This blog was written by Becky Austen, Allies’ Product Strategist, and first appeared on the Leadership Austin website as part of their 40 Stories in 40 Days series. Leadership Austin launched the Fellows pilot in 2018, capitalizing on the talent of semi-retired and retired business and community leaders to build nonprofit capacity. Fellows work part-time for a year on mission critical projects. Becky Austen (Essential 36 – 2015) is deep into her second fellowship with Allies. Here’s her story:
I spent over three decades in the tech industry, on a long, wild ride at IBM. Late in 2017, I was weeks from retiring, clearing my plate and anticipating freedom, when Christopher Kennedy put a bug in my ear about the Fellows pilot. Curiosity got the better of me and I applied. In March 2018, after just two months off, I was working at Mission Capital as the new Social Venture Partner (SVP) Fellow, transforming how business professionals engage with nonprofits to scale and build capacity. SVPs are members of a global network; the Austin affiliate is housed within Mission Capital.
I was tasked with developing a new strategy for engaging SVPs, and entrusted with the authority and autonomy to redesign the SVP program. Mission Capital had just hired a new CEO, Madge Vasquez, and was embarking on a strategic plan. Over the course of the next year, I solicited feedback from SVPs, nonprofits and stakeholders to develop a framework for SVP engagement, designed and launched new SVP initiatives including the Impact Academy, established an SVP advisory council, strengthened internal systems and processes, redefined SVP member pricing, and integrated SVP more deeply into the fabric of Mission Capital.
The strategic plan evolved in parallel, centered on a theme to equip and connect mission-driven leaders, organizations and networks working to advance equity and opportunity. Mission Capital recognized that in order to engage with others in this work, the organization needed to embark on its own journey around equity and inclusion. All staff members participated in Beyond Diversity through Leadership Austin, and I subsequently completed a practitioner certification in Courageous Conversations About Race (CCAR). As the Fellows pilot wrapped up in February, I still had a lot of unfinished business, so I remained at Mission Capital through the end of their fiscal year to support the transition to a new SVP manager role. When I left in July, I became an SVP to enjoy the fruits of my labor!
Based on the success of the first Fellows pilot, Leadership Austin expanded the program and invited current Fellows to reapply. As much as I loved being a Fellow, I fully intended to step aside and get on with retirement – until I scanned the list of candidate nonprofits and saw Allies Against Slavery. While at Mission Capital, I had gotten to know Allies, an Accelerator participant selected by SVPs for ongoing capacity building. Allies’ mission to protect the freedom and dignity of human trafficking survivors was deeply compelling, and the Fellow job description was literally me.
So I began again – I started that fellowship in March, in parallel with my work at Mission Capital. Allies had just launched Lighthouse, a software platform that helps to identify trafficking victims, coordinate care, and gain insights from data. I leveraged my expertise in technology, marketing, strategy, product management and more, to enhance Lighthouse and increase adoption. Allies was recently awarded a grant by the Texas Office of the Governor to expand Lighthouse as a statewide platform for human trafficking data, and this is where I now spend most of my time. John Nehme, Allies’ CEO, calls me the Swiss Army Knife – “Becky has the tools and talent to do just about anything we need, and has filled gaps we didn’t even know we had.”
As much as I am contributing, I’m also humbled by this work, and constantly learning. It is so gratifying to do tech for good, and to redefine philanthropy in this way. Being a part of this team, in this moment, has been profound. Two years ago, I had this idea of retirement as a blank canvas, empty time and space. Now I realize I didn’t fail at retirement at all – this IS retirement. Thank you Leadership Austin for this life lesson!