Fiona Kanagasingam

Vice President of Equity and Learning, Planned Parenthood NYC (PPNYC)

How old is your organization? 103 years old
What sector do you work in? Nonprofit sector, right now with a focus on reproductive care and rights.
How long have you been working in this sector? I’ve worked in strategy and organizational development for the past 17 years, across different social missions including reproductive justice.
How long have you been with your current organization? Two months

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
I was formerly Director of Consulting at CRE and the lead for our Talent Management, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consulting practice. I had the opportunity to work alongside a breadth of incredible groundbreaking social justice organizations – professionally, it was an honor to learn from and support nonprofit leaders and missions I care deeply about. I also worked alongside a wonderful team with whom I have formed lasting transformative relationships. 

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
There is growing recognition that institutional racism is prevalent in the nonprofit sector and that we are not delivering effectively on our missions – from healthcare access to educational opportunity to capacity-building – if we are not intentionally creating equitable institutions from the inside-out. 

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
The current sociopolitical environment – characterized by overtly racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobia, anti-immigrant sentiment – directly undermines the mission of social justice organizations and movements, and makes already challenging work even harder. 

Describe a key event (local, national, global) that has impacted your sector in the last 40 years?
I am new to the Planned Parenthood family but know that the past year has seen multiple decisions made by the current administration with very harmful impacts on bodily autonomy and healthcare access, in particular by those experiencing systemic oppressions due to their race, gender, ability, income, and more. One example is new regulations that force Planned Parenthood and other health care providers out of the Title X program, which provides affordable birth control and sexual and reproductive health care to people with low incomes, including those who couldn’t otherwise afford health care services on their own. 

How has the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion shaped your organization over the past 40 years?
Reproductive oppression has and continues to disproportionately affect women of color, trans and gender non-conforming people, and poor communities. PPNYC’s founding and history in the sexual and reproductive rights movement is, like the movement itself, complex and multi-layered, and includes both powerful advocacy for bodily autonomy and a neglect of bias and disparities, especially related to race. We have begun to reckon with this complex history to acknowledge historical harms in communities of color and other marginalized communities, and to address the ways in which bias and harm continues to be reproduced with disproportionate impacts, especially for Black women. This requires an intentional process to center equity, especially race equity, both in community and in our institutional operations, programs and services. My role, which is new at PPNYC, is part of that organizational commitment and effort to grapple with issues of equity. 

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?
Those who are most impacted by the challenges we are trying to solve are rarely in positions of decision-making and power, nor adequately trusted and resourced to lead.  

What opportunities exist now for nonprofits to break through into success that did not exist 40 years ago?
The growing dialogue on structural racism and its wide-ranging impact (including on the nonprofit sector itself!) offers a window of opportunity to center racial equity in the sector. If this dialogue goes beyond lip service, which I hope it does, we have an opportunity to better understand and solve many challenges that nonprofits work on at their root cause – which can often be traced to structural racism. This means ensuring that our organizations reflect our communities; that people of color, especially Black people, are in decision-making roles and centered in decision-making; and, that institutional racism in nonprofits is named and intentionally disrupted. 

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
Having an inspiring vision, humility (especially knowing what one does not know and therefore engaging in collaborative decision-making), an ability to connect with a diversity of people, and a desire to understand and address systemic inequity (beyond just having good intentions). 

Why did you join this sector?
I felt I could be useful – my strengths were aligned with needs that were compelling to me– and I wanted to learn from and work with leaders and organizations that inspire me. 

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
I worked with many others to initiate an intentional process of addressing institutional racism and advancing racial equity at CRE, for the first time in the organization’s history, but building on many other efforts before me. This journey has made us a different and stronger organization, and continues today. 

Why did you want to serve as Vice President of Equity and Learning at PPNYC?
I took on this role because I believe we are in a unique political and institutional moment where equity-centered transformation is not only critical to PPNYC’s continued success but also gathering significant momentum. The role also allows me to contribute the skills I’ve honed from working with multiple organizations. 

How do you hire?
I like to work with people who are unapologetic about their commitment to justice, who are accountable, and who want to create change for the better. 

Based on your experience, please offer one piece of advice to a person hoping to break through as a leader in your sector.
It’s not about us becoming leaders but the impact we can make. We can each find out what that is, align our gifts with that, and bring people along with us. 

Find out more

En Español »