A researcher, an artist, an inspiration: Dr. Ayoka Wiles embodies the magic of living passionately 

Throughout the course of her life, Dr. Ayoka Wiles has followed her heart. She currently works in arts and culture, global unit, at Open Society Foundations, the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights. Attaining a PhD in Public Policy and Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management, along with two masters degrees, is only the beginning of Ayoka’s inspiring story.  

Her journey to nonprofit work

Born and raised in New York City, Ayoka was introduced to the world of arts and culture at a very young age by her parents whom she says were “artists, entrepreneurs, who were pioneers in thinking about how to change the narrative, especially for people of African descent from the foundation of political and artistic perspectives.” These early years introduced Ayoka to the world of nonprofit and began to shape her future journey.

As Ayoka began to think about what she wanted to do as a career, she found her passion in the idea of arts and culture bringing people together and changing the way people think. This passion led her to earn a master’s degree in nonprofit management, one of the best decisions Akoya said she’s ever made.

This degree opened a world of opportunity in a number of nonprofit institutions and a variety of roles in program development, as a deputy director, an interim director, as well as managing finances and fundraising. In all of those roles, Ayoka has found the deputy director positions to be the most rewarding. 

“The role of deputy director helps you think strategically about the organization, and you have to interface with everyone in the institution,” she says. “Managing the program directors, managing the director of finance, managing the development director, and all of those details that help the institution grow.” 

The power of art

Ayoka’s current work is focused on making grants to institutions in the US, the Caribbean, and Africa. Additionally, she is working in Europe  and Africa to help fund efforts to restore African cultural heritage by returning stolen artifacts to their indigenous owners. Many of these items have been previously stored in museums across the globe. Furthermore, as part of her portfolio Ayoka provided seed funding to build a new fund, The Carribean Culture Fund, designed to invest in individual artists and small organizations.

Tying back to her arts and cultural roots, Ayoka is also an advocate for artistic freedom. She strives to evoke positive change in the narrative and perception of art in society and to use the power of art to raise awareness of social justice issues. 

The importance of a futuristic vision

As her career has evolved, Ayoka has expanded the reach and scope of her impact. After starting her career in Brooklyn, she now does work that effects change across the greater New York area, the United States, and internationally. 

Ayoka always thinks one step ahead of the curve, and this important lesson is something she has kept in her back pocket throughout her career.

“You need to be thinking about what the institution needs five years from now, what the artists are going to need 10 years from now, and when you think about it that way, your scope can be broader, bigger, and more courageous,” she notes. 

A meaningful piece of advice Ayoka has for future generations is to embrace the idea of being adaptable and flexible, and not being afraid to broaden your horizons. 

She shares the satisfaction of honing in on what you love, and the life-changing results expressing your passion can achieve. 

“You might learn something about yourself, and the work that you are doing, that will spark something in you and someone else.”

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