Developing Our Future Leaders: Insights from Graduate Alumni, Ed Sivak (MPP ’01)
Posted in News Story
Ed Sivak (MPP ’01) works at the Hope Enterprise Corporations / Hope Credit Union (HOPE) in Jackson, Mississippi, where he manages the strategic direction and implementation of HOPE’s public policy activities and all internal and external communication with members, the media, investors and other stakeholders. He worked as a research assistant at the Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service, now the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership (CPNL) in Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. After leaving Georgetown, he settled in Mississippi and worked his way up to Executive Vice President of Policy and Communication at Hope Enterprise Corporation.
The Center asked Ed to share his experience and insights about his career path after graduating.
After graduating from Marquette University in 1998, Ed began working as a program coordinator for L’Arche Irenicon in Haverhill, MA. He managed orientation programs and oversaw licensing and compliance in three homes for adults with developmental disabilities. During his time as program coordinator, Ed noticed several systemic issues within the organization, such as the lack of funding, staff, and resources, that prevented the expansion of services for their clients.
“I remember managing payroll for the organization and getting to the point where there was just a small amount left in the bank account,” Ed said. Witnessing the lack of funding for services in the group homes owned by L’Arche Irenicon inspired Ed to go back to school to gain an understanding of government and system’s change to become a better advocate for change.
“That was what prompted me to look at Georgetown for graduate school,” Ed said. “It made me want to broaden my knowledge and use my skills, talents and resources to improve the quality of life for others.”
Ed joined CPNL in October 2000 as a research fellow. Ed was amazed by the vast networks and tremendous talent he was exposed to during his time at Georgetown and had many opportunities to share his research—the statistical analysis of giving and volunteering characteristics in the United States for publication in the State of Nonprofit America.
“In addition to being with incredibly talented students, Georgetown was a place where the faculty sought out opportunities to put students on meaningful projects,” Ed said. He was also one of the students in the team that interviewed Kathy Kretman, current Director of the Center of Public and Nonprofit Leadership. “She was just so far ahead of the other candidates who interviewed that we felt lucky that she would be coming in to provide leadership,” Ed admits.
During his time at Georgetown, Ed was chosen as one of the thirty interns for the National Congress for Community and Economic Development. He was sent to Jackson, Mississippi to work for the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta. “It was a pretty amazing experience…both in terms of working in some of the poorest parts of the country and leveraging the tools of finance to expand access to capital for historically underserved populations to start businesses and get into homes.” He was offered a job opportunity at the same organization once he graduated with his Master’s from Georgetown.
“I did take them up on that offer, and I’ve been here ever since,” Ed said. “I just had so many incredible opportunities that far surpass what I ever thought was possible when I left graduate school.”
Beyond the Capital
Since graduating from Georgetown in 2001, Ed has completed several projects at Hope Enterprise that focus on public policy and development in the Mississippi Delta. Over the course of his career, he spent time at the forefront of legislative battles to expand Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance for low-wage workers. Working in areas with significant rates of persistent poverty, he was also exposed to many challenges that impacted the lives of people who lived in these communities.
“I see the effects of institutional racism every day, and how it limits opportunities for vast numbers of people and their communities in our state,” Ed said. “By far, that’s one of the biggest challenges of our work: changing the systems that have created inequitable outcomes for people of color for decades, even centuries.”
Ed specifically works to improve financial service access of residents in high poverty counties. His team at Hope Enterprise collaborated with colleagues who work to fight poverty in Appalachia, the Mexican-American Border and Native American reservations to utilize their geographic influence to increase the flow of resources in their communities. By working together, they identified roughly a billion dollars that had gone unspent in the United States Department of Agriculture community facilities program. They were able to work with the leadership at the USDA to jointly develop a program that directed 400 million dollars to establish essential community facilities (e.g., camp for children with special needs, and the expansion of federally qualified health centers).
Ed’s work dramatically changed in trajectory with the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005.
“There were people living on the Coast for whom there was not even a single shred of paper left to show they ever existed on this planet,” Ed said. His organization became very active in the recovery and rebuilding efforts, and Ed was given two major projects to execute. He started the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, a state-based think tank to ensure federal recovery dollars provided to the state of Mississippi were allocated equitably. Due to the enormous property damage, and the number of people without property insurance, there was a large number of people left without homes and with no ability to cover the costs of rebuilding. By analyzing the recovery program, data on the extent of the damage and the costs to rebuild, his organization, with the help of other nonprofit allies, was able to successfully advocate for an increase in award money to lower-income residents without property insurance.
Following Katrina, the policy center’s focus evolved to take on a number of other policies to create equitable outcomes in Mississippi. “We fought hard for Medicaid expansion, reforms to the unemployment insurance system for low-wage workers, and stronger protections for those taken advantage of by predatory lenders,” Ed stated.
His other significant projects included working to provide capital to small businesses in New Orleans in the post-Katrina environment, as well as working with Derrick Johnson, current president and CEO of the NAACP, to start a nonprofit organization called One Voice. The organization works on research, policy, and advocacy around issues affecting people of color, and improves the quality of life for African Americans through civic engagement training and initiatives. It has spawned an annual Black Leadership Summit and the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute, a nine-month training program for community leaders.
“Being able to work with people of this caliber when we were up and coming and seeing them now on the national stage fighting for equity is a gift,” Ed said. “Some of the most fulfilling moments in my career came from working alongside colleagues who also strove to empower others to make change.”
Plans for the Future
Going on his 18th year working at HOPE, Ed continues to work on several projects to advocate for the rights of disadvantaged communities in the Deep South. He believes the path he took to stay in Mississippi was the right decision and implores future graduates to do the same if they are interested in policy and advocacy work as well.
Ed spoke about a colleague who works to promote the election of progressive candidates in Mississippi. “He said Mississippi has a long history of people coming and going, whether it was during the Civil Rights Movement, mission trips, or registering voters, and frequently people come with the mindset that they are going to change this place…my colleague believes that only when people realize that Mississippi has more to offer them than what they have to offer to Mississippi, can they truly engage in the work to make meaningful change. And I believe that is very true. It certainly sums up my experience.”
“If you are going to be involved in community development, economic mobility, or systemic change, it is vital to immerse and root yourself in the community. You never know when opportunities to make change will arise, but opportunities for one to be a part of change comes with the garnering of trust which only comes with time,” Ed said.
An opportunity for Ed to help his community emerged about two years ago in Jackson, Mississippi. The Jackson Public School District was in danger of being taken over by the state of Mississippi due to the high number of deficiencies cited by the State Department of Education and the high prevalence of failing schools. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, the Jackson Public School District, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation created a commission to identify solutions to improve an education system facing numerous challenges. Ed was appointed to serve on the commission and to the new school board where he serves as Vice President.
The reform effort is moving in the right direction. Last summer, the school board appointed a new superintendent, Dr. Errick L. Greene, who has significant experience working in other urban districts like Detroit and DC. “He’s incredibly fired up to work in this environment,” Ed said.
The school district has made significant progress working through deficiencies noted by the State Department of Education. The board also approved a $65 million bond referendum to improve old, worn out school facilities that had fallen into disrepair. Shortly after nine months into their term, the referendum went to the voters and received 86% in favor of its approval.
“We won in every precinct in the city except for one. That was a turning point for us. It sent a signal to individuals with the authority to take over the district that local people wanted this school district to succeed,” Ed said. “In terms of what success looks like, we still have a long way to go, however, right now, the achievement of these milestones gives me hope.”
Ed is very excited to see what additional developments he and the rest of his board members can make to improve the school district his children attend. “I had been living here for 17 years before I had an opportunity to participate in an effort of this significance. The only reason that I was tapped to do this was because I had relationships with people in the community and developed trust…and frankly learned a lot about the place,” Ed said.
“It’s tough work, and it’s work that I am incredibly privileged to play a part. It came about by just making the decision to be invested in a place long term, a place where I could be part of a community, engaged in work that I love.”