Aisha Nyandoro always knew she wanted to run a nonprofit organization. Pursuing her doctorate degree was a natural step in learning the right language and insider knowledge needed to be an effective leader in the nonprofit space. But when Aisha found herself working as a research analyst post graduation, not running a nonprofit, she knew it was time to listen to her calling.
Connecting with Her Roots
With the support of her husband and her mission clear, Aisha went back to her roots in Mississippi, “I was raised to believe that you grow where you’re planted.” She made it her mission to take on systemic issues helping residents recognize their innate power and voice.
In 2013, she helped launch Springboard to Opportunities, an organization that provides a range of services to families who live in federally subsidized affordable housing. As she started working with residents, she quickly realized most of their interactions with case workers involved a power disparity and the focus was on what those residents and families could and could not do to continue receiving benefits. The focus was not on dignity and the ability for these families to make basic decisions. “The conversations are never centered around ‘What is it that you need for you and your family to be successful?’ We want it to be profoundly different than that.” Springboard to Opportunities is a “radically resident-focused” organization that now operates in 11 housing communities in Mississippi and other locations in Alabama and Maryland.
Taking on the systems that enable and perpetuate poverty is not an easy task, but Aisha has stayed motivated because she truly understands her purpose and feels honored to be able to show up everyday and live it through her work. She also finds inspiration in the women she serves. “I’m talking about women who are making less than $12,000 annually and living in extreme poverty. Our system is designed in a way in which it is hostile towards families who have limited financial resources. But these women still show up with joy and humor and laughter and feel determined to create a better life for themselves and their families, in spite of all of the odds that are constantly stacked against them.”
Advice to Future Changemakers
In 2017, Aisha wanted to start a cash without restrictions initiative called the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, an effort that provides low-income, Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi $1,000 cash on a monthly basis, no strings attached, for 12 months straight. She also wanted to make sure that Black women’s voices were a part of the conversation around economic justice and equity.This bold initiative and willingness to call out systemically entrenched disparities has been groundbreaking and a complete success. Aisha’s determination serves as an example to future leaders.
To the next generation of social workers, activists, and changemakers, Aisha’s advice is to trust yourself. “I think we spend so much time with this narrative of ‘not being enough’ which lends itself to fear and being afraid to do or try anything.” She believes when you hear the calling, you have to trust it.
“Whatever that voice is – listen to that. The chatter is so much louder, which makes it really hard. But that’s where you have to be centered in your space and your purpose. Whatever gets you through – that’s the part where you have to be centered, so that you can hear that voice. I listen to my voice, and it’s been wildly successful.”