April 26, 2022

153 Leading Economic Development to Provide Greater Opportunities to Underserved Entrepreneurs with Washington Area Community Investment Fund CEO Harold Pettigrew | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

153 Leading Economic Development to Provide Greater Opportunities to Underserved Entrepreneurs with Washington Area Community Investment Fund CEO Harold Pettigrew | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Harold Pettigrew, CEO at Washington Area Community Investment Fund (Wacif), Presidential Appointee at the CDFI Fund, and an Aspen Finance Fellow. First, Harold Pettigrew talked about his upbringing in Washington D.C. and the experiences that helped him find his voice. Harold also shared his experience serving in city government in New York and D.C. and how he plans to make a difference through his leadership of the Washington Area Community Investment Fund. Finally, Harold Pettigrew talked about how all leaders can play a more significant role in ensuring greater equity.  

Some highlights:

- Harold Pettigrew on his upbringing in D.C. and how it impacted his passion for activism. 

- On moving to North Carolina, embracing his identity and taking on a leadership role

- The impact of serving in the New York City on Harold's view of government

- Coming back to Washington D.C. and the challenge of government service

- How to create better ecosystems that work for the people who live in them

- The role of representation in our communities 

- What we can do to leave the space we occupy better than we first found it

- Harold Pettigrew on the importance of staying open to new ideas and possibilities

Mentioned in this episode:

Commissioner Robert W. Walsh, Bloomberg Administration's Commissioner of Small Business Services

Connect with Harold Pettigrew:

WACIF Website

The Aspen Institue Website

WACIF on Twitter 

Harold Pettigrew on Twitter

Harold Pettigrew on LinkedIn

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:



More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli:

 Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming. Harold Pettigrew Harold is the CEO of , which is one of Washington DC, metropolitan regions, leading community development, financial institutions. They're focused primarily on access to capital products and services and capacity building for low and moderate income entrepreneurs Women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. I really enjoyed this conversation, finding out more about Harold's upbringing right here in DC and his purpose driven impact as he continues to lead the wake. If I'm sure you will enjoy the conversation and learn a lot from it too, I also enjoy hearing from you.

Keep your comments coming. Muhammad Mohan tavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast. Tuesday conversations with magnificent change-makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region, like Harold and Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought leaders.

Now here's my conversation with Harold Pettigrew

Harold Pettigrew, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me,

Harold Pettigrew: 

Delighted to be here with you Mahan. Thanks for the invite.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I'm really excited having a known your impact in the region and in the community, Harold and the passion you have for Washington DC. But before we get to some of those conversations would love to know whereabouts you grew up and your upbringing impact on who you have become as a person and as a leader.

Harold Pettigrew: 

Absolutely. I always like to start that because it really has not only defined what much of my journey has been professionally and in life, it's something that drives me day in and day out. 

I'm a DC guy, DC dude. So often to put it and much of my story was really impacted by a lot of the happenings in the 80’s and 90’s here in DC. I grew up here, DC public school graduate all the way through and really saw first hand how the city was very different back in the 80’s and 90’s and that really imprinted much of my early start and how I viewed the city and what I ultimately became, professionally and economic development and those sorts of things. And this is home I always like to tell folks that it’s great being in this place I call home and knowing that every day I'm doing things to just try to make it better each and every day. This is where my story starts, Mahan here in DC and in this region. And this is where I am today working day in and day out.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So with your story starting in DC, Harold, you already alluded to the fact that the city has changed a lot since the time you were growing up. In what ways was DC different and how did that impact you during your upbringing?

Harold Pettigrew: 

Yeah. I remember some darker times in the city where in the 80’s and 90’s, there was a greediness that was here for sure. And we had the unfortunate title so to say that no city wants to be in the murder capital. And some of the dangers growing up here were very present, I’m just being frank and being real about it. And so I remember some of the parts of the city and what they used to look like. They were parking lots back then versus a lot of the developments now. And I remembered the plenty of life lessons as well that you grow up with just understanding some of the adult things you have to deal with. And sometimes, in terms of life and death as well. It was just a very different place where opportunity wasn't as available particularly for black and brown people. Growing up you could feel the divide even starkly at that time as well. Particularly the racial wealth divide.

I grew up East of the river which was predominantly black, and west of the park, predominantly white conditions were the same back then. I remember that time in the city it really has dominated what I do and really advised and informed really what I do right now in economic development. It is a great time to grow up because of all the lessons and things that I had an opportunity to learn and things that I was exposed to. And even as a DC public school kid, the opportunities that were afforded even though we had our challenges.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Some of those challenges had to do with the war on drugs that was going on at that time, that impacted your family too, Harold.

Harold Pettigrew: 

Yeah. And that really often lift that up. And there's this famous picture of Nancy Reagan at the white house, she's doing a “Just Say No” march for children here in DC, it was a couple of thousand kids that were marched down to the white house. There was a big rally. And that picture is always special to me because on the stage with her behind her, was my grandmother, my aunts and uncles they were a lot younger. I was, weak young toddler kind of thing. But I had my “Just Say No” shirt on. And would then represented my grandmother very much because of my father's story, was the advocate. And she fought much of her life to make sure that children growing up in the 80’s and 90’s were not subject to loss, to death, all of those things that was experienced during that time of the city. 

My father, his story was dominated by that. It's no secret and I talk about this often and lifted up that my father was a drug addict. And so he was directly impacted, that impacted his presence in my life which he was absent for much of it. He had his own demons to deal with, that necessarily impacts on my grandmother and how she fought to make sure that other families weren't impacted in this way, on my mom.

I grew up as an only child. And my mom did a phenomenal job in her very best to make sure that she could provide. But I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't a gap at who I became and how it motivated me, because of his absence and the things that I learned and the mentors that stepped into my life were a result of that absence.

My father's story was certainly one that unfortunately wasn't unique to a lot of the kids that I grew up with here in the city. It wasn't just a war on drugs. It was culturally the decimation of many things that kind of happened during that time period. And for many of us growing up, it was the resilience of being a kid, just trying to understand what it means to grow up in a city as dynamic as DC. And there were so many of us that connect it that we're trying to navigate through altogether.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You had all of this chaos and some of these challenges going on all around you. Your grandmother was a fighter. Your mom was a fighter. So great lessons that you learned from them, but what was it that got you so active in wanting to be in a leadership role, organize others even to the point that in high school when the control boards appointed emergency school board decided to close McKinley high, which you were a student at, you were the one organizing other students to give talks and go out to protest and do everything else.

What was it that got you so active so early on at a leadership level, mobilizing others to action?

Harold Pettigrew: 

There were a couple of people that really influenced me. I mentioned my grandmother early, she is a fighter and an organizer in many ways. And a lot of those things were embedded in me very early. In many ways not through osmosis necessarily, but I saw a lot of these things on display and she didn't grow up in that way. It was out of necessity that she stepped into fighting for my father and his life, that she went on to many great things nationally with organizing around parent advocacy, dealing with issues with drugs and things in our communities. 

I saw that growing up in my path here educationally led me to McKinley high school. And I had the great fortune when I was in the NJ ROTC program and they will generate a reserve officer training Corps. And that program was led by a gentleman by the name of Charles Washington, he's master gunnery, Sergeant Charles Washington to be specific. And he was a Marine. he took many of us trained us and provided the father-figure framework that we all really needed to not only be young leaders growing up in the city, but to understand that we needed to be more. That we're better than our circumstance. And he really instilled in us so many lessons. God rest his soul, we lost him a couple of years back, but he was such a prominent figure through my four years of high school. And I was fortunate to go to high school in ninth grade and go all the way through. 

I was in ROTC that entire time and rose up the ranks of leadership. And very early on we're calling each other, sir and ma'am in ninth grade. How many teenagers that you know, at 13 and 14, yes, sir and then saluting and everything else. And he really taught us that and really instilled in us not only leadership principles, but what it meant to lead, what it meant to follow, what being in service to our community and city really meant.

And so by the time we got to my senior year I was locked and loaded in my head. At that point, I was a time where all the possibilities, I remember this feeling of all the possibilities being ahead. And we have been trained so much and have been in so many different opportunities and pursued things in leadership that we saw this as a big challenge. And one that we felt as kids, we could organize around and have a voice. 

And the backdrop was that the city was in bankruptcy. The city and its institutions we're failing in many ways. And the federal control board came in and took a lot of that control and it speaks to the issues that exist today around home rule. We saw it as a need to make sure we were speaking to say why this is wrong. Particularly the importance that schools play in our communities foundational institutions. 

And so it wasn't beyond us. It wasn't extraordinary activities. We were already used to speaking out and being a part of the mayor's youth leadership institute that Marion Barry that had put in place. We were already doing it and so we were just an active bunch. But it hurt, let me be clear. That was a very painful time. Who wants to go to high school and your senior year in your high school is shuttered? It was an emotional time. Looking back, I wouldn't want those types of things to happen again, but as a kid, it was such a great experience in real life lesson and in public service and political leadership and how cities worked. All of those things that I couldn't have imagined getting any other life sort of education and lesson around. It was a great time, a painful one, but it was a great time.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You got those great lessons Harold, but it also goes to the point of the power of a positive caring role model in all young people's lives where part of the strength that you, as a young adult, part of the inspiration that you had to act when McKinley High was being considered for closure was given to you through that role model that caring adult outside of the family environment. What I wonder is, as you reflect on the opportunities in our communities, because it's not as if these are issues that we dealt with back in the nineties, and now we are beyond those, how do you think as a society and as a community, we can ensure more young Harolds have some of those role models? Some of those people that give them the confidence that they have some control over their environment and their world, and are not just subject to their circumstances.

Harold Pettigrew: 

I think as kids growing up, we all look for not only direction, but shelter. And there's a burgeoning voice all within us that in one way or another wants to come out. And I think I was very fortunate to have people that not only set the stage, but pushed me forward to find your voice to understand who you are, understand the challenges that you may be facing, but also keep your eyes towards how do you get beyond that.

And so I think it's important now more than it ever has been role of representation in our communities for men, for women, for black communities to have black professionals and black people that can show that sort of representation. In Asian communities across all of our communities, that we have representation that shows us in the future being given authority or those that are adults giving authority and pushing kids to ensure that they understand what's possible and what's within their power to achieve. 

And I was very fortunate. I always tell people I'm a DC public school dude because throughout my time it was really accelerated when I got to high school. But I've been fortunate to have that throughout my educational career. From a kid growing up, I remember my earliest teachers being that same way. And I remember Mrs. Perry, in my fourth grade class I slacked on a spelling bee and she looked up at me and I snapped back cause I saw her looking at me because she knew I could do better. I knew I could do better. And the moment I saw Mrs. Berry, I was like, all right let me stop messing around. 

I just think this speaks to the role of teachers in our lives. It speaks to the role that it is people in the community have in the lives of children. Just such fond memories of those who pushed me along the way. And it was really formative in my early days.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

As you were pushed along the way, you also continued to pursue your dreams. Why did you then decide to go to NC state for college and study political science?

Harold Pettigrew: 

Yeah. I was hurt when McKinley was ordered closed. Frankly, I wanted to get out of DC. I felt the leadership at the time had unfortunately let down its children. And I don't say that lightly. And I felt like I wanted to get away far enough that I could have a different experience, but close enough that if I needed to get home, I could.

And one thing that was important for me was being in a place that I felt all around me was the campus experience. And this is also where people matter. I went down to do a college visit and the welcoming environment in NC state is a predominantly white school, about 35,000 kids. And at the time there were roughly 4,000 black students on campus. And I’ll tell you, the biggest school in North Carolina, but it felt so small and comfortable and just full of opportunity. If we're a DC kid going down there, I didn't speak to people well, and people were walking by “Hey, how are you doing?” I was like, do I know that person? 

One of the upperclassmen that was leading the tourists and stuff, he was like “Hey, young fella. We speak so leave, all your city tendencies aside. You're in the south now we speak to folks and so speak to people.” I used to wear my hat over my eyes and everything, and they're like “No, lift it so people can see your face, see your smile.” and it was just such a warm environment. And they provide scholarships and they had this balance of articulating we want you to be yourself to be connected here as a student, generally, but specifically, as a black student, your identity we don't run away from, we embrace it. 

So there were a lot of support in place that was very welcoming. And it just made for a great feeling for me to select going down there, but it was really steep and some the disappointment I felt being here. Both of those are the opposite but the two sides of the same coin that gives reason as to why I wanted to go down there. The welcoming nature there, but then also the disappointment of feeling like I'm being dispelled from a place that I love so much in McKinley high school.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It seems like you had some politics running in your veins and some desire at that point where at NC state they were welcoming, they were warm. It is a different culture to a certain extent, but the year 2000 you were elected as the third black president on this majority white campus of 35,000 students. What got you to pursue the opportunity and then get elected?

Harold Pettigrew: 

That was an interesting time. And for me personally I was hyper involved. I used to sign my emails Mahan like when I was sending them to folks, “Forever in the struggle for change.” And that was like, I was a kid, like 19 years old and having that as a signature line.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What a beautiful statement of self-empowerment where you believed through your upbringing, through the environment, through the support, through some of what you had in you, that you were going to bring about that change. I love hearing that. I think beautiful testament of some of your core attributes and development

Harold Pettigrew: 

Thank you for lifting that up. Early on, it was planted within me that the space we occupy should be better when we leave. And I believe that firmly it drives me for what I do today at Waicif. And I've always felt like every place that I'm spending time at, being in the company of others, that place needs to be better and I need to make sure that for all the people that got me here and invested in me in different ways, how I pay that back is making sure those places are better. 

I remember my earliest days feeling that way. From high school, through NC state and beyond it was really present. I just thought about it anecdotally of just lifting that up, but it's with you lifting it, it has reminded me that's always been present for every job for every place that I've been. Thank you for lifting that up for sure.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You were talking about running for president and getting elected.

Harold Pettigrew: 

Yeah. It was a very interesting time. And if you go back to the late 90’s, early 2000’s, there was a lot of the affirmative action discussions. I remember my freshman year being very big debate in North Carolina and state general assembly and things. And for me, there was always this just pension towards activism. And very early on there was a group of us who were really set on making sure that we were going to be active, that we were going to motivate others to be active. 

And I had the good fortune of having upperclassmen that were ahead of me who thought the same way, and he really pushed him motivated for a lot of these different opportunities that student leadership to get involved. When the opportunity came there was a buddy of mine and he unfortunately passed couple of years ago and really young man, Andrew Payne. He was one of the very first people in my life who like, “Hey, you should consider this. I think you have a voice that the campus could benefit from.” It’s something as simple as that and it stayed with me. I went home over the break during my junior year. And it stayed with me I just reflected on it and really came to the why not perspective. 

I've been very active. I was fortunate as well. The fall before we don't have homecoming king and queen, we had leader of the pack. And so I was elected “leader of the pack.” And so it felt like a natural trajectory. I felt like I had something to offer. We're trying to help the school move forward and deal with issues to be able to bring people together and have a steady voice for the times that we were in. So I put my hat in the ring.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You've put your hat in the ring. You were elected and then September 11th happened in your final year at NC state.

Harold Pettigrew: 

It was after my time as student body president and the guy that followed me, I was no longer president, but I was in my final year of school. And I remember some of the messages that were coming out where people were trying to understand what's happening around the country. And Emails coming out, “Oh my God, we're under attack!” “Hey, our family's okay, I don't know what's going on” “Can someone just explain?” 

We all have our experiences going back to that moment. The importance of it to me not to mention the emotional elements of it because it was for all of us, it's an emotionally taxing day and being in DC, I couldn't reach family. And it was on a certain of what was happening here. What it brought into focus for me was I want it to be in New York. 

It was my last year of school. I was debating different whether I wanted to go to law school, or I was a political science kid, so I was like, what do you do after that? Either teach or go to law school. I didn't want to do either. And I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and ended up learning about a fellowship program where you could work with New York city government. It was competitive. They only selected 25 kids each year. But I put everything into applying to that program because I wanted to be in the city. I had different opportunities during summers in the past of going up there for very short periods of time. But when I understood on that day this day was happening in this particular place because it was a special place. And I felt like I wanted to understand why it was special. I want that experience, why it was special but even more, if I could participate in any way of helping the city to come back to rebuild, whatever little way that a college graduate could. I want it to be there. And so it really crystallized what I wanted to do after college.

A program that I ended up participating in was the New York city urban fellows. And I was fortunate to be selected as one of 25 to go up to New York. And for nine months we would have a fellowship with different positions within New York city government. And at this time it was the very beginning of the Bloomberg administration. It was literally their first year we had to interview agencies and those agencies interview us. And where I ended up was to be the special assistant to the commissioner for small business services. And it was interesting because we sat in this room and all the fellows were there and commissioner Walsh was there and he was like, “Yeah, I looked through all the resumes and there was one of you that came from North Carolina and you were involved in student government. I worked in Charlotte and so I have some connection in North Carolina.”

I was like, oh yeah, that was me. There's another one of you, that he started rattling out a couple of different things. And I was like, yeah, that was me. That was a bit of a match for me to step in as a special assistant. And that experience, I have to say professionally was the single most anchoring opportunity that I had to really set the path for everything that I was able to do really after being right there at the right hand of the commissioner, being his assistant, helping him to manage his office the very first year that the Bloomberg administration was there trying to rebuild the city and have it recover. And that exposed me at such a high level to a city operating. 

And the juxtaposition just to connect it a little bit was that I come I was five or six years from having come from a city, Mahan that was going through bankruptcy and had a population of 500,000 people going to a city of 8 million that has such energy and drive behind it and that operated so well. And so in my head, I was like, how does that city of 8 million people operate in such a way where the services are working? There are smart people here thinking big and they built big and everything was just so big in terms of the ideas, the scale of which they were thinking. And the backdrop for me was DC, 500,000 in bankruptcy and all of those things. So it was really this juxtaposition for me and a lesson, because I experienced in New York to have that backdrop of home. And being in New York, and I don't say this lightly, it really restored my faith in what cities can do and what they can be. So it really set the stage for much of my career.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Leadership matters. It is not just that government is not functional. Local government is not functional or the larger you are the less functional you are, leadership matters.

And in New York, the different city leaders, the many people that were active on a government front cleaned up a very dysfunctional, very corrupt government. So by the time you were there, your hope was restored in seeing that city governments can actually function.

Harold Pettigrew: 

Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. And for me even at that time being a student of history, understanding what that arc was, it was amazing that the city actually, and it wasn't even just the corruption, but New York was going through its bankruptcy as well. And to see that over that time period, each chapter that each new leader played and moving the city's story forward it led to that time period. And so it was a valuable lesson for me. And it was the backdrop, frankly, for me coming back to DC in 2005, I studied urban planning. I ended up going to NYU. I studied urban planning, just fitting in this pathway, I have this personal experience at work and we did those kinds of things.

Let me get some schooling just to make sure I'm going back with some more technical skills and ended up going to NYU Wagner which was a phenomenal program. The technical hard skills with being an economist to urban policy. And then more traditional, urban planning all at one. And so hitting 2005 when I graduated, I was hightailing it back to DC and made sure I didn't apply for any opportunities in New York. I knew I wanted to come back home. Cause it was like this fresh injection of New York city energy with the academic training. And I ended up coming back to DC through another fellowship. The capital city fellows program. It started with DC government in 2005.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Eventually as a 31 year old, you made it to become part of the mayor's cabinet. Vincent Gray's cabinet as the city, small business director. What was that experience like for you, Harold?

Harold Pettigrew: 

It was tough just to be forthright. I had been in government across a couple of administrations starting with the Williams administration, through defensive administration and with the Gray administration. And the challenges we were dealing with at the time were very tough. And it's interesting because looking at the acceptance of small business and the wide scale at which entrepreneurship is understood and the ways that it's celebrated now, it wasn't quite the case back then. 

Back then we were building programs to help people to export and to think about international markets and how to leverage programs within the federal government. Because even though the federal government is in our backyard here locally, the formal connections, so that businesses have greater opportunity it really wasn't here. And then the local procurement program has always had its historical challenges. 

It was tough because like you talked about the chapters of a city and how you have leadership over time that build and build and build, we were at this very early stage where the agency had a lot of great need for building. And being an operations guy and everything else, I had to spend a lot of time building a lot of the foundation and infrastructure, that doesn't always align with political time and that doesn't always align with issues of the day and those kinds of things. And so it was really tough, isolating because very few understand what it takes to build a company, to build an organization, to build a government agency. And the team that I had the pleasure of working with we were head down building and it was just tough because that wasn't always understood of what was needed to make an agency that worked for its people, that worked for the small businesses that were here. 

One of the greatest experiences of my career but it was very, it was pretty tough being on a political environment, dealing with city council members and the man's or the mayor's office. And it was a great balance, but it was a tough chapter for sure.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That chapter also enabled you to understand some of the political aspects and other aspects of cities operations. Then in 2016, what drew you to the Washington area, community investment fund that now you serve as the CEO of?

Harold Pettigrew: 

It's interesting. For many years, and even during my time at different chapters at local government, I had actually partnered with Wacif and asbestos short, short articulation of the acronym. I'd often partnered with Wacif to manage loan funds and other small business programs. And in 2015 the previous executive director he had asked, would I be interested in joining a board? So I was actually in discussions about joining a board and then he announced that he would be resigning because he wanted to move closer to family. He was having another child. His family was in Pennsylvania. So I was actually helping recruit a new leader for the organization.

And then one day he asked me, had I thought about taking over a CEO. And I hadn't thought one bit about it until he asked me the question. And the moment he asked me the question Mahan, I could not get it out of my head. 

At the time I was working for an organization. Now call it prosperity now and doing national work focused on entrepreneurship still. I was a director of entrepreneurship, but it was working in the upper peninsula of Michigan and Arizona in New York city. And I really missed working doing things at home. And at the time I was actually considering being a small business director for the city of Detroit. And so I was in discussions with Detroit and I can not just stop thinking about what I could do at home in this role. 

And so it really resonated, I started to shift conversations from joining a board to actually interview for the CEO post. And what I found was that I'm not a finance guy, I'm not a former banker or anything like that. And the board understood that, they wanted someone with a fresh take and an understanding of what this organization could be and how we can have impact in a very different way. And it all worked out during some of our discussions about the future and I poked and prodded a bit as well because non-profit boards can be very tough basically for a CEO. And so I wanted to make sure they knew me coming in. I'm very much a builder. This is home. I'm very passionate about the work. And all of our thoughts on where we could go together. It really aligned as an organization.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's why Wacif is fortunate to have you as a CEO, Harold, because it takes a certain level of understanding and empathy to go through this messiness of the decision-making of what are the right ways of helping elevate the community. There aren't any simple answers that do right by the residence and make it for a thriving entrepreneurial climate.

However, with understanding, with listening, with continual feedback and experimentation, you can make sure that you're contributing to that elevation, helping all of the residents have access to the opportunities that will benefit all of us in return. 

Now you've also gotten involved whether it is being appointed to treasuries community development advisory board, you are now a finance leader fellow at the Aspen Institute, community investment council of the fed reserve bank of Richmond.

So you have a lot of these opportunities to give voice to what the community needs. What do you think should be a priority for all the leaders listening, both with respect to this region in terms of supporting the elevation of the community and just leaders that want to make sure that we have a more equitable future in our communities?

Harold Pettigrew: 

Absolutely. I've been very fortunate Mahan throughout my career now, not only having worked in local government, but seeing a couple of cities now, like DC and New York and applying a lot of those direct experiences to advising other cities around the country. And having done some advisory work with the world bank and pulling in just a lot of different insights.

And often say the lessons in my head aren't being put to use, then certainly goes to waste. And so I've wanted to make sure that in places where I could be helpful, platforms and organizations where I can be helpful that I can provide those insights. And I think for what we do at Wacif day in and day out it provides a very on the ground perspective of what's happening, not only in our communities, but what entrepreneurs need to be successful. And so in that regard, I've tried to bring voice, how do you begin to create a better systems, create ecosystems that work for the people who live in them. And that's been the true line for each of those organizations entities that have really good fortune to be a part of.

There's a couple of things that come to mind. And I think first before we get to any specific tools and those kinds of things, there has to be a deep commitment to what equity means in our communities. Very specifically speaking, if we're not dealing intentionally with issues of race and how that defines our geography, how that defines all of the economic health indicators, any indicator that is a measure of progress in our respective communities, the results are all the same. Particularly you have black and brown communities that are doing worse no matter what the economic measure is, unless we're interrogating intentionally and giving truthfully to the why and developing solutions at a city county state federal level, we are never going to resolve these types of issues. And so there has to be intentionality. 

Like just one example, I always talk about I'm proud to live in East of the River. It is where I was born, it’s where I intentionally live now. And with a lot of our funders and investors that are in this region, I would ask a simple question. Have you ever thought why East of the River Washington DC is predominantly black? It has the worst indicator be it economic or health wise. Have you ever asked a question? If you haven't, that's the starting point. Because we can invest all day, but if it's not being tied to historically what the problems were and us identifying solutions that are tied into those now, I think we have a direct solution that's tied to it and I have to raise money. 

The sourcing of capital doesn't start with me. And if it's not those who are at the source of where capital is being held, being very intentional about understanding here's how we are in a very real way, going to have an impact with, and this is philanthropy. This is corporate entities. This is religious institutions that invest. All the institutions that have capital that's being held and looking to deploying communities at those very central questions are being asked and with intentionality of understanding what the issues have been, and frankly, what role their institutions might've played in them, we're not having a real and genuine conversation.

And so to me, that's where it always has to start. And this is not any different from a federal government standpoint of things where we look at the history of the country and how programs have excluded some and over-invested in many ways with others. We have to be intentional about where we're starting the conversation and understanding what we have to account for in the solution today. Because our communities didn't just arrive this way, so unless we're having a very real conversation, we're not having a real conversation, that to me is where it often starts.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is a great recommendation for all of us in that it starts with asking the right questions and then the willingness to listen to understand, rather than to confirm our previous biases. So asking is where it starts. And I'm really appreciative of you asking those questions also from the leaders in the community, as we look for a more equitable future in our communities, in our society.

In addition to some of the advice that you've already shared with respect to leadership, Harold, I wonder, are there any leadership resources or practices that you typically find yourself recommending to other leaders?

Harold Pettigrew: 

So there's a great podcast to start off with first, Partnering Leadership. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I knew I liked you and you were a smart guy. You are super duper smart. And I really like you.

Harold Pettigrew: 

That is your first place to everyone listening. That is a first place to continue listening, the wisdom and guidance coming out of this podcast. 

It's interesting because what I often try to do is, I'm the worst at reading books and just to be forthright, it's hard for me to sit down, to get through cover, to cover. My way of consuming information and then being in my quiet space is actually podcasts. And it's not just the leadership lessons. There are a number of them that I listened to get leadership lessons, or to hear the narratives and stories of others, to understand what their leadership journeys have been, to see where there ways that I need to check what I'm doing, or understand a different way that I may need to be thinking about.

The work that I'm doing, that's my isolated, that's my insular way of continuing my own progress. One thing I do value is connecting with others. Others who are my former board chair. When I come on board at Waciff, she said very early, one of our very first conversations being in this leadership post. You've been in different leadership positions before, but this one can be very isolating. It can be very challenging, particularly being a CEO. 

But I think this has application beyond that. What will be important is understanding it being at spaces where the similarly situated or you're with those who understand that you having to say all the time, here's a challenge as I'm dealing with. And I tell you that the spaces that I've been fortunate to be a part of, I like to say, as the different tribes that I'm connected to here in this region and nationally has really provided me the outlets and the space to be among brilliant people who are facing some of the same challenges who are out of necessity, innovating and doing a lot of great things. For them it's necessity to have impact in their communities. But just being in spaces where you're experiencing the collective brilliance of others who might have just that small nugget of perspective that weighs heavily and deeply in shaping who I am or helping to give me that next shot at of motivation and passion, or reminding me to get back on a horse. So I just love it. 

From leadership greater Washington, to here locally, to, you mentioned the Aspen fellows and that was a more recent opportunity that I had to be a part of right now. But it's just great spaces to be connected to others. And I think that's one value point that I haven't always appreciated just throughout my career, being in spaces where you can be connected to others who are trying to solve some of the same challenges, just simply having a sort of fellowship in a space of belonging. I think it's even more important for us as leaders to find those spaces.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is really important for us to find those spaces because it provides us the opportunities to also learn from others as I have learned from and grown from your experience, Harold, which I truly appreciate.

Thank you so much for joining me in this conversation, Harold Pettigrew.

Harold Pettigrew: 

Thank you. Truly my pleasure, Mahan. Happy to be here. And love to talk again.