Kezia Williams, Founder of Capital Cause
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Kezia Williams serves as Chair of Capital Cause, a DC-based fiscally-sponsored nonprofit dedicated to engaging young philanthropists in giving. Her work with this organization has included growing the organization from five vested members to over 5,000 young professionals influenced by the message of young philanthropy.
Who inspired you to do the work you are doing?
In 2008, I volunteered with a grassroots organization that engaged young professionals in supporting Senator Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. As National Events Director of this group, I worked with a team of Changemakers in six different cities to plan fundraisers where admission prices averaged $10; I also worked closely with the campaign to organize weekend volunteer initiatives that lasted four hours or less. Over three months, we were able to raise $500,000 to support the Obama campaign; we also involved 600 volunteers in get out the vote (GOTV) efforts.
When the election ended and President Obama was inaugurated, young professionals involved in this movement began asking the question – what’s next. They wanted to give more and do more. Inspired by their drive, and their willingness to continue legitimizing the impact of small gifts. I – along with four other women – began brainstorming the idea of founding an organization that would combine and use the small gifts of time and money from young people for a cause versus a candidate! This is how the idea of Capital Cause originated; it was born out of Obama’s historic campaign which energized youth. And, it is currently being driven by young people still motivated to give their time, talent and resources today.
What is the biggest challenge facing the United States and how would you fix it?
In DC’s Ward 8, 42% of residents live in poverty. If the government’s definition of poverty is a family of four making less than $23,050 annually – that means in DC’s Ward 8 – 30,000 people (or 42% of this Ward’s total population) struggle to find food, shelter and access to resources daily. The biggest policy challenge facing the United States right now is figuring out how to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9.00. Being able to create a policy that adequately addresses income disparities by increasing baseline wages, will make an indelible impact in how people find pathways out of poverty. It is important for both parties to come to an agreement that supports President Obama’s initiative to meet this goal by 2015. Capital Cause has witnessed the effect poverty has on low-income and no-income families living in DC.
To address this, we have been working diligently – specifically in DC’s Ward 8 – to end the poverty problem. We have provided books to children attending schools where 70% struggle with reading; we have provided healthy food baskets to families experiencing food insecurity; and we have hosted a free community laundry day benefiting families with children who receive free and reduced lunch. There is still more work to be done, and though charitable efforts help provide solutions – I think increasing minimum wage will assist in bringing long-term systemic change.
Where can we find more of your work?
Capital Cause trains a new generation of Young Philanthropists to give collectively of their time, talent and resources to nonprofits and causes they support. We accomplish this mission by planning creatively-themed fundraisers, planning skills-based service projects and inviting supporters to join our Young Philanthropist program. To get involved, we invite all young professionals – interested in walking the talk and being the change – to get involved with the Young Philanthropy movement. Visit us – www.capitalcause.com and Follow Us: @Capital_Cause.
What advice do you have for young people interested in your field?
In order to be successful at diplomacy, you must learn how to work effectively with other people. In order to effectively work with people, you must respect them. It’s the only way to create an avenue for discussion, and lay the groundwork for achieving mutually desirable outcomes and results. In my work with Capital Cause, we connect young professionals to communities that contrast their typical “white-collar, networking” scene. A Capital Cause Young Philanthropist member may close an international business deal at 3:00pm. By 6:00pm, they may do hands-on, dirty work building a community garden for DC Ward 7 residents. Closing the business deal may involve working with men in suits; in contrast, building the community garden may involve working in tandem with people who haven’t been employed in years.
Since our Young Philanthropists move in a variety of spaces, it’s our absolute imperative to teach them how to listen, communicate respectfully and move with purpose. Using a democratic approach, our members choose what nonprofits receive our monetary and service grants, but the communities we serve choose what solutions make sense for their neighborhoods. Our Young Philanthropists then work with key stakeholders to design a project addressing their unmet needs. This is really what diplomacy is all about – making sure the appropriate people have a seat at the table and making sure their perspectives get heard.
What is your favorite book?
Good to Great by Jim Collins –This book provides anecdotes and advice about how to build a great company that lasts. I specifically enjoy the chapter about Level 5 leadership. In this chapter, he validates the concept of servant leadership, and the mantra – “let he who is greatest among you, become your servant.”
What do you when you are not saving the world?
I study biographies. I’m always interested in finding out how someone in history worked to develop themselves, their work, their families and their legacy.
What are your comfort foods?
Salt & Vinegar Chips and Lemonheads.
Who is your favorite musician?
John Legend. I was overjoyed when John Legend joined Capital Cause Young Philanthropists for National Service Day and supported our efforts to give 2,000 books to 2,000 children attending DC Ward 8 Schools where 70% of children struggled with reading.