BA Cockburn

Love is in the air here at DC Social Innovation Project. We’re sharing #LoveLetters from our grantees on Facebook as well as our love for social entrepreneurship and innovation here in the District. We also love how committed our donors and supporters are to our mission. We have so many supporters who make a daily commitment to social innovation and equity through their professional work as well as their support of DC Social Innovation Project. BA Cockburn is one of those people.


BA Cockburn is a Director at a DC human services nonprofit, a member of the African American Women’s Giving Circle, and a long-time supporter of DC Social Innovation Project. During our conversation BA discusses her lifelong commitment to the human services field, how she uses her philanthropy to support racial and gender equity and why she believes DCSIP can help shine a light on innovation in the most overlooked places. It is my pleasure to introduce BA.

Please tell me a little bit about yourself. How long have you lived and/or worked in the District and what do you do?

I’ve lived and worked in the District for over 10 years. I’m currently a director at a DC human services nonprofit. I came to DC from Montreal, Canada because of the energy of the city. I wanted a chance to see the political process unfold and be active in that process.

When I first came here, I would explore the region using public transportation and I could see the disparities that existed within the city. This spurred my passion and lifelong commitment to work in the human services field in both the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

What social issues do you care most about? Why do these issues matter to you?

My top three issues are: (1) achieving racial equity, (2) workforce development and (3) child welfare issues.

I’m passionate about working for racial equity both in the region and throughout the nation. We are at a critical moment in time where a lot of these issues have become hot topics. This is the time to take advantage of these conversations and really move the needle toward creating a more diverse and equitable community – to continue to build upon the transformation that made us all so hopeful during the Civil Rights Movement.

This is one of the reasons I joined the African American Women’s Giving Circle. I joined about six years ago because I saw the racial disconnect between senior leadership in the nonprofit sector and the makeup of the communities that they were trying to help change. A lot of the communities served were predominantly people of color, but the decision makers largely were not. I wanted to help change that.

I’m passionate about supporting African American women leaders, especially in this region. A lot of the people that are under-resourced are African American women and their families. This is where I can make the biggest impact. It’s where I concentrate my philanthropic dollars and work collectively with other women who believe in using their philanthropic dollars toward that goal.

Secondly, I’m passionate about workforce development because it is an issue that touches everyone. We can have a real impact in terms of increasing economic equity throughout the region. Class, race and money intersect in important ways as it relates issues of equity. One of the areas you can make the largest change in someone’s life is through a job. We have a real  chance to narrow the gap between who has the money, who makes the money and how the money is used.

Lastly, I’m passionate about child welfare issues which is the work I do in my day job working with the foster system.Seeing the trauma a neglected child goes through and helping a child get through that and thrive despite all odds is the difficult day-to-day work that not a lot of people see or talk about. It’s not as sexy as other issues. It requires a long-term commitment to work with families to find the supports they need to be successful.

Tell me how you first got involved with DC Social Innovation Project? What interests you most about the organization?

I was invited to an event where I was introduced to the newest cohort of grantees for that year and there was one grantee that I was particularly impressed with that wanted to start a healthy shake business. I was so impressed with their spirit and their business know-how. I was drawn to their passion for improving their community by offering healthy products.  

Why do you give to DC Social Innovation Project?

I give to DCSIP because you not only award grants but also invest volunteer time and talent. A lot of times small organizations are really passionate about the impact that they can have, but because of their size they still need a lot of assistance with nonprofit management.  That’s where DCSIP can make a real and unique impact.

If you had the mic to tell your friends about why ending poverty in the District is important, what would you want to say?

I would ask people to envision what they want our region to look like in 5, 10 or 15 years. What I hope they would want to see is a region that’s diverse, where everyone is valued and has a good quality of life their community. To get to this vision, we need to end poverty in the city.

There are many changes happening in the city; I love some of the changes. What I don’t love is the increased wealth gap. So, how do we get to that future city?  We need to support organizations like DCSIP that  connect people who feel left out and underestimated to opportunity. We all want the same thing – for everyone to have a chance to succeed and live, play, and work in the DC neighborhoods that they love.

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