Reena Abraham – CUP Fellow Spotlight

 What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I run the education portfolio at Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national community development financial intermediary.  The education portfolio mostly consists of charter school real estate loans and grants.  I came to work here through my experience with charter school lending at Prudential and my work with charter management organizations.  I’m passionate about education reform and am using my financial services background to help solve non-academic problems that schools face.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
My department runs like a small business within a larger organizations.  My biggest challenge is that I find it to be a lonely place and constantly have to think strategically about what’s next.  I feel very responsible for my team here and decisions I make every day impact them and our work.

What is your proudest achievement?
Building a high-performing team.  When I started, I had little management experience in the US (ran a small business abroad) and it was hard getting the management and leadership piece right.  It took me a long time and sought out training and coaching to help me.  The best thing I did for myself was admitting that I didn’t have to know it all and getting help when I needed it.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
Warren Buffett, Meg Whitman, Dave Levin.  I admire humble, strong leaders.  Jim Collins talks about what makes great leaders and he points to the theme of humility as a differentiating factor.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
It’s hard to say – I can’t say I knew that I’d be here ten years ago.  I’d like to be doing more hands-on work with kids and helping more directly.

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
Yes, I have many mentors.  I find it to be very important to my development.  I come right out and say, “I see you as a mentor, thank you.  I hope you’re ok with that.”  It takes a village and mentors are invaluable.  Goes back to the point about admitting when you need help.

What do you hope to gain from your CUP Fellows Program experience to help you make a significant and positive impact in your community?
I am astounded by the experiences and characteristics of the other fellows.  I’m so happy to be a part of the group and am already feeling the impact.  I think it’ll help me be a better leader and it’ll also help me share the importance of our work and the need for talent in the nonprofit field.  I want to be a good ambassador for providing high-quality educational options to families.  I think the Fellows Program can help me do that.