The Life of a Non-Profit CPO - A Few Gray Hairs at a Time
Rheneisha Robertson, MPH | Chief Program Officer
Over the many years I have worked at the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES), I’ve been fortunate to work in a number of different capacities and roles in the organization. My tenure with IWES began over 14 years ago as an enthusiastic graduate intern with an altruistic heart to serve the people of New Orleans. As a native New Orleanian and young woman of color, I had a passion to give back to my local community and work towards creating an environment where all people, especially those most underserved and disenfranchised, could gain access to the resources and services they needed to thrive and lead whole, healthy lives. For many years, I imagined that passion would lead me to the medical field, but instead I was guided toward a career in public health, where my interest was piqued in the areas of Maternal and Child Health and Community Health.
My search for practical grounding in community-based public health soon led me to IWES, whose mission to “improve the mental, physical and spiritual health and quality of life for women, their families and communities of color” perfectly aligned with both my personal and professional goals. I jumped at the opportunity to join the organization, and minus a brief hiatus, have been enthralled in the work of IWES at almost every level in the organization, having filled positions as Program Coordinator, Program Director, Director of Programs & Operations, Executive Director, and Chief Operating Officer. This may just sound like a laundry list of titles and positions, but for me, it has been an amazing journey in both my personal and professional growth and has given me an opportunity to learn and impact positive change at the various levels in which the organization addresses health and well-being - the individual, interpersonal, community and societal.
As a seasoned public health professional now (with the gray hairs to prove it), and with the expansion of IWES’ programs and initiatives, I embrace a new and exciting role as IWES’ Chief Program Officer (CPO). As CPO, I have the responsibility of ensuring the effective management of IWES’ existing programs and identifying and securing new opportunities for programs and projects that carry forward the vision, mission and strategic goals of the organization. A key feature of this position is to ensure that each program and initiative aligns with IWES’ theory of change and supports the organization’s strategic goals. My job also involves tracking program performance and success, supporting cross-collaboration among programs, identifying problems or challenges, and supporting staff in course correcting. This senior leadership position also involves developing and nurturing partnerships across all sectors, including: government and social services, academia, systems that support health, education, and justice. This position really pulls on one’s ability to understand the context of a community’s lived experience, the factors and determinants that influence health outcomes, and an ongoing analysis of a community’s needs and assets.
My varied experience at both macro and micro levels within program management, operations, and strategic planning has prepared me well for this position and allows me to support my team in accomplishing our goals at both levels. As we work towards impact, it is imperative to have someone on the team who can both manage and ensure we are meeting individual program deliverables, while also ensuring those deliverables are feeding into the organization’s larger, strategic goals. Having worked at IWES over the last 14 years at various levels and being involved in the development of program and strategic organizational goals has sharpened my abilities to tackle this new position at IWES, and I look forward to many more years to grow.