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It’s the shoes.

(It’s not the shoes.)

There’s a saying when someone great moves on to a new opportunity, the person behind them “has some big shoes to fill.”

I get it. When leaders are great, they ignite something in you – a sense of the possible that you didn’t feel before, and a sense of “we got this” that fires you up from the inside out.

A friend of mine once said to me when I was in a similar leadership transition: “It’s not about filling their shoes, Maria. Your shoes are pretty fly. It’s about coming in with your own.”

That is where I find myself today on this day of transition. I succeed a transformational leader in Carla Javits – a woman who has taken an idea and ignited a movement, a leader who has given language, voice, and undeniable traction to the notion that business can be a uniquely powerful force for good. A catalytic tool in ensuring that all people are seen for the talent they hold, not the barriers they face. Carla is feisty and fabulous, all 5’4” of her. And supported by an incredible team of talented colleagues around her, she has artfully pulled that arc ever closer to justice and put “employment social enterprises” — these once anomalous businesses whose profit powers their purpose of ensuring overlooked talent is truly seen— on the veritable map.

So I come to this role understanding the import of the baton being passed to me. I get that Carla’s a pretty big deal. And after 16 years working for an employment social enterprise myself, after a decade and a half sweating the beat of these businesses every day and seeing first-hand the truly essential workers in our economy, I know that to change the narrative on where talent lies in our country, we need all our voices. I just happen to be the one stewarding that mission for this next leg of the race.

And what a race it is.

These past two years have taught us that the world is fragile and not immune to fracture, that our country can only recover from historic and profound inequities by countering them with greater force. It is that force that compels us at REDF to prioritize BIPOC leaders and leaders with the lived experience of those they serve as central to our five-year strategy, and that force that invites us to explore how we must shift and grow as a stronger partner in this work.

We come to this moment as both student and teacher, looking to learn and looking to share. And together, in partnership with you and inspired by the leaders we have the honor to serve, we will not only reveal and reinforce the talent in our country that many often don’t see, we will also find our way back to recovery, to hope, and to joy in the process.

And I can’t wait to get started.

Looking forward to learning with you in the months and years to come,
Maria Kim

p.s. It’s worth noting that Carla’s shoes are pretty fly too. (And fun fact: we just happen to wear the same size.)

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