New York is a leader in innovation, and its embrace of transformative change goes far beyond a few industries or sectors. State and local government officials have launched groundbreaking programs that serve as models for others all across the country. Technology startups have developed unique solutions for complex problems plaguing New York and other states. And nonprofits have spearheaded creative initiatives ensuring underserved and vulnerable communities get the support they need.
City & State’s inaugural Above & Beyond: Innovators list recognizes the transformative work that leaders in government, business and the nonprofit sector have done to improve the lives of New Yorkers across the state. While their perspectives may differ, each individual on this list keeps innovation at the top of their minds.
Profiles by Kay Dervishi, Alice Popovici & Jasmine Sheena
In Terri Alessi-Miceli’s eyes, Long Island is a major economic hub with potential for even greater growth. As head of the Hauppauge Industrial Association, also known as HIA-LI, she is deeply committed to driving forward that growth in the region. And her organization’s approach to that goal is multipronged.
“We not only help businesses on Long Island thrive and work in helping with economic development, but we are also stewards for the Long Island Innovation Park,” she says. Based in Hauppauge, it’s the largest industrial park in the Northeast and nationally second in size only to one located near Silicon Valley. The space accommodates 1,300 companies employing about 55,000 people, generating $13 billion in economic activity annually in the region.
The innovation park is the focus of a number of the association’s current projects. Alessi-Miceli hopes to create an overlay district to build apartments in the park and create a workforce training center to retain young professionals in the area.
“We look at young professionals and many of them are leaving Long Island,” she says. “One of the reasons is they don't have any affordable places to live. We're working to move this forward so that they have a place to live and work.”
The association has been instrumental in supporting Long Island outside of the industrial park as well. Alessi-Miceli is especially proud of the organization’s COVID-19 outreach efforts. The organization distributed personal protective equipment and helped local businesses develop their revenue streams amid economic upheavals presented by the pandemic.
– Jasmine Sheena
Not every police officer can say they understand the neighborhoods they serve like Inspector Terrell Anderson. Raised in Brownsville, he now oversees the precinct charged with protecting the area.
“Growing up, I saw a lot of violence,” he says. “I saw a lot of poverty. I lived in poverty. I saw a lot of drug abuse. Growing up and then really realizing who I was, I really wanted to do something about it.” He was also inspired to action by his mother, who worked as a supervisory police administrative aide for the New York City Police Department. “She has been my role model,” he says. “When she started working for the NYPD, I realized that I wanted to do more to help my people.”
During his time with the 73rd Precinct, Anderson spearheaded the formation of the Brownsville Safety Alliance, a widely watched initiative that reduces the presence of police patrols in certain areas of the neighborhood and brings in a coalition of community organizations to provide social services and deescalate conflicts. Anderson was also instrumental in the creation of the Brownsville Community Cafe, which turned the front of the precinct’s building into a community plaza where the police put up local food vendors and engaged with the public in a friendly manner. He felt that effort combatted some of the anti-police sentiment that has grown in New York City during the pandemic.
“We’ll be the first ones to run toward danger,” he says, “but there's so much more to being a cop than that.”
A self-described “data geek,” Commissioner Ana Bermúdez uses statistics to inform her approach to leading the New York City Department of Probation. When she noticed that many people who were rearrested while on probation were 16 to 24 years old, she created a specialized mentoring program to address the issue.
“You have to use data to guide you in what needs to happen,” Bermúdez says. That approach has proven successful. Since the Arches Transformative Mentoring program was established in 2012, data has shown that felony reconviction rates among its participants are nearly 70% lower one year after beginning probation compared with young people who aren’t in the program.
The Arches program is only one example of Bermúdez’s innovative approach to leading the agency. She also oversees the work of 21 community resource hubs called Neighborhood Opportunity Networks, or NeONs, that build connections in the community and provide services such as job training and educational classes. After learning from probation officers that many clients were coming to appointments hungry, Bermúdez brought food pantries to NeON locations in each borough. Open to all New Yorkers, the Nutritious Kitchen program fed more than 500,000 people in 2021.
Bermúdez says the success of the NeONs hinges on “participatory decision-making,” a process that ensures community members help select the arts or athletic programming offered locally.
“We meet with the groups throughout the year,” she says, “and make sure that they represent the fabric of the community.”
– Alice Popovici
When the coronavirus pandemic abruptly shut down New York City offices in March 2020, Charmaine Bourbon and her staff at Grant Associates’ Brooklyn Workforce1 Career Center – which helps about 3,000 people find work every year – had to quickly figure out how to move the three-office operation online.
“That’s where we really had to pivot,” Bourbon says. By June 2020, the team had already placed more than 800 unemployed people in new jobs.
Bourbon, who was working as a human resources manager for American Express at the time of the 9/11 attacks, says her experience dealing with that crisis helped her manage the transition to a virtual environment at the beginning of the pandemic. That included working with her team of 40 staff members to help businesses transition to virtual recruitment via Zoom or text and to remote onboarding for new employees. Since then, the career centers have been operating on a hybrid schedule, connecting clients with the remote jobs they are asking for while also finding qualified employees to fill growing vacancies in the hospitality and security services industries.
“The innovation really comes in how we deliver our services,” she says of Grant Associates.
A native of the Bahamas who came to New York City in the 1980s, Bourbon says her experience in one job she held earlier in her career has helped inform her current work with the nationwide workforce development organization. She previously worked to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness and dealing with the criminal justice system, a population her organization often works with today.
Global warming is making severe storms and extreme weather events more common, something Nick Cardillicchio understands deeply through his work with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Now, he plays a key role in getting cities, counties and certain federal government agencies across the country to work with Tomorrow.io to better prepare for such emergencies.
The company boasts a software platform that gives precise and accurate weather forecasts predicting where and when storms will come, allowing agencies and organizations to improve their responses. That information helps “a huge organization make better decisions that affect whether or not you’re stuck in a traffic jam for four hours,” Cardillicchio says.
Hurricane Ida in particular generated increased urgency among many government agencies and cities to be better prepared for extreme weather. The 2021 storm’s severity caught many officials off guard, resulting in catastrophic flooding that killed dozens of people across four states, including New York. Tomorrow.io has made the case that its flood risk index could make a difference. And the company’s work is only getting more comprehensive, as evidenced by its plan to launch a fleet of satellites to hone its weather forecasting across the globe.
Cardillicchio has helped secure partnerships with several agencies in New York and elsewhere. The company has begun contracting with the New York City Department of Sanitation, while the MTA and Suffolk County have been in conversation with Tomorrow.io as well.
“They usually, almost universally, instantly clue in to how this solution could help them do what they’re already doing better, faster, with more precision,” he says about the officials he’s spoken with.
– Kay Dervishi
A few years ago, Microsoft decided to concentrate its efforts to promote its products in five states: New York, Florida, Texas, California and Washington. The tech giant chose Peter Chynoweth to lead its efforts in the state of New York, with a focus on New York City.
Chynoweth is responsible for helping a number of city agencies use Microsoft technologies to solve a variety of challenges. Under his guidance, one client recently adopted Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. Used to provide data storage and computational scalability and to run custom machine learning algorithms, Azure has helped the client as it analyzes COVID-19 patients’ DNA to understand the effect of the virus and to individualize treatments for each patient.
That’s not the only way Azure has helped governments solve pressing problems. After Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that penalizes motorists and repair shops that modify car exhaust systems and mufflers to make them louder, inspectors were burdened with the cumbersome task of going through video of cars that violated the new law to connect violations to a specific license plate. This process proved to be inefficient and riddled with error. Azure helped streamline the process of going through footage.
“What we try to do on an everyday basis is figure out how we can use our technology to enable the City of New York to better deliver for the constituents of New York,” Chynoweth says. “I understand how technology can solve business problems.”
Shortly after Anna Mercado Clark joined Phillips Lytle about a decade ago, the law firm began to explore promoting diversity, equity and inclusion and ways to build paths to help people pursue careers in law. Clark recalled a program run by the Queens District Attorney’s office, where she had served as an assistant district attorney, to visit high schoolers and discuss the law with them.
“When I came to Phillips Lytle, I was thinking about what is a good pipeline program,” she says, “and I said, you know, we have this program at the DA’s office – why don’t we do something like that? Let’s get to these kids before they even go to college and have them start thinking about potential careers in the law.”
She ended up crafting a program partnering with middle schools and high schools in underserved communities, introducing students to the law by role-playing actual court cases and building skills to help them get into college and find jobs in the future. To date, Phillips Lytle has engaged more than 1,500 students this way.
That’s just one way Clark puts innovation at the forefront at Phillips Lytle. She’s also an expert in data security, privacy, e-discovery and digital forensics. That insight is a boon to her clients, and the firm as well.
“I’ve been assisting the firm in terms of technological innovations,” she says. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean buying the brightest, shiniest, newest software, but it means being smart about how we deploy technology, how we train our people.”
Nolvia Delgado has come full circle. From 2008 to 2011, she participated in the Kaplan Leadership Program run by the Kaplan Educational Foundation. This past March, she became the organization’s executive director.
“I think this is my proudest moment, to be able to lead the foundation that has given me so much,” she says.
Delgado attributes her lifelong passion for education to her mother, who didn’t graduate from high school. “She always told my brother and me that education would be our way out,” she says. “It was the key to success.” That fueled her push to participate in the Kaplan Leadership Program, which provides low-income students financial support and guidance as they complete an associate’s degree and go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.
After completing her education at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Smith College, Delgado delved into roles that allowed her to help expand educational opportunities for others. She spearheaded work at Cypress Hills Local Development Corp. ensuring schools provide holistic support for students and families. Later, at the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Delgado oversaw a partnership with five New York City public schools that connected students to programs providing college guidance, mentorship and internships. She even spent time in London, leading the firm’s community partnerships there.
Now, as the Kaplan Educational Foundation is preparing to bring on its 16th cohort of students, Delgado has been focused on the future of the organization. Among her priorities: expanding access to internship opportunities for students and honing a hybrid model for its programming.
Since Andrea DeMeo joined Trillium Health in 2015, the health center has grown tremendously. When DeMeo first arrived, Trillium employed a little more than 100 people and had about $15 million in annual revenue. Today, some 235 people work at Trillium, which is now a $53 million organization.
What’s been vital to that growth, DeMeo says, is listening to the patients they serve in Rochester and responding to their unmet needs.
For example, Trillium launched a mobile access clinic in 2019, delivering primary and specialty care to patients in Rochester who face transportation barriers.
“Little did we know, when COVID hit, how vital that asset was to responding to our community,” she says. The mobile clinic, which has played a key role in getting people tested for COVID-19 and vaccinated throughout the past two years, is just one of many ways that Trillium has delivered on its mission to ensure the physical, emotional and social health of its patients.
In addition to overseeing care at Trillium, DeMeo puts advocacy for health centers at the forefront. Trillium Health is designated as a federally qualified health center look-alike, which means it functions much like a federally qualified health center but without the benefits of full designation. DeMeo co-leads a national coalition of other organizations classified as look-alikes to draw the attention of government officials to their work and needs as safety-net providers.
“We’re looking for ways to sustain what we have,” she says, “and then build more sites that can serve those that need us the most.”
In March, Áine Duggan’s organization changed its name from The Partnership for the Homeless to The Partnership To End Homelessness. That shift reflects the nonprofit’s belief that homelessness is solvable and that prevention is key.
“If we could step in and provide the rental assistance that’s needed by those families that are in arrears, a) it would be the most humanitarian solution, and b) it would also be the most cost-effective solution,” Duggan says. “It is a lot cheaper for the government to provide rental assistance than to take on the cost of shelter.”
That’s exactly what The Partnership To End Homelessness has been doing – and it has become increasingly critical during the coronavirus pandemic. Before the pandemic, families that came to the nonprofit for help were on average in arrears of about $1,000; in the past two years, that number has shot up to $4,000.
What makes its model effective is that it aims to provide full rental assistance for the families seeking assistance, rather than leaving them in the position of cobbling together assistance from multiple organizations. The nonprofit also tries to help clients stay in their homes by negotiating with property owners and connecting them to legal assistance.
For Duggan, it is also critical to make sure that New Yorkers understand that homelessness disproportionately affects women and children of color.
“To have a conversation about homelessness is to have a conversation about gender primarily,” she says, “but to go even further, it is to have a conversation about gender and race, inequity and discrimination.”
Kenneth Ebie is used to jumping into new, unfamiliar work – starting years ago when he worked as the campaign manager for Kenneth Thompson as he ran to become Brooklyn district attorney.
“I was given the opportunity, even though I did not have the experience running a campaign,” he recalls. That campaign was ultimately a success, making Thompson the first Black person to serve as Brooklyn’s top prosecutor.
Ebie has since held several roles in New York City government, where he’s continued to do innovative work. For example, at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, he created a program focused on getting the television and film industry to take on more sustainable practices.
Those roles led Ebie to his current post as the inaugural executive director for Black Entrepreneurs NYC, an initiative housed under the New York City Department of Small Business Services. The initiative helps Black entrepreneurs gain access to capital, mentors and other resources essential to growing their businesses. More than 500 entrepreneurs have turned to Black Entrepreneurs NYC’s mentorship program, and the initiative has sought to bolster business owners’ marketing efforts to expand their customer bases.
“We’re trying to set up a program that really creates infrastructure for Black businesses and Black founders to get those resources that they need to be able to not just start a business,” Ebie says, “but to start a successful business that they can ultimately use to employ more people in the community, and ultimately to transfer wealth through passing on to future generations.”
The United Way of the Greater Capital Region is a leading nonprofit in upstate New York, supporting communities across eight counties. It has drawn attention from the likes of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who directed $1 million in federal funds to the nonprofit, and philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, who donated $5 million to the organization in 2020 – the largest gift in its history.
As its leader, Peter Gannon oversees a network of more than 25,000 donors as well as partnerships with local companies and nonprofits. Recently he spearheaded the creation of The Blake Annex, an upscale co-working space for nonprofits to use and collaborate in, which formally opened in April. Groups including Prevent Child Abuse of New York and the Capital District YMCA have made use of the nonprofit hub. He hopes to see similar co-working spaces catering to nonprofits created in more communities since cash-strapped charities often cannot afford to upgrade their office space. Gannon also manages the United Way chapter’s outreach programs that provide summer meals to New Yorkers and operate community centers connecting families to social services and other resources.
Gannon credits some of his success in leadership to previous experience working with the United States military.
“When I was in contract with the army, it was doing real estate development and attracting private entities to invest in underutilized government facilities,” he says. “I think managing relationships with a number of stakeholders and a lot of different audiences was a huge strength that I gained.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority paid out $916 million in contracts to minority- and women-owned business enterprises during fiscal year 2021 – more than any other state agency or authority.
As the MTA’s chief diversity officer, Michael Garner played an essential role in that achievement, which he attributes largely to the MTA’s Small Business Mentoring Program. The program helps certified businesses develop to eventually be able to bid directly on contracts ranging from $100,000 to $3 million.
Garner crafted the program after joining the MTA about a decade ago. Since then, it has awarded $560 million in contracts to MWBEs and small contractors.
“It’s one thing for a small, minority-owned business to work as a subcontractor,” he says. “It’s a different thing where they’re working as a prime contractor to North America’s largest transportation network.”
Garner has also made sure that the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop the MTA from reaching its MWBE utilization goals, awarding more than $100 million in contracts over an eight-month period in 2021.
“We went out of our way to solicit quotations and get the minority business community involved in selling us COVID-19 products and equipment including masks and gloves,” he says. “And a lot of those companies that we hired to sanitize our system were in New York state-certified minority- and women-owned firms.”
Garner is also proud to have recently overseen the second-largest contract award made in the history of the state’s MWBE program: a $278 million contract won by Century, a Hispanic-owned company in the South Bronx.
Cryptocurrency has rapidly proliferated in use across the world. About 16% of adults in the United States say they’ve used or invested in cryptocurrencies, while big cities like New York and Miami are helmed by mayors who have courted the cryptocurrency industry. Arun Ghosh of KPMG, a multinational accounting firm, has spearheaded efforts to help governments and companies integrate the blockchain technology into their work.
“There are big, vocal champions disrupting their own governments in terms of absorbing, understanding and incorporating blockchain technology. New York is one of the most advanced in terms of how they want to regulate and how they want to see companies participating in the web3 ecosystem,” says Ghosh, referring to the concept of forming a decentralized internet based on blockchain technology.
A major product he helped launch, KPMG Chain Fusion, makes it easier for the multinational accounting firm’s clients to offer cryptocurrency-related services to their customers by integrating a number of related technologies needed to facilitate cryptocurrency transactions.
Ghosh’s work now leans more toward supporting clients’ climate goals. He helps companies create scalable plans to reach targets related to decarbonization and net zero emissions, as well as helping them integrate technology that advances their environmental, social and governance goals.
Ghosh advises those looking to work in cryptocurrency to gain hands-on experience.
“I’ll break it down very simply: it's one thing to read, it's another thing to actually transact,” he says. “You only learn by doing.”
The Black Car Fund’s efforts in support of independent black car drivers dates back to 1999. That’s when then-Gov. George Pataki signed state legislation creating the organization, which used a surcharge paid by customers to guarantee that drivers have access to worker’s compensation coverage.
More than two decades later, Ira Goldstein oversees work at the fund that goes beyond worker’s compensation. About 100,000 black car and rideshare drivers now have access to a myriad of other benefits through the Black Car Fund, including a $50,000 death benefit for driver’s beneficiaries, health benefits giving them access to vision, dental and telemedicine services, and wellness classes.
The fund has also made sure to keep assisting drivers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It gave out about 15,000 kits consisting of personal protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer to drivers early on in the pandemic. And during the surge of cases related to the omicron variant, the Black Car Fund teamed up with the Independent Drivers Guild to distribute thousands of at-home COVID-19 tests to drivers at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports in Queens.
Goldstein takes obvious pride in leading an organization that takes innovative approaches to helping independent workers who may not always have a safety net. “It also allows the public to have more confidence in the drivers,” he says, “that when they’re getting in the car, they’re well taken care of and that it’s safe.”
After George Floyd was killed and racial justice protests swept the nation in 2020, many companies began to evaluate whether there was more they could do. The Community Preservation Corp., an affordable housing finance company, was no exception.
Those internal discussions resulted in the creation of CPC ACCESS in 2020. Funded with $40 million, the initiative provides capital and assistance to entrepreneurs of color in New York aiming to build new housing.
Lawrence Hammond and Wilhelmena Norman-Hernandez, both longtime employees at the Community Preservation Corp., are charged with ensuring the initiative’s success. To that end, they’ve surveyed developers to identify their needs and developed strategies to support their growth and finance their projects.
“We become that friends-and-family network that, oftentimes, majority developers have inherently through generational wealth creation,” Hammond says.
ACCESS works with businesses owned by people of color across all levels of experience. The organization runs a training program in upstate New York for less-experienced real estate developers, preparing them to work with its lending teams on future projects. But the initiative also provides working capital to more experienced developers and even more specific technical assistance.
That work has been transformational. One developer whom Hammond and Norman-Hernandez assisted had been rejected by seven different lending institutions before coming to the Community Preservation Corp., which helped to successfully complete a mixed-use project in Poughkeepsie.
“I think that what we’re seeking to do is to make sure that those experiences are no longer common,” Norman-Hernandez says.
When Grubhub assembled its first government affairs team in early 2020, the online food delivery company turned to Amy Perlik Healy to lead its work. Experienced in governmental relations and public policy in New York City and Washington, D.C., Healy now oversees a team that communicates with local, state and federal lawmakers and raises awareness for the needs of Grubhub and its delivery workers.
Healy works closely with staff members across the country, playing a key role in setting the company’s public policy strategy while also coordinating with other organizations and allies, such as restaurant associations.
“In order to be effective we have to have open dialogue with policymakers,” she says. “We need that transparency so that we can work together to pass laws that allow our business and restaurants to grow.”
In recent months Healy has been pushing for the passage of the Food Donation Improvement Act, a proposed federal bill that would provide more leeway to restaurants, grocery stores and schools to donate food to people in need without legal liability. The legislation aims to reduce both food insecurity and food waste across the country.
“It's local community-based restaurants being able to provide good quality food that might otherwise go to waste to local people in need,” Healy says of the legislaton.
Last year, Healy also spearheaded efforts in New York City backing legislation that would provide more benefits to delivery drivers, including guaranteed access to restaurant bathrooms, minimum pay and limits on delivery distance.
As the leader of the SUNY Bronx Educational Opportunity Center, Ronnie Hector helps Bronx residents and employers alike.
That was illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the state allowed more people to become temporary nursing assistants. Hector’s organization provided training to help those workers become fully certified nursing assistants – and is now expanding that effort with nursing homes.
“Being able to, as a group of folks, look at how we can serve the city better by addressing the needs of employers is something that I’m very, very excited about,” he says, highlighting the collaborative work done by Educational Opportunity Centers, or EOCs, around New York City.
His organization has been active in helping locals find health care jobs. That goes beyond just getting residents employed – the centers also help clients advance their careers.
“They’re stackable now and they are career-pathway focused and student-centered,” Hector explains. “So if you’re a home health aide, you can then move on to actually work for six months and if you’re in good standing, you’d come back to the EOC and become a medical assistant or a nursing assistant.”
Hector has ensured those courses and trainings have continued during the pandemic, offering programs in-person and remotely – and providing laptops for students to continue attending classes. Hector also oversees efforts to offer those programs directly to residents by partnering with local nonprofits, contractors and other organizations.
“It’s not just people coming into the EOC,” he says, but the center “going out into the community and serving people where they are.”
Jen Hensley was working in marketing and external affairs at the Alliance for Downtown New York, a lower Manhattan business improvement district, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As the organization’s priorities shifted to contend with the aftermath of the tragedy, Hensley was exposed to the power of the intersection of public and private partnerships as the alliance used private funding to support 9/11 recovery efforts and to help families and small businesses directly affected by the attacks.
The experience set Hensley on a course of corporate advocacy, leading to her current position at Lyft as a vice president and head of government relations. Since joining Lyft, she has spearheaded numerous efforts to support gig workers, who are vital to the rideshare company’s work.
“We at Lyft spend a lot of time and resources building direct relationships with drivers, listening to them about their experiences on the platform and what they need in order to maximize their experience on Lyft,” Hensley says. “This was very, very central to our business, ensuring that drivers are able to protect their flexibility and independence.”
Hensley successfully pushed for groundbreaking legislation to help rideshare drivers in Washington state earlier this year, creating a model for other states. Her work led to Lyft drivers obtaining benefits such as paid sick leave and support for workers who have their accounts unjustly deactivated by the company. She’s now working to get similar legislation passed in other states as well.
In February 2020, Hannah Jackson was assisting with a three-year pilot program at New York City Health + Hospitals to expand digital health services. A month later, the COVID-19 pandemic began to ravage New York City – and Jackson was tasked with scaling up telehealth infrastructure seemingly overnight.
“We had a couple of pilot visits total in the month of February and then, by the first week of March, we were doing 20,000 visits a week,” she recalls.
Two years later, Jackson has transformed that telemedicine infrastructure beyond emergency response and into a key tool to better deliver health care – just one of many initiatives she has taken on since joining the city’s public hospital system in 2018 to help improve its approach to primary care and outpatient care.
Those measures address everything from ensuring that patients can continue seeing their own doctor to improving scheduling. For Jackson, that means proactively identifying challenges, evaluating data and patient outcomes, and researching successful approaches at other health systems.
That’s what went into one major initiative Jackson crafted at Health + Hospitals: the Collaborative Drug Therapy Management program, which brings on specially trained pharmacists embedded in care teams throughout the health system. That program ended up driving improvements for patients with chronic illnesses, particularly those with diabetes.
Being able to work in a large health system in New York City fuels Jackson’s work: As she explains it, “You get to do a small thing in our health system and it immediately affects a million outpatients.”
In the past several years, micromobility has boomed in New York City – largely because electric scooters and throttle-based electric bicycles were illegal to use in New York state until 2020.
Phil Jones played a key role in that legalization push. Part of the movement’s success came by partnering with delivery workers, who were also advocating for the legislation because they used electric bikes and scooters to make deliveries.
“We partnered very closely with the delivery workers’ coalition in the work that we were doing,” he says, “not only because we saw this new form of transportation as a sustainable and reliable option for people in the city, but also because we were really talking about the same thing.”
Now, Jones is helping Lime expand its work in New York City. The company participated in the New York City Department of Transportation’s pilot program rolling out e-scooters in the eastern portion of the Bronx last August. Since then, riders have made more than 225,000 trips using Lime’s scooters to get around. Starting this summer, the pilot program is entering its second phase, expanding the number of available scooters from 3,000 to 6,000 and including more neighborhoods.
“I think you’re going to see it grow and proliferate throughout the city,” Jones says. “So it won’t stop just in the Bronx. It will be something that you’ll see in the other boroughs as well, especially those that have connectivity issues or have transit deserts.”
Tania Jospitre first joined the Urban Resource Institute about a decade ago, taking a role interviewing survivors of domestic violence and studying their experiences over time. After leaving to work in New York City government and at another nonprofit, Jospitre returned to the organization in 2018, this time to head a new department.
Plenty had changed since she first worked at the Urban Resource Institute. The organization had grown, operating many more domestic violence and family shelters and taking on new programs, including abuse prevention initiatives. As vice president of quality improvement, evaluation and training, Jospitre is now focused on ensuring they all run effectively and best serve their clients.
One piece of that is collecting accurate data to evaluate programs. “Before this department, we were very much a paper-based agency,” she says. “You can imagine, all of our information, in terms of our clients, was kept in paper-based charts.” Jospitre spearheaded the shift to electronic record-keeping, instituting a new cloud-based case management system, which she says has led to “a lot more efficiency.”
Jospitre also oversees staff development initiatives. “We have well over 50 trainings that are available to staff,” she says, “trainings that really focus on engagement skills, how to effectively engage clients in a way that's nonjudgmental, neutral, trauma-informed.” Under her leadership, the nonprofit also instituted a new platform that allows staff to take on self-directed training, a particularly important resource for employees who work overnight.
What has been Jospitre’s proudest professional accomplishment? Building effective, innovative teams throughout her career.
Matthew Khaled initially planned to pursue a career in human resources recruitment. But after speaking with the first program director for emergency management at the Metropolitan College of New York, his mind was changed.
“I didn’t realize that there were all these systems and people and processes that were in place to help people after an emergency – and I was just completely enthralled,” he recalls.
Bringing with him an extensive career in academia and government, Khaled returned to his alma mater starting in 2011 to engage students interested in the field. Since then, he has taught classes aimed at giving students real-life experience in helping an organization on a project, such as developing emergency plans.
One of those projects includes collaborating with residents of Co-Op City in the Bronx to research and implement text messaging and social media platforms that can be used to communicate with residents to share information in the event of an emergency.
Beyond his teaching work, Khaled also leads emergency preparedness initiatives at the utility company PSEG. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, he has been able to lead training programs remotely with staff, preparing them for worst-case scenarios surrounding gas leak emergencies. The company also established a virtual emergency operation center, which Khaled and others at PSEG have used to coordinate with one another while responding to recent storms such as Hurricane Ida.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” he says. “That’s always been the common thread in anything I’ve done.”
As remote work becomes more common thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Lloyd Levine is helping state governments modernize their technology to adapt and attract workers.
Levine says T-Mobile is offering an inexpensive way to enable a hybrid work system for employees, providing the infrastructure for them to work both at home and in person. For example, the telecommunications company has products that allow for content filtering to block websites unrelated to work and has measures to keep cybersecurity up to date.
“If you're an employee in California at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you're in a secure facility and you have secure computing connections,” he says. “You're potentially accessing Social Security or other tax ID numbers. I'm not worried about the employees, we've got protections there, but when you send those employees home, they're now operating on an unsecured router. I'm sure the cybercriminals are well aware of that.”
Throughout his time at T-Mobile, Levine has built teams of consultants across the country who are familiar with their respective state governments and can educate government officials about the company’s technology. His team assesses governments’ needs and develops potential solutions that the company can provide.
As people are increasingly surrounded by technology, he feels governments need to adapt to optimize their operations and more effectively engage with citizens, which T-Mobile is helping them to do.
“Yes, we are excellent at selling phones,” he says, “but we do so much more than that.”
Having grown up with parents who fostered 24 girls, Melanie Littlejohn fully understands the value of serving others. She brings this spirit of service to her work at National Grid, an electric and gas utility serving more than 20 million U.S. customers
As vice president of community and customer engagement, she strives to educate the public about National Grid and its impact on the environment. Littlejohn, who has spent nearly three decades at the company, also oversees its corporate social responsibility initiatives, such as Project C, a program that provides funding to sustainable construction projects and is spearheaded by community organizations, cultural institutions and affordable housing developers.
The Syracuse-based executive strives to drive environmental stewardship and social impact forward through her work, with a focus on workforce development and neighborhood investment.
“We are doing a tremendous amount of work in clean energy and community engagement,” Littlejohn says. “You can't focus on one end and not look at the whole intent of being a good corporate steward.”
Littlejohn lists supporting customers in Far Rockaway in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy as one of the most notable accomplishments of her career. “They needed homes to have power restored to,” she says. “We spent three months in a parking lot in Far Rockaway, New York, working with unbelievable community partners.”
Helping others recover from great loss has shaped her as a person, she says, and continues to impact her goals for bettering the community.
For Jomil Luna, the professional and personal aren’t very far apart. Whether he’s helping host LGBTQ events or doing volunteer advocacy, Luna is also a trusted resource for people seeking advice or services related to HIV treatment and prevention.
“It makes me feel extremely happy that I am like a figure in the community that people can honestly trust, that people feel comfortable with,” he says.
Born and raised in Camden, New Jersey, Luna went to Rutgers University with plans to become a doctor – but he studied public health instead. That led him to an internship at the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, where he began helping people with HIV not long after getting his own HIV diagnosis. That experience blossomed into a career working at organizations such as BOOM!Health and the Hispanic AIDS Forum.
Now, Luna serves as a pharmacy specialist at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, where he helps HIV and PrEP patients navigate the process of accessing medical care, understanding insurance coverage and getting to appointments. Those efforts continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, as he kept connecting patients to telemedicine appointments.
Luna keeps busy with plenty of other activities, including planning for the Bronx LGBT Expo, which was founded by a late friend of his, organizing performances and bringing on vendors for the event. On top of that, Luna has advocated for funding for a federal government program that helps safety net providers obtain HIV/AIDS drugs and regularly interviews people for a community spotlight project he puts online.
Leading environmental justice initiatives at the New York Power Authority allows Kaela Mainsah to bring her “whole self” to work.
“It’s not very often that you can bring your whole cultural heritage and your technical career together for the benefit of the job,” says Mainsah, a native of Zambia and a chemical engineer.
She plays a key role in leading programs at the New York Power Authority aimed at supporting communities across the state located near the public utility’s facilities. One piece of that is NYPA’s workforce development and youth education programs centered on science, technology, engineering and math.
“We want to make sure that they are aware that the jobs of the future are going to be in clean energy,” she says. That exposure comes in various forms, including hands-on projects teaching students about electric vehicles, helping students interested in STEM careers to obtain an associate’s degree and hosting workshops for youth.
Mainsah also oversees energy projects designed to help the broader community. One recent initiative she handled came about during the COVID-19 pandemic, as food insecurity and hunger increased. She partnered with food banks and urban growers to establish hydroponic gardens, which allow food to be grown indoors without soil. That initiative had the dual goals of supporting research into sustainable agriculture and allowing local residents to grow their own produce. Those efforts resulted in 12,000 kale plants that produced 700 pounds of produce enjoyed by Buffalo residents.
As the COVID-19 pandemic decimated businesses owned by people of color, Kristin Malek has been busy crafting solutions to best support local entrepreneurs.
For Malek, that’s not just celebrating “mandates and percentages” or giving businesses access to capital. As she puts it: “It’s making sure they have the ability to grow and have capacity and to partner with our organization.”
CDW, a company that provides technology products to governments, businesses and other institutions, regularly coordinates with small businesses owned by people from disadvantaged communities. Malek spearheads those partnerships, helping steer some $3.4 billion in funding to diverse suppliers throughout 2021.
Her work has only expanded in the past several years – recently, her team doubled in size. Malek also oversaw the creation of a new mentorship protege program aimed at building even more opportunities at CDW. Five businesses certified as minority- and women-owned business enterprises in New York City are currently part of the program, through which they simultaneously participate in trainings and work with CDW’s sales team. The revenue for those five MWBEs has tripled since the program’s inception, according to Malek.
“There’s a gap of legacy ways of doing impactful sourcing and now there are transformative ways,” she says. “And so we believe that you can do both. You can be a teacher, but make them revenue-enabling programs.”
What makes CDW’s diversity initiatives stand apart for Malek is the company’s longtime commitment to those efforts.
“We’ve been doing this for two decades,” she explains. “It’s the way our procurement was founded.”
New York City’s Town+Gown program is a unique partnership that brings together academics and professionals working in construction and in New York City’s built environment. Run by the New York City Department of Design and Construction’s Terri Matthews, the initiative aims to foster projects between scholars studying the field and those working in it, while also cultivating research to develop new policies and best practices.
“Because we're in government, we can support academic research,” she says. “We've solved the procurement problem. It makes it easier for universities to collaborate with us.”
Matthews’ interest in construction dates back to her time working in procurement in the Bloomberg administration. Procurement in New York City is divided into various fields such as human services, construction and goods. To her, construction seemed like a much simpler aspect of the process to focus on improving. Matthews volunteered to manage a working group that was focused on procurement-related work and construction.
“What they were lacking was the ability to investigate underlying causes and systemic interactions,” she says. “What I noticed was that there was no easy way for agencies to get academic resources.” That experience ultimately empowered her to understand the need for and value of marrying practical and academic knowledge, a revelation that fueled the creation of Town+Gown.
More than a decade later after its inception, Matthews says the program could be a model for other parts of the state with concentrations of universities, working to improve infrastructure beyond New York City.
After spending more than a decade at Graham Windham, Sharmeela Mediratta has earned a reputation as an innovative leader in New York’s child welfare sector. The nonprofit organization, which provides services such as internship programs and mental health services to children and families, has created groundbreaking programming under Mediratta’s supervision.
One notable program, the Graham SLAM, provides ongoing support to foster youth even after they have left the foster care system, up until the age of 26. Youth coaches advise young adults through different stages of their lives, from high school into college and until they begin their careers. Mediratta has been working on the program since she helped launch it in 2014.
“My role was to convene a group of people who really understood what was needed and wanted, and that included a number of young people who were in foster care and listening to what had been helpful to them,” she says.
Mediratta also helped establish O.U.R. Place, a family enrichment center created with government support from the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. It serves as a community center for vulnerable local families in the Bronx, connecting them to financial counseling, housing assistance, food pantries, community activities and other resources.
For Mediratta, the key to successful advocacy is listening to people and communities.
“How do you create solutions to the issues that constituents are bringing forth? How do you listen to what they are asking for?” she says.
Tunisia Morrison’s passion for advocacy and community work is in her blood. She grew up shuttling between her parents’ home in South Jamaica and Crown Heights, where her grandparents lived. Her grandmother had founded Cush Campus Schools, a private school educating students in the predominantly Black community, while her grandfather was a close associate of Malcolm X.
“That was my childhood: growing up learning public speaking and advocacy, not really realizing how innate it was in my life until I got to college,” she says.
Morrison started her career at a lobbying firm, where she learned formative lessons for the future.
“Though I had a company that was paying me to represent them, I felt so strongly about bridging the gap,” she says, “being the person that also went to the community to say, well, what is it that you want that I can amplify?”
She went on to become Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman’s chief of staff, immersing herself in the communities of Southeast Queens and helping spearhead legislation to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday. Not only did the latter effort succeed, but Morrison helped to lead planning for the Juneteenth Festival in Queens this year.
Now at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, she is working to ensure the residents of Southeast Queens are engaged and involved as John F. Kennedy International Airport undergoes a multibillion-dollar redevelopment.
“I’m literally on a tour of both worlds,” she says, “and being this bridge somewhere in the middle.”
Catherine Moss landed her first job in construction while she was in college at Fordham University, and she never looked back. A decade later, she discovered that she didn’t have to choose between having a family and an executive-level role in the industry – she could do both.
Now Moss is part of the management team at ADCO Electrical Company, overseeing a wide range of technology projects at the Staten Island-based electrical contractor. And she wants to serve as a role model for others interested in the construction industry. She says women do not see construction as a viable career path largely because they are vastly underrepresented in the industry, especially at the management level.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” says Moss, who also serves as a board member for the nonprofit Nontraditional Employment for Women. But for many women who have few other employment opportunities, she adds, a job in the trades is an opportunity to “provide for their entire family and make a lucrative career out of it.”
In New York, women account for just 7.6% of construction occupations such as carpentry, plumbing, pipefitting and electrical work, according to a 2016 report from the New York Building Congress. But Nontraditional Employment for Women – which has helped place approximately 3,000 women in trades careers since 2005 – is working to increase these numbers by helping women from low-income and underserved communities build careers in this industry.
“It was an organization that I just couldn’t look away from,” Moss says.
Running IDEKO, one of New York’s leading experiential event agencies, is no small job, but Cal Nathan has successfully orchestrated high-profile and large-scale live events worldwide.
Together with his business partner Evan Korn, Nathan has worked with prominent brands and companies to advertise their products. That includes supporting a project run by late fashion designer Virgil Abloh, in which decorated spheres were placed across New York City to highlight a collaboration between Nike and Louis Vuitton. In 2018, Nathan also helped produce a surprise concert for Calvin Klein and Amazon Fashion featuring rapper A$AP Rocky, promoting the brands’ new partnership.
Now, after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Nathan sees live events as vital to New York City residents and tourists alike as travel picks up again.
“I think it's important to note that we're bringing people back to the city,” he says. “The city is coming back to life and visitors are returning after the pandemic and we are encouraging these types of brand activations. Bringing people out to experiences and drawing them into the city is something that I’m very proud of.”
Beyond his work at IDEKO, Nathan is also heavily involved with Teach NYS, a group he helped found that advocates for government funding for private Jewish, Catholic, Islamic and independent schools in the state. He has actively worked to advance STEM education in those schools, supporting efforts to build STEM labs where students “can build things and see technology and innovation in action.”
Rachel Noerdlinger made headlines earlier this year when she joined Actum, a global consultancy firm launched in late 2021. Alongside fellow Mercury alum Michael McKeon, Noerdlinger has played a vital role in building up the firm’s New York office since January.
The veteran communications strategist has made strides to put Actum on the map. Actum’s New York office now boasts 12 employees and made a splash with a recent hire: former Bronx Borough President Rubén Diaz Jr.
“For me, one of the joys so far … is the marriage, the intersectionality between a high-level media strategy and amplifying issues and brands and legislative items,” she says, “to the duality of building a practice that is very strong around coalition-building.”
For Noerdlinger, coalition-building encompasses everything from the upcoming midterm elections to racial justice. “We have so many different issues that we need to mobilize around, whether it’s criminal justice reform, climate justice, cannabis, gun violence reform,” she says.
Mobilizing around civil rights issues has been a long-running theme throughout Noerdlinger’s career. This year marks the 25th anniversary of her work as the go-to spokesperson for Rev. Al Sharpton. But especially in the wake of the deadly Buffalo supermarket shooting this year, she understands there’s much more work to be done to combat racism and violence.
“It’s hard to measure what success looks like in racial justice when you have so much working against you,” she says. “But you’ve got to wake up every day and be faithful and really have conviction.”
Since she co-founded her company in 2018, Maryann Pagano has overcome plenty of obstacles. That includes growing to a staff of 30 – despite the COVID-19 pandemic – and confronting preconceived notions of what a women-owned business can do.
“Sometimes, when I first started saying diversity partner, it came with a tough stigma,” she says. But her company, BlackHawk Data, proved that “a diversity partner has the chops to do what’s needed and the skill that is needed.”
Pagano, who has 15 years of experience working with state and local governments, now helps deliver a range of technology solutions to New York City agencies. What sets BlackHawk Data apart for her is that it takes a broad look at what agencies need when delivering its services.
“At my old job, we sold to the city,” she says. “We only sold one vendor. But we never really looked at the city holistically and said, ‘What’s best for the city? What are they trying to solve? What vendor would work best in their environment?’”
Beyond the day-to-day work, Pagano prides herself on mentoring her employees and establishing a professional environment that allows them to become immersed in different aspects of the company’s work, whether it’s finance or sales or marketing.
“I think not building silos is what makes it successful,” she says. “Because people can feed off each other and help each other and feel it’s okay to jump in when you want to.”
For Rachel Rea, working at Boingo presents a chance to dive into exciting and innovative projects.
“I don’t think people traditionally think about telecommunications as an extremely innovative industry, right?” she says. “They think of your old parents’ phone lines or whatever.”
But that’s not how Rea sees it. As senior vice president for operations at Boingo, she has had a hand in major expansions of wireless networks in the New York metropolitan region, managing their construction, activation and maintenance. The company has worked closely with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, expanding wireless services at Atlantic Terminal and delivering service to John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports.
One project Rea is particularly proud to have worked on is bringing wireless services to East Side Access. More than a decade in the works, the $11 billion construction project connecting the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal is expected to be completed by the end of the year – and will feature 4G and 5G voice and data service thanks to Boingo.
“When you do walk through it and you look at just what’s been built and how seamless the connectivity is, while you’re going from two stories underground to 21 stories underground – it’s pretty incredible what we built there,” she says.
Her advice for people interested in working in the wireless industry? Keep looking forward.
“Don’t just think about the past,” she says. “Think about where this could possibly go.”
John Shegerian has a message for New York City apartment dwellers: Tell your super to contact Electronic Recyclers International and request a bin. Your neighbors will thank you.
“Everyone has junk, whether it’s cables or mice or keyboards or laptops that need to be recycled responsibly,” says Shegerian, who co-founded the e-waste recycling company in 2002. “And they hold on to them because they don’t know what to do with them.”
Shegerian, who was born and raised in Queens, says securing a contract with the New York City Department of Sanitation in 2013 – with the help of his wife and fellow co-founder Tammy Shegerian – was a pivotal moment for his company. Since then, ERI has seen significant success citywide, distributing its recycling bins to more than 8,000 buildings.
“You want to show your hometown that you did some good here,” Shegerian says. “If we can make it here, we’re now going to be able to make it anywhere.”
Nationwide, the company has recycled more than 3 billion pounds of electronic waste to date. Like other organizations that Shegerian has co-founded with various business partners – offering second chances to formerly incarcerated individuals through Homeboy Industries, making financial aid more accessible at FinancialAid.com and helping people sleep better with Som Sleep, to name several – ERI measures success based on what he calls “a social impact bottom line.”
“My companies not only need to make a profit, they also need to make the world a better place,” Shegerian says.
A fourth-generation educator who has worked with several New York City agencies in the last 15 years – and also serves as an adjunct professor at Indiana University – Terrence Stroud says he loves having the kind of job where every day is an opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life.
“We are doing adult education,” says Stroud, who oversees training and workforce development programs at the New York City Department of Social Services, the nation’s largest municipal social services agency. “We’re teaching and educating our staff on critical policies and systems and professional development.”
Stroud says the structure underpinning all of this work is an agency-wide learning model he developed along with his team of about 150 staff members, which includes four key areas: curriculum development, technology solutions, evaluation practice and equity. Each of the four pillars includes programs and initiatives that often use the expertise of outside organizations, such as the agency’s partnership with CUNY to launch anti-bias training for staff members.
Over the years Stroud worked his way up to leadership roles at the city Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development before joining the Department of Social Services in 2018. Ever since Stroud began his career with the city, he knew that if he ever had the opportunity to lead a team, he wanted to give everyone a chance to have their voices heard.
“There are people that have been here for decades, so they have a wealth of knowledge,” he says.
With more than 15 years of experience, Devin Tucker has been a powerful force in advocating for affordable housing.
Previously, Tucker worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as a national director at the National Housing Trust. Those roles eventually led him to his current position as vice president of social services at the real estate company Fairstead, where he oversees initiatives connecting community residents to social services promoting health and wellness, financial literacy and workforce development.
“I think what we've been able to accomplish at Fairstead is to demonstrate how housing can be a platform for supporting health and wellness needs and, in this case, how it is a public emergency,” he says.
For example, in the past year, Tucker estimates the company hosted nearly 40 COVID-19 vaccination clinics. “That's especially important considering that about two-thirds of our current portfolio is senior communities,” he says. Tucker has also been supporting projects that would bring more access to technology and recreational facilities for Fairstead residents, while simultaneously connecting tenants to emergency rental assistance.
Tucker says that mission-driven real estate needs more humanitarians and urges people to think about how their career skills, even if they are concentrated in a different discipline, can be used to help advocate for affordable housing.
“You may be a doctor, for example, but think more broadly about how what you are learning can be applied to an affordable housing context or a context where there are low-income residents,” he says.
Angela Wu’s upbringing informs her passion for making government work better. When her parents immigrated to New York in the 1980s, they struggled financially, relying on public assistance to get baby formula. What made a difference in changing their circumstances, Wu remembers, is when her father secured a job with the U.S. Postal Service.
“I became the first one in my family to go to college – and I now have a Harvard degree and two master's degrees from Yale,” she says. “And I think for me, none of that would have been possible if the government hadn’t been there to support us.”
She started her career at a firm transforming formerly industrial wasteland into public parks, working on projects such as the transformation of Brooklyn Bridge Park. “Coming out of that experience is when I realized one of the biggest stakeholders – if not the biggest stakeholder – driving the transformative future state of cities and states is government itself.”
Wu went on to join the consulting firm Guidehouse, where she helped New York City and New York state agencies to solve various challenges. For example, she has worked with the city Department of Homeless Services to assess homelessness initiatives across all city agencies. During the pandemic, Wu has also worked with local and state governments to figure out how to best manage federal funding.
Recently she made the move to Slalom, where she will continue to advise government leaders on innovative solutions, with an emphasis on using technology to achieve them.
NEXT STORY: The 2022 Power of Diversity: Black 100