Risk-Taking Philanthropy Work Can Make a Big Urban Impact – Next City

Risk-Taking Philanthropy Work Can Make a Big Urban Impact

“L.A. neighborhoods are so diverse, and have so much potential,” says Shauna Nep.

Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders.

Name: Shauna Nep

Current Occupation: Director of Community and Innovation, Goldhirsh Foundation and LA2050

Hometown: Vancouver, Canada

Current City: Los Angeles

Twitter Tag: @shaunanep @GoldhirshFdn @LA2050

I drink: Coffee

I am an: Extrovert

I get to work by: Biking when I’m in a rush, walking when I have time

The area I grew up in is: Suburbs

Shauna Nep bikes to work in Mid-City, which borders West Hollywood. The area has a walkscore of 95.

What was your first job? My first job was as a youth organizer in Los Angeles Unified School District. I worked directly with students to answer the question: How might we design a better lunchroom with the goal of encouraging healthier eating? Together with students, we used lessons in behavioral economics and human-centered design to increase the consumption of healthy foods — testing everything from ad campaigns to mobile applications that tell students the lunch menu ahead of time.

What is your favorite city and why? Despite having lived in some of the greatest cities in the world, I would have to say Los Angeles. L.A. is really having a moment right now with so much positive change underway. And unlike other cities, L.A. still has a sense of possibility. I feel lucky to be working on a project that is so entrenched in the region and invested in its future.

Did you always want to do this work? I have always been passionate about creating impact, but I never thought of philanthropy as the approach. Truthfully, it wasn’t introduced to me as a career option. There is so much potential to create impact when you are able to be nimble, opportunistic and risk-taking in a small, private foundation like the Goldhirsh Foundation.

What do you like most about your current job? Finding smart, creative people doing incredible work to improve the region guarantees inspiration on the daily. And, there are always opportunities for learning, experimentation and growth. And of course, our small but mighty team.

What is the coolest project you worked on? I was brought on to the team at Goldhirsh Foundation to help launch LA2050 — which has continued to be the coolest project I’ve worked on. Through our crowdsourced grants challenges, we’ve awarded $2,000,000 to 20 incredible projects and more importantly, we’ve built a community of Angelenos who care about L.A.‘s future. I’m especially excited about the L.A. Street Vendors Campaign and Trust for Public Land’s network of Green Alleys.

What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? I think right now, the biggest challenge headed our way is keeping public transit competitive. Millennials are choosing transit over car ownership for a number of reasons, which is great, but Uber is already changing that. How will the autonomous vehicle change cities? Will we be ready? We are working with the Mayor’s Office and LADOT to help Los Angeles — and other cities — get ahead of and work alongside tech and innovation so we can embrace it and make sure emerging technologies also make our cities healthier, stronger and more equitable.

The L.A. Metro is breaking ground west, and “it’s an exciting time to be in L.A.,” says Nep.

What’s your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? Other major cities like New York City and San Francisco seem to have such a clear brand and narrative. Despite being an incredibly diverse region with rich culture, a tech scene bursting at the seems, a robust transportation system, and just about every industry you can imagine — L.A. has a reputation that reduces it to Hollywood and car culture, and it’s hard to compete with that narrative. And for a city filled with the best storytellers the world has to offer, somehow, we suck at telling our own story. This is something we’re passionate about — challenging that narrative and pervasive myths — and transforming the external facing brand of L.A.

What’s the best professional advice you have received? Honestly? Ask permission before you make introductions. Always.

Who do you most admire? I am a big fan of leading by example, so I love how Alissa Walker has used social media to demonstrate that L.A. is walkable. When it comes to alternative transportation — policy changes and infrastructure are incredibly important — but so is changing the hearts and minds of Angelenos. Alissa has done an incredible job of telling an entirely different story of Los Angeles.

What do you look for when hiring someone? We look for someone who is passionate about refining his or her process and work. It’s always attractive to do something new, but there is also something really special about craftsmanship, and doing a few things really well.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? When you are passionate about an issue area like many urban leaders are, it is easy to lose sight of what you’re good at, and focus only on what needs to be done. Tools like Imperative and Kolbe have helped me transition from doing what I thought I was supposed to do, to finding what will bring me joy. My advice: Take the time to analyze your unique, intrinsic strengths and skills — and find a position that really allows you to use them.