Results for America: 5 in 5: Eshauna Smith, Urban Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer

5 in 5: Eshauna Smith, Urban Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer

Results for America
July 14, 2020

Results for America Fellowship Alumni give five answers in five minutes. This month, we caught up with Eshauna Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Urban Alliance.

Summarize what you do and how you do it.

Urban Alliance seeks to increase economic opportunity and level the playing field for low-income youth of color through paid professional internships, job skills training, and mentoring.

Share something exciting that you’re working on.

I’m excited for three upcoming opportunities: 1) Our national virtual event on July 15: “Our Dreams, Our Time: Celebrating the Urban Alliance Class of 2020” featuring remarks from John B. King, Jr. and lots of student voices; 2) A collaboration with a few other national organizations to scale our youth workforce development solutions and reach more youth and young adults who have been impacted by COVID-19; and 3) Reimagining our programming for the upcoming school year to ensure that as many students as possible are able to connect to the workforce even as social distancing regulations remain in place.

Tell us one thing you learned from someone else during your RFA Fellowship.

I learned a lot from Sam Schaeffer, the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Employment Opportunities. Sam was always cool under pressure, generous with his time and insights, and a true collaborator. He taught me a lot about leadership and the kind of leader I hope to grow into.

If you could wave a magic wand and have any data or evidence, what would it be?

At Urban Alliance, our most elusive and most-wanted piece of data is long-term employment numbers to be able to track our students’ economic progress over many years.

What’s the [pick-your-adjective] job you’ve ever had?

The most foundational job I had was my first one out of graduate school at The Moriah Fund. It was a crash course in how nonprofits can affect social change. From what felt like a course in ‘DC 101’ after moving here, to an immersion in every kind of nonprofit leadership and their inner workings, to the space to think deeply about effective servant leadership, my work at Moriah really gave me the foundation for everything I do now and for the way I think about our work at Urban Alliance.

Extra Question: How is Urban Alliance adapting its work in response to COVID-19 and urgent calls for racial equity?

Like many organizations, COVID-19 required us to adapt our programming to a completely virtual world, which I’m proud to say we managed to do. Our goal was always to keep our students earning and learning throughout this difficult time, and with the support of the Urban Alliance community, we’ve done just that. Our students are from the low-income communities of color being hit hardest by not only this virus, but by the violence stemming from systemic racism. Urban Alliance’s mission has always been deeply rooted in racial equity — it’s all about providing youth from communities of color with the social capital, skills, and experience needed to bridge the opportunity gap in the working world. The current climate has only strengthened our resolve for our work and our belief that what we’re doing really matters. Hiring a Black or brown student right now is one of the most impactful things a company can do to advance racial equity, because the opportunity gap only widens over time. It’s imperative that we start the hard work of leveling the playing field early, and opening doors and hearts to students of color is the first step.

Eshauna Smith participated in Results for America’s What Works Nonprofit Fellowship.