As a continuation of our Fulcrum Fellows interview series, we begin learning about the second cohort with Romi Hall, the Director of Neighborhood Collaborations at the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) in Oakland, California. In our conversation, Romi shares with us how the fellowship has enhanced her understanding of the community investment system, which has enabled her to take up her role differently, identify new opportunities to accelerate her work, and develop more effective ways of collaborating with her team.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you ended up in your role at East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation.
My path was non-traditional. After getting an undergraduate degree in journalism, I did some traveling and came to realize that my career aspirations had changed. I decided to go to school for public health, which is where I was introduced to the social determinants of health framework. It blew my mind. After that, I did some work in faith-based organizing, working with church-based respite centers for individuals experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia, and I began wondering why most of the people that used our services were Black men. Out of this experience, I became interested in the community development field, and to specifically work onsystem-level and on-the-ground changes that need to be done to prevent generational poverty. I spent some time at 24:1, a comprehensive community development effort out of Beyond Housing. I left this role and worked for a government agency, and realized, I wanted to get back to place-based work. When I saw the position for the Healthy Neighborhoods Manager role at EBALDC, and learned about their Healthy Neighborhoods Approach I knew I was the woman for the job. I was excited to bring all of my experiences to, and refine my work in, an organization that was looking to advance the social determinants of health and incubate a backbone role to build strong neighborhood partnerships.
Describe the community you work with. What challenge have you chosen to focus on during the fellowship?
For the past five years, my work has been focused on the San Pablo Avenue Corridor, a historically African American and low-income community experiencing displacement pressure. My role, though it’s currently shifting, has been focused on stewarding the San Pablo Area Revitalization Collaborative (SPARC), an effort to harness the collective impact potential of those investing in the San Pablo Corridor and surrounding West Oakland neighborhoods by aligning priorities, pooling resources, and leveraging the expertise of those already doing the work. I’ll now be overseeing three collaboratives like SPARC in various neighborhoods, each with diverse populations that are historically low- to moderate-income. We’re taking what we’ve learned in the San Pablo Avenue Corridor, in areas such as land-use preservation techniques a to see how we can apply it to other neighborhoods.
Tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned throughout the program. What has had the most impact on your professional and personal development?
The investment curriculum has had the most significant impact. There wasn’t anything like that provided throughout my public health education, and that knowledge is powerful. I would even call it a social determinant. People in the public health field need to know how to attract investment and navigate the community investment system. We can talk about the public health issues and take the upstream approach, but without knowledge of the community investment system, the long-term potential for impact is limited. Fulcrum Fellows is giving me the language to articulate this to my staff, colleagues, and partners, especially the ones who do deals work but could use more of a systems frame. Having a shared language has helped me show them that I can help with deal spotting and be a valuable resource throughout the entire deal life cycle.
How has the fellowship changed and/or deepened your self-awareness?
There were things I already knew I needed to work on that the fellowship has called out, and there are things that I was doing well that have become clearer. I feel a sense of responsibility to do the self-work so that my work with EBALDC has the greatest chance to succeed. I see a need to bring more of who I am to my leadership and the work. Some of that has had to do with transitions in my life, some of it has to do with the pressure to emulate other leadership models. If I explore this in a meaningful way, I can see getting to a point where I think of my natural skill sets as being incredibly valuable.
Share with us how your experience has been implementing some of the concepts you have learned during the fellowship back at your organization. What have been some wins? Challenges?
I’ve used what we’ve learned about deals to structure conversations internally, and it has helped surface new priorities, such as how to leverage the convening power of one of our aligned partners to advance some of our advocacy goals. The program has helped me figure out how people are aligned, what their motivations are, and how to move them to action. And generally, I’m always trying to get people to think of themselves as part of a system. Dr. Tiffany Manuel’s workshop on narrative framing, The CaseMade, has helped me develop a way to do that.
How has your systems orientation changed and/or deepened because of Fulcrum Fellows? How does this show up in your work?
I had the realization that as a convener, my role isn’t to be passive, but to move people toward results. In this role, I can employ a systems-view at the neighborhood level to facilitate a conversation with other partners. In my new role, I’m excited to start exploring more of the systems connections between each of the neighborhoods EBALDC convenes and to start working with the collaborative partners to identify ways to scale work and/or engage together in key policy, advocacy, and/or other system issues to consider. I’m hopeful that we will move the work to scale in multiple neighborhoods.
What most excites you looking ahead to the rest of the year?
This year, I want to close a deal drawing from what we’ve learned throughout the fellowship, while bringing new players into the community investment system. It will be interesting to reflect on how I’ve personally developed towards the end of the program and to see what other areas have improved. I’m also thinking about the pivot I need to make to hold more of a systems-level departmental lens as I move out of managing a neighborhood collaborative and into this new role where I see across collaboratives. We’ve incubated this work for five years and now we need to scale it up to create a new model of community development and health with a place-based lens.