For several years during Women’s History Month, Nonprofit HR has proudly recognized women across North America who have made significant contributions to nonprofits, associations, foundations, social enterprises and the communities they serve. This year we called on our expanded community to help us identify and recognize outstanding women who accomplish the seemingly impossible against all odds.
We extend thanks to more than 75 individuals who responded to our call for nominations. From these nominations, we discovered the work of dozens of outstanding women and are pleased to now publish the final 2021 Nonprofit Women to Watch list. The finalists listed below are 10 professional women who have exhibited extraordinary leadership, unwavering dedication and impactful achievements. Additional details on the finalists along with the list of runners-up may be seen below.
Alicia is a rare example of someone with a deep passion for improving the health care system who is able to translate her unique skills into helping those enmeshed in the workings of the systems achieve real transformation. She makes people look up. She makes them stop. She makes them think. Alicia has worked at the state advocacy level, fighting for legislation that saves lives, working with impacted families on messages and strategizing how to flip an editorial board or convince a committee. She has worked at the federal advocacy level, fighting for behavioral health providers to be able to help more people who need it. She has
taken the messages to the people and been a voice for issues from separating kids from their parents at the border to pushing against gun violence to standing up against racism. She believes in the power of communications to get to the decision-makers and has spent her career doing that, in the service of improving lives.
“Alicia has offered an incredible level of management support to the efforts that I oversee and direct. Personally, she has provided constancy throughout a period of uncertainty and change. Her mentorship has allowed me to grow and mature as a person, employee, and manager in a way I haven’t experienced with any other relationship, personal or professional. I know I am one of many who rely on and trust her counsel in resolving challenges and thinking through strategic direction. I can’t quite figure out how she gets so much done! She provides untold value to the organization and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to work so closely with her.”
– Former employee
“After winning top salesperson for nine consecutive years, Denyse retired from Verizon early and moved south. After relocating to Florida, Denyse realized that her community was culturally starved and started a nonprofit to bring the culture of the Indo-Caribbean people to the people of Florida. She became a cultural activist and first started to invite master musicians, teachers of the Arts and classical singing and dancers to her community. A trained classical dancer she then started her own dance school, Jayadevi School of Dance, the first nonprofit Indo-Caribbean Arts Organization in South Florida. Her nonprofit, now named Jayadevi Arts Inc. (JAI), helps the younger generation of the Indo-Caribbean community be more aware of their lost heritage through cultural activities like playing heritage instruments and learning classical dancing which is a dying art form. In 2019, Denyse established Jayadevi Arts Inc. in Suriname and changed JAI status from a domestic to an international nonprofit. Denyse’s students have improved drastically in schools, and at home. Thanks to her leadership, students who were on the brink of dropping out of school, are now attending college and a number of her students are recipients of school awards.
“For her commitment to the community, Denyse has received several awards in recent years. She was named Governor of the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives. She was featured in Channel 10 TV food network and awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Mayor of Miami-Dade. She was also awarded a certificate of appreciation by Indo-Caribbean Pioneering Women, a Caribbean Heritage Month Leadership Award, and, more recently, a certificate for Whos Who by Marquis Magazine.”
-Board President Jayadevi Arts Inc.
Amy’s leadership and expertise in developing nonprofits helped the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina to achieve new funding records, securing not only the operations of our organization; but also, paved the way to purchase more food for local communities. She has spent more than a decade developing and implementing strategic development plans to empower nonprofit organizations and reduce food insecurity.
“Amy Beros was my direct supervisor and took the time to help me understand how by leadership and innovation, we could serve better our communities. She is a role model among our staff. She focuses on rising stars and provides them the necessary emotional and professional support. She identifies the strengths of people and invests her time in developing them. She leads by example; she marches with enthusiasm and keeps her team motivated and focused. My professional career is much stronger because of Amy Beros.”
– current colleague
Peggy is the founder of Future Now Media Foundation, a 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit, whose mission is to build future leaders in the media and entertainment industry. As the head of this leadership incubator, Peggy helps to engage, mentor, train and connect college and graduate students and recent graduates to become the best and brightest future leaders in every sector of the media and entertainment industry. She is a Peabody and multi-award winning executive producer and a seasoned executive in the media industry that is highly regarded as a strategic thinker, visionary, and team builder, who maximizes every resource and opportunity and delivers results.
Ms. Kim is also the Founder and President of iSTAND Media, LLC and iSTANDtv, a global multi-platform network, content studio and community hub for young people (ages 18-34), who believe in the power of media and want to use that power for good. Featuring the best in short documentaries, films, music, comedy, talk shows and animation from the U.S. and around the world, iSTANDtv’s goal is to promote compelling stories that come from a perspective of hope and authenticity.
Prior to establishing iSTAND and FUTURE NOW, Ms. Kim was VP of Programming & Production at Alloy Media & Marketing, where she built AlloyTV, a multi-platform distribution network and content studio producing original fashion, music and pop culture entertainment for Millennial audiences. In her previous position as Director of Programming and Executive Producer at The History Channel, she developed and oversaw 300+ hours of programming, managing multi-million dollar budgets and delivering hit series like Digging for the Truth, which attracted a younger audience, hailed unprecedented press coverage and defined a new era at the network. Her instinct and passion for great storytelling were honed in her prior production roles at MSNBC, Court TV, CBS New Productions, NBC Sports, NBC Olympic Unit, ABC Sports and ABC News.
“Janiece Mackey has been a change agent in Denver and Aurora Colorado Communities since she co-founded YAASPA in 2010. She serves youth and families in the community. Her work has been centered on equity, the advancement of students in academics, and teaching students how to engage civically. YAASPA’s Concurrent Enrollment Equity Report studied the lack of access to African American students and students in Title One schools. Findings discussed access to
concurrent enrollment, perspectives from practitioners as well as issues and barriers. Concurrent enrollment is important for Black students who take a college pathway. Concurrent enrollment can save the student and family money since these classes are often free while taken in HighSchool.
“In addition, YAASPA students conduct research, political candidate forums, receive support with applying for scholarships, and students do not volunteer for free – they receive a stipend. All work at YAASPA is student-led and supported by YAASPA staff. Dr. Mackey also is an educator and instructs students at the high school and college levels. As an active community member, a supporter of YAASPA, and Janiece – I have had the opportunity to observe the students and their growth while in the program – it is so inspiring! Janiece continues to mentor the students as they navigate their path through college. She has been known to provide book scholarships for college-bound YAASPA students and career guidance. Dr. Janiece Mackey is leading change in the Denver Metropolitan Area.”
– Community member and friend
“As a homeless veteran, Ginger rose to the occasion working three jobs while going to school at night in order to take care of her toddler and husband with severe PTSD. She has committed her life to equipping over 8000 women veterans so that we never have to endure post-military homelessness. Ginger shifted the focus from me to we, recognizing the disparity of veteran services provided to her male counterparts, military spouses and even to service animals as compared to that which is nonexistent to meet the specific needs of women veterans. Women Veteran Interactive’s mission of Advocacy, Empowerment, Interaction, Outreach and Unification (AEIOU) has opened awareness and doors for women veterans at both the federal and corporate levels. She has placed women veterans as a specific need for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the White House. Many of us leave military service and move on as we have never served. During COVID, Ginger continued to keep the women connected nationally via weekly empowerment sessions connecting attendees to the VA, Pro bono Lawyers, the National Cemetery, meditation and discussions on dealing with depression, PTSD and Sexual Military Trauma just to name a few.
“Ginger’s love of women veterans is contagious. Her drive to help women veterans has afforded other women veterans in Huntsville, AL, Richmond, VA, Central, MD, Fayetteville, NC, Atlanta, GA, and Detroit, MI, to volunteer as Interest Group Leaders in their areas, motivate and lead other women veterans to volunteer in their communities and ultimately become a WVI Chapter. Her vision for chapters has expanded the reach of Operation Safety net providing timely support to at-risk or homeless women veterans in their community. This demonstrated by the chapters continuing to volunteer and help those in need throughout COVID.
“Ginger is a leaders leader, who is self-motivated, others-minded and has no limits.”
– Women veteran impacted by Ginger’s work
“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals and was founded over 100 years ago by a visionary group of women dedicated to helping the government conserve food and improve the public’s health and nutrition. Today, the Academy represents more than
100,000 credentialed practitioners and is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Gaby has spearheaded the research the Academy is doing internationally, having traveled to Guatemala twice for comparative effectiveness trials to evaluate the impact of adding a single whole egg per day to local standard nutrition care on infant growth and development, an issue of vital importance to these developing countries. Gaby and The Academy are conducting this trial in the impoverished Tecpan region of Guatemala in partnership with the Maya Health Alliance (MHA), a wonderful example of Gaby’s ability to overcome cultural, operational and political challenges.
“Gaby has emerged as a strong, culturally sensitive, and passionate leader in non-for-profit nutrition research. In her three years at the Academy, Gaby has been an author of five peer-reviewed papers, leads the Council on Research and coordinates multiple studies. Specifically, Gaby has collaborated with the MHA on a study examining the impact of household gardens on diet diversity. Gaby speaks and writes fluently in Spanish and is a tremendous advocate for nutrition and research in vulnerable populations. She is an exceptional advocate for evidence-based practices and how these practices can impact people’s lives on a daily basis.
“In an age where the world needs better collaboration and less confrontation, Gaby is an excellent Ambassador, both for our profession as well as for our country. She helps to make the lives of those she touches better.”
– Former Board member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
“A passionate advocate for firefighters and other public safety first responders, a highlight of Shirley Anne’s leadership at the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation includes the commissioning of a pay raise study to assist the Mayor in a historic announcement on behalf of the City of Atlanta’s firefighters and EMTs. The study helped approve an average salary rise of nearly 20 percent. As a woman of color, supporting a fire rescue department in a city that primarily serves people of color, she believes that the diversity of the community should be reflected in the diversity of the fire industry. The foundation programs support the intentional recruitment of women and members of the Latino and LGBTQIA+ community. The Foundation’s diversity recruitment campaign, Step Forward, has been recognized by the advertising and marketing industries around the globe.
“Shirley Anne values every single relationship that she makes on behalf of the firefighters. Whether it’s the connection with neighborhoods where fire stations are located and neighbors who rally in support of the Adopt a Station program; or her coveted relationship with Chick-Fil-A in support of the Cadet Program; or the City of Refuge for office space; or Atlanta Technical College for a cadet training venue; or Buckhead Rotary for tireless volunteer support; and local restaurants including Das BBQ, Inspire Brands and Slutty Vegan for meals for firefighters during the pandemic. The steadfast commitment and cultivation of partnerships like these came to play more than ever during the pandemic when the foundation was leaned on urgently by Atlanta Fire to safely protect its citizens. To date, Shirley Anne and her board have secured in-kind donations valued at more than $400K and more than $150K in cash donations to specifically support the 36 fire rescue stations and the unexpected needs due to COVID.”
– Family member
“Cameron works with Young Invincibles to create a strong Colorado chapter. Young Invincibles trains young adults to be advocates and leaders in their communities and Cameron is the organizing manager that implements trainings and programming. Her impact is through changing the lives of young adults and in turn, these young adults leave with the skills to make an impact in their communities. Additionally, Young Invincibles pursues a policy agenda at the state level every year with items that support higher education, mental health, and workforce development. Cameron trains and supports young adults to lobby for these bills in the state capitol, resulting in the successful passage of impactful Colorado legislation. Along with her work in the Capitol, Cameron is an expert at creating large coalitions and building bridges in the nonprofit world for like-minded organizations and people to work together on important change. She has partnered with state agencies, like CDHE, as well as other organizations that serve young adults, like New Era Colorado, to bring forward policy that is for and by young adults in Colorado. Her talent for programming and coalition-building has not been limited by the impact of the pandemic – she has risen to the occasion by adding members from other cities to our program and continuing to build community through virtual gatherings.
“Cameron Vigil has been a leader for the Young Advocates Program not only in the way that she organizes all of the events and speakers but in how she leads as a role model. She is passionate, dedicated, and always willing to listen and lead with an open mind. Whenever someone in the program has an idea or a suggestion, she gives them the support, encouragement, and tools to achieve their vision. Through her guidance, she enables all of the young adults under her supervision to also be leaders. She has created a very strong community and has built connections at a time when the social sector needs it most.
“Cameron is an incredibly engaging and empowering person to work with. She has the unique ability to manage a large cohort and alumni network of young adults in an incredibly intentional and personal way. When you work with Cam, you know that not only will your voice be heard, but she will do everything in her power to make others listen. Cameron had helped countless young adults reclaim their stories through public comment, testimony and engagement events. She is gifted at reminding people of their inherent power and expertise in their own lived experience. This inspires a lifelong commitment to social change and civic engagement for so many young people in Colorado. Her passion for making her community better, safer, and more equitable is reflected in her programming and is contagious to all who work with her. The young adults who work with Cam in the Young Advocates program enter wanting to learn more about the political process and advocacy. They leave ready to run for office and to be forces of change throughout Colorado.”
“Diana helps to empower young African women and equipping them with the necessary skills required to thrive in the technology and financial sector through Africa’s first Tech and Finance Accelerator Program. Through Young Accomplished African Women, Diana has given me and over 100 young ladies technical and professional training in technology and finance and it doesn’t end there, many of us have secured jobs thanks to the skills gained and have also had the opportunity to advance our skills through the scholarships offered to us. Personally, it would’ve taken an extra couple of years to work and attain the resources YAAW freely offered me and for that, I am very grateful and pumped up to make an impact. I trust the others share in my sentiments.
“Having had the opportunity to work with her, I can tell she’s a great team leader and player. She’s ever ready to lend a helping hand and also ensures we don’t miss the opportunity to lead and learn from our respective roles. She’s a mentor and a blessing to many.”