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Meet Our Fellows: Lisa Gordon ('16)

President and CEO, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity

Who or what inspired you to work in public service?

Some of my most memorable experiences growing up were working on community projects in my hometown of North Babylon, NY. I recall the many committed leaders who gave their time and talents to make things better. My father worked for the FAA. From observing his experiences, I understand the importance of public administrators; they have a valuable role in shaping many aspects of our lives that we often take for granted. These experiences and my love of serving the community inspired me to choose a public service career.

What is something you are excited about right now?

I am excited about the dynamic changes to our approaches to working during a global pandemic. In the past, most of the world only flirted with the idea of remote work and conducting business online. In the last year, there has been a remote-work revolution. It has caused everyone to think differently about service provision. It has also exposed the limits of remote work and the need for social interaction. I hope that we take the positive learnings and efficiencies gained through remote work and apply them to our sector in a way that leads to innovation.

What is your favorite class you have ever taught or taken, and why?

In graduate school, one of my favorite professors, Beverly Bunch, taught Budgeting and Financial Analysis classes at the Maxwell School. Her classes stood out because she taught me how to leverage technology for analysis and understand an organization’s policies and politics based on their budgets. The skills and philosophy I learned in those classes have helped me assess private-public partnership deals, understand proformas, and have allowed me to be very effective in leading organizations and maintaining a strong financial position.

What inspires you during these challenging times?

I am inspired by the resilience of the people I know, whether they are my family, friends, team, volunteers and frontline workers. I am especially inspired by the physicians, nurses and healthcare workers. In the face of this deadly pandemic, stress, exhaustion and uncertainty they get up every day and put the lives of others first. They deserve recognition and much gratitude in a significant way beyond just a thank you.

What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?

The best advice is to learn as much as you can about different aspects of public service in various organizations. It’s important to understand that the types of organizations and that working for local, state, federal and county governments is very different from working for a nonprofit, quasi-government entity or advancing public administration in an academic setting. People think of their careers as hierarchical in one type of organization. There is great value in moving up the ladders and across organizations.

What is your favorite midnight snack?

I love cookies and ice cream. By far, my favorite place for this treat is Marble Creamery. They will mix your favorite ice cream with cookies or other treats. If it did not affect my waistline, I would eat cookies every day!

Do you have any pets at home?

Yes, we have an Apricot Toy Poodle named Danny. He is 15 years old and by far the smartest person in our household.

If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?

Fortunately, I have already witnessed it when Barack Obama became the first African American president and, more recently, Kamala Harris becoming the first African American and woman Vice President. Reaching further back in history, I would have liked to have joined Harriet Tubman in June of 1963 when she worked for the military and freed over 700 slaves.

Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kinds of media?

I am an avid reader and love books. Two of my favorites are The Alchemist by Paul Coelho and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Self-preservation is the first rule. Meaning you have to take of yourself before you can serve or help others. In public service, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the complexity and magnitude of the problems we are trying to solve. To be effective, we have to keep our priorities in order, and we are one of those priorities.

									 Lisa Gordon
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