Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only Interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Noel McKenzie, the founder and Executive Director of Represented Foundation. Let’s see how he’s working on UN SDG 10 to reduce inequalities. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Noel. It’s great to meet you! Can you start by telling me what challenges you’re addressing?
Noel: It’s great to be here, Spiffy. Represented Foundation seeks to address racial inequity in social impact leadership. In 2018, New York City consisted of 68% BIPOC, but BIPOC makes up only 32% of nonprofit leaders. I am devoted to achieving parity for people of color as leaders in the social impact sector—our presence in nonprofit leadership should be directly proportional to our position as beneficiaries of nonprofit services. To achieve this parity, Represented Foundation trains BIPOC community leaders to use entrepreneurship to advance racial equity in frontline issues of racial, economic, and health justice in low-income communities of color.
Spiffy: What motivated you to work at parity for leaders in the social sector?
Noel: In South Africa in 2008, I interned at an NGO committed to rehabilitating Cape Town’s street children. There I witnessed the organization serve a population comprised of 100% people of color, while the only other non-White employee was the van driver. In one meeting, I was completely ignored by the board members. I wondered how participants were supposed to learn to become leaders without the opportunity to see themselves reflected as one. Returning to the US, I was motivated to build a real community for BIPOC leaders in the social impact field.
Spiffy: That sounds like a real eye-opening experience. Can you tell me how Represented Foundation is working to create a more equitable world?
Noel: Represented Foundation facilitates the Vision. Executive. Results. (V.E.R.) social impact incubator, which trains BIPOC social entrepreneurs (fellows) in business development, fundraising, strategic communications, organizational development, and program evaluation to lead a successful mission-driven organization. In each five-month cohort, 15 fellows attend 10 virtual training sessions, taught by a community of high-skilled BIPOC social impact professionals. Fellows receive business mentoring from seasoned entrepreneurs of color, as well as executive coaching and short-term pro-bono consultants to develop pilot community initiatives. We make it easier for BIPOC leaders to thrive in the social impact field as successful entrepreneurs.
Spiffy: This sounds like an amazing opportunity! And what about a recent milestone, what are you particularly excited to tell me?
Noel: In February 2021, we gained our first official corporate sponsor, who contributed $50,000 to support our program!
Spiffy: Congrats! That’s no small feat! Can you tell me about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?
Noel: In October 2020, I was running out of funding to pay myself, my new team and cover operating costs to keep Represented running. At the same time, a really unfortunate error meant that we temporarily lost our tax-exempt status. In November, I found out that a $25,000 grant proposal was approved, but that we wouldn’t be getting the money. Those months were extremely difficult, but I leaned into stress management tools to gain a new perspective—that I was only experiencing temporary setbacks. By December, our tax-exempt status had been returned and the grant application was approved. I learned that I’m willing to give even more than I expected to ensure that we can continue helping entrepreneurs of color.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Noel, is there anything inspiring that you’ve learned lately?
Noel: I learned how to reinvent myself in stressful or disappointing moments from watching an episode of Lovecraft Country, a historical-fiction, sci-fi- thriller. In the show, one of the main characters is transported against her will to a different dimension. At first, she thinks she's a prisoner. But after some exploration realizes she isn't in prison, but a transport station—something she can control with her mind. I learned from this episode that I have everything I need to name myself differently (successful, resilient, patient, etc.) whenever I need it.
Spiffy: That’s a powerful insight, Noel, thank you for sharing it with us. And thanks for telling us about your work to support BIPOC entrepreneurs in the social impact field, it’s been an honor!
Noel McKenzie is a Black, Queer, Jamerican social entrepreneur based in Brooklyn, New York. He is Executive Director of Represented Foundation, the nonprofit he founded in 2017 to close the diversity gap in social impact leadership. Drawing from his own experiences with racial biases in nonprofit leadership, Noel created the V.E.R. incubator. Since 2018, he's helped 31 Black and Brown social entrepreneurs launch 27 social enterprises in NYC. (Nominated by CONSTITUENT. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 21, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.