Omar, you are a Center Fellow here at CCI. What does that mean?
I’m involved with our local systems change work, which focuses on working with communities across the country to help them advance their work to achieve community goals. As our work advances, I’ll be heading out into towns and cities to work closely with teams on the ground. In my fellowship, I’m exposed to all the pieces of the Center’s work, and get to forge relationships with practitioners in other fields, especially my specialties of urban planning and community development.
You recently graduated from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Why did you choose the Center Fellowship as your next step?
CCI is operating at the intersection of different sectors, and thinking about ways to implement solutions that address underlying roots of problems with an eye to scale. That combination of activities was appealing to me because it is clear that single-issue approaches have not effectively addressed our most pressing problems. Additionally, being a fellow at CCI gives me exposure to thinking through, practicing, and refining what it means to be a general practitioner in the community investment space—I have the opportunity to see a range of roles that I might play, and test out what that might look like.
What was your road to community investment and CCI?
My interest in places, and how they do or don’t take care of their most vulnerable, started at a young age in Los Angeles. I vividly remember riding the 720 bus from the beach in Santa Monica, down Wilshire Boulevard through West Los Angeles, into East Los Angeles. I would not only notice the differences in the landscape of the built environment, but also feel those differences. The power of place was palpable. Those experiences led me to policy and urban studies in college at Princeton, and after college I headed to Portland, where I became involved in various community organizing efforts before landing in housing policy. In Oregon, working for the Housing Alliance, I saw how interrelated housing, economic development, education, health, and most other fields were. To learn more about how the tools that support those issues operate and interact on the ground, I completed the urban planning master’s and saw how community investment helped surface the relationship between those fields. Having seen the importance of finance and capital in the housing space, I’m particularly interested in how communities can use scaled solutions and different approaches to traditional finance to better address the many challenges they’re facing—from a changing climate to increasing racial and ethnic inequality.
What are you most excited to learn as a Center Fellow?
Learning how to think with a multi-sector perspective, and understand how you can leverage the assets that different sectors have to improve conditions for people. It’s really exciting to work on creating a mental architecture of what those different assets are, and apply that across different fields.
What are you thinking about doing next?
I’m less tied to the what than to the how; I want to continue to work to make people’s lives better by advancing solutions to tractable problems that fundamentally change the systems that create those problems in the first place.
When you’re not at work, you are…
Reading novels or wandering aimlessly around cities, sometimes (perilously) at the same time. If I can find someone to drive out, I can also be found hiking or backpacking.
People would be surprised to know…
That my favorite movie genre is mumblecore.
We hear you are a voracious reader and consumer of podcasts, what’s on your list?
Regularly: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The Black Joy Mixtape podcast. Daily, Michael Barbaro’s The Daily. Oh, and I’m still trying to get through In Search of Lost Time, which has been such a (worthy) project.