With an eye on politics and policy, Indira took a major detour — and never looked back
Indira Henard has spent the last 20 years in Washington, D.C. — and, for most of those years, she was focused on a career in politics.
“My first love is policy and politics,” she says. “I worked for then-Senator Barack Obama and, when he ran for president, I divided my time between his senate office in DC and the Capitol Hill office.”
Despite her busy schedule, Indira carved out time to volunteer for the DC Rape Crisis Center, the oldest rape crisis center in the country.
Soul searching — and finding a new path forward
Even though her political path seemed destined, working with the rape crisis center changed everything for Indira.
“Senator Obama won his first presidential election, and I did some soul searching,” she says. “I loved working in politics and I loved working for the Obamas. But when I was at the DC Rape Crisis Center I was so, so excited about the work I was doing. I was a hospital advocate and I was so passionate about supporting these women.”
With that, Indira decided to make the leap and leave her political work to pursue a full-time career in serving survivors of sexual violence.
“I remember saying, ‘I don’t know what that career looks like, but if you have an opening, I would love to be considered.’ Of course they did and, as they say, the rest is history. Instead of taking the Yellow Brick Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I took a massive detour and I did what I was called to do. Now it’s been 13 years.”
Leading the DCRCC into its next stage
Since being named Executive Director five years ago, Indira has focused on advancing the agency’s work and ensuring they’re in the community, where they can deliver the most impact. She’s also been heavily focused on cleaning up the organization, repairing stakeholder relationships and nurturing funders. Indira also brought a new board on.
“When I accepted the position I had to say ‘yes to the mess’ and just dive in,” she says. “We were in crisis. We were on life support. And, suddenly, all eyes were on me — but we turned things around. Now I feel like the rape crisis center’s journey and my journey as a leader are really a Cinderella story. The last five years have been absolutely amazing and we’ve been able to accomplish so much.”
Some of this work, she notes, has extended far beyond DC. In 2016, Indira and her team went to Lagos, Nigeria to help open the first rape crisis center there, in partnership with leading international NGOs. The mobile center focuses on supporting area refugees.
For this and for the DC Rape Crisis Center’s other outstanding work, Indira and the team were named Agency of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers in 2019, and received the Best of Washington Award for Community and Social Services in 2019 and 2020. The center was also named one of the Best Places to Work by the Washington Business Journal in 2019 and 2020.
“We’ve also been able to secure multi-million dollar funding and clear up debt,” Indira says. “It’s nothing short of spectacular. I’ve been really humbled.”
A career disrupted for the greater good
“Coming to the rape crisis center was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a very long time,” Indira says. “And it’s been an incredible journey from volunteer to staff to running the center — but it’s been so rewarding and life-changing.”
She also says much of her success at the rape crisis center can be attributed to her political background.
“I always say my alter ego is almost like Olivia Pope. People call me when they’re in crisis so I can have these hard conversations,” she says. “But I constantly remind folks that there’s no magic formula. I knew we had so much work to do at the center — and I knew that work was sacred and unscripted…and hard. So I committed to give it my all, and that is what I’ve been able to do.” But, Indira notes, she wasn’t the only one rolling up her sleeves. “My staff is absolutely amazing. I have one of the best teams in the game. We are a 24/7 direct service agency. We have been on the front lines of serving survivors of sexual violence. We have been on the front lines of social justice and racial justice.”
When Dr. Christine Blasi Ford have her testimony on the Hill, Indira says, the DC Rape Crisis Center was front-and-center, supporting survivors of sexual violence who were affected by some of the triggering testimony. They stayed on the Hill for more than a week, supporting people who gathered.
“We have been supporting survivors who have been impacted by not just the record number of disclosures that have been happening under ‘Me, Too,’ but just how these high-profile cases such as Bill Cosby and Jeffrey Epstein have been impacting survivors,” she says. “And now we fast-forward to COVID-19. This is a watershed moment for sexual violence work and we have expanded our services. We’re available seven days a week. We built additional infrastructure into our 24/7 hotline. And all of our services are free.”
The majority of their clients, Indira notes, come from marginalized communities.
“The majority are Black and brown folks who are being impacted in prolific ways as a result of what is happening,” she says. “And for me, there is no higher honor than being in service and of service to survivors of sexual viole