Kimberly A. Harris
America Needs You
THE MULTIPLIER EFFECT
Fast fact: Tweet her @America Needs You
As CEO of America Needs You, a national nonprofit that helps first-generation college students, Kimberly Harris combined her private-sector legal experience and management skills. The organization has recently developed programs in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Kimberly was a founding board member and has worked as a pro-bono lawyer with clients on political asylum matters, child custody disputes and domestic violence cases. Harris was previously an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where she managed mergers, acquisitions and other complex corporate transactions.
NYN: HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN YOUR FIELD?
KH: I was not the first member of my family to go to college, but still was really passionate about education and giving back, so I got involved at the board level and then when we decided to build the national platform, they asked me to join on to lead the team.
NYN: DESCRIBE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF.
KH: Every day, we have different students pop into the office, and they’re here to celebrate good grades or an internship or graduating from college. It’s just so rewarding every single day to see those great minds go out and do big things. Also it’s exciting because you have the multiplier effect: students will then have their siblings come in and join our program or help their parents get higher-paying jobs. I’m really excited to watch that progression over time. One of our students just graduated. She’s from Kazakhstan, and her parents were going to marry her off and she fled. She ran away and she found herself with us. Our students have had incredible life experiences.
NYN: WHAT CHANGE WOULD MOST HELP THE INDIVIDUALS YOUR ORGANIZATION SERVES?
KH: The reason why we started our organization is because only 11 percent of first-generation students are expected to graduate. I think there’s been this huge movement to help students from low-income families and students who are firstgen to get into college, but the varied support basically goes away because people say, “Oh they’re in college the issues are over.” And that’s absolutely not the case. I think it’s important to have touchpoints at all points of the continuum.
NYN: WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU’D LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE YOU RETIRE?
KH: A goal for people to work toward is that if we can put energy and resources and really collaborate as support systems for college students, the more students we’ll be able to affect and change, and the better position our country will be in.
NYN: WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT YOUR JOB?
KH: I think people are constantly surprised by how much of the work revolves around fundraising. I do fundraising in lots of different capacities: long-term relationship building in all types of spaces between special events, at corporations, foundations. There is a lot of pressure on executive directors for organizations to constantly fundraise.