By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — David A. Jackson, a 25-year veteran of government, philanthropy and nonprofits who has focused on affordable housing and on workforce and economic development, has been named executive director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem.
Jackson, who is president and CEO of the Center for Working Families in Atlanta, will begin his new job in November, succeeding Gayle Williams, who has led the $154.5 million-asset foundation for 19 years.
Kathy Mountcastle, chair of the foundation’s board, said in an email message to colleagues that the organization’s senior staff would remain, “ensuring continuity in our approach and grantmaking.”
Under Williams, the focus of the Babcock Foundation has been helping to move people and places in the Southeast out of poverty.
For the next two years, the foundation will be completing a 10-year strategic plan, and then embarking on a new strategic plan that will be informed by its current work, Jackson says.
Jackson, who has a special interest in creating business-ownership opportunities for residents of underserved communities, says his work has taught him that “change is most sustainable when people who want to change participate and lead in making it happen.”
Change also results from “learning and listening and doing it through collaboration,” he says.
Both the Babcock Foundation and the Center for Working Families are rooted in working in partnership with other organizations to improve the lives of people and places in need, he says.
A native of New York City who grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx, Jackson says he saw a lot of abandoned buildings as a child and told his mother, when she asked him what he wanted to be when grew up, that he “wanted to be the guy who builds buildings.”
He studied architecture at the High School of Art and Design, and received a bachelor of science degree in architecture from the New York Institute of Technology, then went to work for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, where his first assignment was helping tenants take over the management of apartment buildings by turning them into limited equity cooperatives.
He later worked as associate director of the Atlanta office for the Enterprise Foundation, one of the largest financiers and developers of affordable housing in the U.S., and then returned to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development as assistant commissioner of homeownership.
Before joining The Center for Working Families, he served as vice president of One Economy Corporation, a global nonprofit that works to use technology and information to help plug low-income communities into the economy.
He led One Economy’s expansion into new markets, including Atlanta, San Antonio, New Orleans and Kansas City.
Operating with an annual budget of $4 million and a staff of 30 people, the Center for Working Families serves about 1,200 people a year, providing intervention services such as connections to support services for roughly half of them, and deeper services such as job coaching and financial coaching for the other half.
Jackson, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, says he learned in business school that “if someone does it better, don’t try to do it yourself, just buy it or partner to get it.”
The Babcock Foundation “works with communities and nonprofits that don’t have unlimited resources,” he says.
“At the Center for Working Families, I sometimes tried to think of our work like an auto plant that assembles cars from parts such as windshields and seats manufactured by other companies, working with them to serve the ‘end-user,’” he says. “We were more effective by working together with other nonprofits to serve our constituents.”
In the case of low-income families and neighborhoods that are “disconnected,” for example, nonprofits can partner with one another to connect families “to the resources they need to achieve the goals they’re setting out for,” Jackson says.
And working with constituents is key to effective collaboration, he says.
“I’ve always found that when people who are wanting a change help design and implement that change, outcomes remain sticky, it lasts longer,” Jackson says. “When it’s a top-down approach, it might work for a little while, but eventually it’s not sustainable.”