In this edition of Five Questions we chatted with Madeleine, NEO’s senior finance manager, about how she lives the NEO values, her favorite place to travel and more.
Who has been the most influential role model/hero in your life thus far?
Is it cliché to say my mom? But it’s the truth. When I was younger, I never thought I would go into the same career as my mom, but here I am! My mom is a Finance Director of a foundation that supports legal aid services for underserved communities. She is intelligent, compassionate, and has an amazing work ethic. She has also done an amazing job of balancing her career, our family, and her own personal hobbies and passions. But one of the things I have always particularly admired about my mom is her unwavering ethical and moral compass. My mom always chooses to do the right thing, even when it is difficult, whether it is standing up to racism in the her hometown in the 60’s and 70’s, being the whistle blower at a former job when she became aware of fraud, taking a struggling young single mom into her home, or just taking our elderly neighbor’s trash out to the curb each week. She is an amazing person, which is why it is really no surprise that she is my most influential role model and I aspire to be like her.
What advice would you give someone beginning a career in social justice?
Never. Stop. Learning. At the rate that technology and information is turning over, it is essential to keep absorbing knowledge and then reflecting on your own assumptions and thinking. The economist John Maynard Keynes once said “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”. Constantly ask yourself, what are my biases? are my methods still sound? are my goals still relevant? is this plan of action achieving what we set out to do? Learning isn’t just about building on what you know, sometimes it’s about revising or unlearning what you think you knew. We owe it to those we serve to never stop growing and learning.
Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why?
When I was 25 years old, I rafted the Grand Canyon. For a week our group, led by experienced guides, rafted and hiked the canyon during the day, and then camped on the shores of the Colorado River at night. It was a truly humbling experience to be surrounded by the harsh awesomeness and beauty of nature. Traveling down the river with gigantic sheets of striated rock and sediment on either side, which tell the history of the Earth over billions of years, it does wonders for putting the human experience in perspective. I believe that climate change is the most serious crisis of my generation, and never have I felt the stakes of that crisis more acutely. It is estimated that the effects of climate change may make the larger rapids of the gorge impassable in the near future, not to mention the havoc currently being reaped on the ecosystems of the canyon. In general, I love spending time in nature. It reminds me that we are part of a much big world that we sometimes realize.
Is working in social justice something you always knew you’d do or is it something you fell into?
I’ve been interested in social justice, history and politics since I was in grade school, but it wasn’t until college that I realized I had a passion for working on the business side of the house. It was a very intentional decision for me to move into financial management to support the nonprofit sector and social justice, in particular. Through my internship experiences in college I came to realize that bright, well-intentioned program staff could be crippled by inept finance and business back office support. At their best, organizations with poor back office support are inefficient, at their worst they can be corrupt. The best social justice organizations bring together teams with different but complementary skills sets – legal, finance, leadership, HR, field experts, community builders, etc. – to support each other and maximize impact, and I think that is exactly what we have here at NEO.
How do you live the NEO values of embracing change, being innovative and forward thinking?
NEO has grown considerably, even during the two years since I joined. My team and I are constantly looking for new ways to innovate and work more efficiently, whether that is automating processes, moving information and workflows into the cloud, or finding new systems that better meet the needs our organization. The old ways of working just aren’t serving us anymore, so we’ve had to learn new ways. All the while, we have been working on improving the financial services and capacity of NEO so that we can better support our projects, funds, and partners.