KHA Q&A: Meet Vanessa Farrell

In this KHA Q&A, Director of Programs Vanessa Farrell reflects on the value of collaboration and the feeling of seeing people who look like her at the decision-making table.


KHA: What was your path to KHA?

VF: I worked for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which was a client of KHA. I was the main contact for our Southern Obesity in Appalachia Listening Sessions. It was a very intense period of time, seven sessions in seven states in seven weeks, reaching almost 700 people.

Through that relationship, I found that I really enjoyed working with the team at KHA. Before that, Keecha and I worked on some projects around thought leadership and exploring areas of interest for the foundation and bringing people with those topical areas of expertise together to better understand what the field was saying relative to that. Keecha served as a facilitator for us. That’s how I got to know KHA.

KHA: What’s been the most rewarding part of your work here?

VF: The most rewarding part for me has been the collaborativeness of the team and the way we’re able to move the work along because of the collaborative spirit of folks. The other thing that really excites me about the work is to see it come to fruition. We plan for these events and then to see it happen is really exciting.

InDEEP has been a big focus of my work over the past few months. We are working in an environment where folks are remote, yet responsive. We have all these moving parts, and for some reason it works. Everyone does their part in making the whole puzzle come together.

KHA: Why should organizations care about racial equity?

VF: I think companies should care about racial equity because we have a shift that’s imminent within the U.S. as a whole, where people of color will actually be the majority. The workforce should be more reflective of the population that we’re serving.

Specifically we are working with philanthropies, and philanthropy, for the most part, is about helping those who are in areas of low resource to really provide that type of safety net or support services.

Equity has to be a part of that. Everyone is not privy to the same level of resources in their everyday life, so programs (social, educational, economic, etc) must be designed in such a way that people who are more vulnerable can receive a higher dose or targeted approaches, relative to that type of service. It doesn’t mean that others don’t get, but it’s just means being mindful that here’s a group or population that may need a little extra to bring them up to the same level, so that we are creating an even playing field.

KHA: Why do you care about racial equity?

VF: In terms of racial equity for me, personally, I want to see people like me at the decision table. I think that when there are people who look like me serving people who look like me that the outcomes are significantly different or even significantly better. Not that people who don’t look like me can’t do that, but people who have specific lived experiences bring a whole new dynamic to the conversation.

I feel there is no way around the whole issue of racial equity. I think it has to be present. It has to be represented.  When I walk into a room, that’s something I usually scan for: Do people here look like me? It’s a silent conversation that happens all the time for most people of color.

KHA: If you could recommend one book, related to your work, what would it be and why?

VF: There’s a book that I always go back to by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It really shows the human side of people. It talks about how when people are more attuned to other people’s plight, when you understand where people are coming from and are more mindful of their day-to-day struggles and can relate on that level, it creates a whole new way of interacting with that particular person.

I think it’s key to the work we do, especially InDEEP. I think people have to recognize the humanity in other people, regardless of their privilege or lack of privilege. When you pull back all those layers, people want the same thing across the board: They want to be seen, heard, and respected.

I think this book kind of speaks to that. The work we do brings people around to the human side of encountering others.

KHA: What’s something about you people might be surprised to know?

VF: I love to sing. I don’t think people know that in my previous life I did a lot of singing on stage. I think that’s something I don’t share a lot, so people would probably be surprised that I have that talent hidden.

Even now, there’s this burning desire for lights, camera, action. I’m not sure if that comes from my singing days, but I envision myself on a stage, whether it’s singing or talking.

KHA Q&A is an ongoing blog series, currently focused on highlighting the Keecha Harris & Associates team, to help you get to know our KHA family better.