An Interview with Linda Nguyen

An Interview with Linda Nguyen

Today we're excited to share this interview with Linda Nguyen, who will be the keynote speaker for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference and Day 1 of the YNPN National Conference on June 26 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

As the Director of Civic Engagement for the Alliance for Children and Families, Linda built and currently manages a national initiative that has enabled thousands of community residents across the U.S. to become advocates, leaders and activists. She has worked with the Alliance network to encourage nonprofit staff and board members to embrace civic engagement strategies in their organizations and neighborhoods and to work in concert with community to address key issues in health, education and economic security. Linda is responsible for identifying and nurturing talent, coaching human service organization staff, conducting research and serving as a national advocate for constituent voice.

In addition to her outstanding work with the Alliance for Children and Families, Linda is also one of the early founders of YNPNdc and YNPN National. We spoke with Linda about her experience helping to found YNPN, how organizations can elevate diverse voices, and a few of her favorite spots in the Twin Cities.

You're one of the early founders of YNPN. What drew you to the idea for a network of young nonprofit professionals? How did you go from idea to reality?

I was looking for a job in the nonprofit sector when I first moved to DC in 2003. I knew very few people in the field. I searched for help online, and came across the YNPN (then only in San Francisco) website and saw that people just like me were looking to network with one another for job opportunities and professional development and networking. I connected with a few of those peers in DC, and after a few meetings, we launched YNPNdc. I think our first event attracted 10 people.

I think the lesson is Jump In. Don't be afraid or embarrassed. So what, 10 people came to our first "event." We cared about something and so we created an entity to address the needs we and others had. I then became involved in helping to build the national organization. The national board at that time was made up of local people starting up their own YNPN chapters and we knew we would be stronger if we built together.

What were some of the network’s values back then? Has the network changed in your view, particularly from a values perspective?

Our values "back then" (ha ha, the good 'ol days) were focused around voice (giving young nonprofit professionals a forum and support) and local autonomy (YNPN chapters were self-starting and proud of it). I imagine these values are still present today, and I would think that engaging diverse voices would be a particular focus for the network.

The YNPN National Board meeting for the first time in Denver in 2005. Linda is the second from the left. The YNPN National Board meeting for the first time in Denver in 2005. You can see Linda second from the left.

Why has the idea of “exploring diverse voices” surfaced as such a timely topic?

We are standing in that moment of change where there will be as many young people as old people, as many white people as people of color, as many people with a decent standard of living as those without.

What do we do? We have to make sure that we are hearing from everyone, engaging everyone, and getting as many voices to the table as we are able. When you see these vast differences, you may feel daunted and even fearful. But it is within our ability, and especially for us in the nonprofit and social sectors, it is our collective responsibility that we are listening and attending to everyone.

As Minnesotan Paul Wellstone said, we all do better when we all do better.

How do you think nonprofits are doing at addressing diversity and including members of the communities they work in?

Hmmm, results are mixed. Overall, I think there is more attention being paid to diversity, looking for diverse staff and partners, and including community members. I do think, however, that we have a ways to go in creating meaningful roles for community members to play in our organizations. Are they making decisions? Are they considered equals? Or are they tokens or checkbox fulfillments?

And what is the thinking behind diversity and including community members? Are we doing it just to do it, because it looks good? Or do we see that it actually enhances our work, our programming, our decision making?

Do you have any tips or advice as to how nonprofit leaders could do this better?

Try it. Seek out other leaders who seem to do this well. Talk to them; figure out how their approaches could translate to your work/organization.

Who are some leaders that you think are doing this particularly well?

LIFT.  Check them out.

And finally, what's the best experience you've ever had in the Twin Cities? Do you have any favorite spots to recommend to conference attendees?

Tough one! A lot of ties -- from a ruckus late night karaokeing at The Saloon to exploring the Cedar Riverside neighborhood (near Pillsbury United Communities' Bryan Coyle Center) for its friendly neighbors and enlightening murals painted by youth.

But I think my best experience was walking through Loring Park, above the highway on the Loring Greenway to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry. I did that walk last year with my mom and son and we had such a fun time!
MN Council of NonprofitsTo hear Linda speak on the theme of Exploring Diverse Voices and see a few of her favorite Twin Cities spots for yourself, register for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference on June 26 in Minneapolis.

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