revolution, is that many needs have been systemically addressed, and whole parts of the sector are unnecessary. For a more achievable and yet still challenging vision, I’d like to see the sector collaborate even more to provide a continuum of services, with fewer organizations providing redundant services.

What are your sector’s biggest challenges in the future, and what must be done to address them?
I have worked in all three sectors and believe that the greatest societal challenges will require all sectors be a part of addressing them in order to achieve true success.

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
Given my age and the positions that I have held, I have at times been the first woman and/ or woman of color to hold a post or fill a role. Substantively, my optimism and tenacity make others see me as a trailblazer. Just because something hasn’t been done, it does not mean that it cannot be done. If the end is just, then it is worth working to achieve. I love the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

How do you hire?
I hire for: 1) Skills necessary to perform the job’s responsibilities. 2) Those that have a mindset which encourages them to try to figure out how to achieve the difficult task before they say that it cannot be done. 3) Those who will make my team diverse, both in work styles and perspectives.

Based on your experience, please offer one piece of advice to a person hoping to break through as a leader in your sector.
Always understand your why. There is no space for mindless leadership in this sector.

Find out more
Diahann Billings-Burford’s LinkedIn
RISE Facebook
RISE Twitter
RISE Instagram

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