A Conversation with Chris James-Brown

By Michael, Jennifer | Children's Voice, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

A Conversation with Chris James-Brown


Michael, Jennifer, Children's Voice


The number of people who have contributed their leadership to CWLA during the Leagues long history is a small JL. circle. Last spring, Christine James-Brown joined that distinguished group as CWLAs ninth leader in 87 years, bringing with her a fresh outlook on the Leagues future. She stands strongly behind issues related to children and families, and she loves a challenge"The bigger the better."

CWLA, the nation's oldest and largest coalition of child welfare organizations, certainly faces many challenges. When CWLA's Board of Directors appointed James-Brown the League's new President and CEO in April, they put two items on top of her agenda: secure CWLA's financial standing, and begin to build membership.

James-Brown's track record indicates she is more than capable of accomplishing these goals. As President and CEO of United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania for 10 years, she directed a staff of 130 that managed an annual fundraising effort, raising more than $50 million and distributing funds to more than 2,500 community-based agencies.

In 2004, she moved from Philadelphia to Alexandria, Virginia, to become CEO of United Way International (UWI). Over three years, she prepared UWI for a merger with United Way of America and worked to develop UWI into a membership organization, with global standards for members in 30-some countries.

In addition to her work at United Way, James-Brown has served on the boards of the School District of Philadelphia, Community College of Philadelphia, the William T. Grant Foundation, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Bank, Public/Private Ventures, and Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission.

James-Brown gives Children's Voice readers a glimpse of her vision for CWLA's future, including how she plans to facilitate and manage a "transformation" for the League. Although she admits one of her greatest challenges is not having eight days in the week to work with, she does find time for fun outside of work, and she shares with readers some of her personal side as well, including her love of cookbooks, flower gardens, and her grown daughter Arica.

Why did you accept the job as CWLA9S CEO?

I come with a real commitment to children and families, and have worked for the last 25 years in that area. secondly, I like not-for-profit management, I like governance, I like working with boards.

I like challenges and, in fact, we do have a challenge here around transformation and how we take the core mission of an organization that's been around-that's been valued-and make it work in today's world.

It's the same challenge the United Way had. When United Way was started, it was supposed to be the fundraiser for all the organizations in the community. Well, that may have been true 100 years ago when it started, but it's not true now because there are thousands and thousands of organizations in the community. So even the United Way had to rethink. I loved being at United Way in Philadelphia when we were going through that rethinking process.

You have spent most of your career at the United Way. You have also served on many boards. How does this past experience apply to your new job leading an organization that deals with all the issues affecting children and families at risk?

One of the things for me that I've learned is how siloed services for kids are. I'll sit on a board that is dealing with health care needs of kids, and I'll sit on another board that is dealing with educational needs, and there is not enough understanding of how connected those two things should be.

The United Way deals with services across the board and has an understanding of how important it is to not be siloed. United Way recognizes that to get to the whole, you have to sometimes focus on a certain population that will give you the most leverage for forward movement, and kids tend to be that. Most of the United Ways give at least a third or more of their resources to issues related to children. …

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