Quardean Lewis Allen

Founder and CEO, Made in Brownsville

How old is your organization? Six years old
What sector do you work in? Youth workforce development
How long have you been working in this sector? Ten years
How long have you been with your current organization? Six years 

What is the single greatest challenge you face in your sector?
Providing equitable access to higher education, particularly in a landscape dominated by the inflated evaluation of name-branded schools. In trying to create equitable access, we have to ask ourselves, “what are the mechanisms and pathways for top-tier schools to connect to those who most need the opportunities into those industries?”

What opportunities exist now for nonprofits to break through into success that did not exist 40 years?
In the nonprofit sector, we are collectively working towards a goal. Smaller actors are able to bridge opportunities and create networks that provide opportunities.

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?Visioning and foresight. You have to communicate the vision to rally people behind a collective goal to deeply invest in. You have to be grounded in purpose.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Active listening. Being engaged in and with the community is so genuine, with the understanding that certain communities have histories of bitterness as a result of overpromising by nonprofits and government. Communities have been disconnected from the power to make change, and we need to be sympathetic to this as part of our foundation.

What are the sector’s biggest challenges in the future and what must be done to address them?
Funding cycles. The whims of philanthropy have the power to forecast the future. Collective efficacy is a thing. Something to be hopeful for, especially if we are engaging young people. 

Why did you join this sector?
The sector fell into my lap. Public safety through design was my initial interest. I attended community visioning sessions and, in these conversations, at the top of the list of what my neighbors said would be most impactful was more opportunities for youth. Mentoring. Youth workforce development. I was also seeing the lack of diversity in the corporate spaces I experienced. Industry wide, less than 2 percent of licensed architects are Black. To me it was imperative to create a pipeline. 

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
Identifying that young people have the greatest power to define their futures. Double down and invest in them. You don’t often see people from Brownsville making it to Harvard or Forbes. But, then again, it all started in Brownsville. I wanted to invest in the place where I am from.

What was your breakthrough moment in becoming a leader?
I think it is in the power of words. To speak out loud about the thing I was passionate about and wanted to start. It was validating to know that people would want to support and help my words come to life.

If you were just starting out in your sector today, what advice would the person you are today give to the “newbie”?
Don’t start a nonprofit, start a for-profit! Too often, the people closest to the problem end up on the social side of the issue, not on the enterprise side of the problem. So young people should be invested in creating businesses where they are from, using revenue from products and services to support their communities’ long-term intergenerational impact that comes from it.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in your career?
Transitioning from visionary and doer to visionary and administrator. A small organization requires people that are able to lean into their discomfort at times. While I may not have signed up to be an administrator when I started, the mission drives my commitment to the organization to avail me to do whatever needs to be done to serve the community I care about. 

Find out more
Made in Brownsville Facebook
Quardean’s Facebook
Made in Brownsville LinkedIn
Quardean’s LinkedIn
Made in Brownsville Twitter
Quardean’s Twitter

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