Equity Leadership Initiative Inaugural Class of 2021/2022

Rupa Datta and Carla Wahnon selected for inaugural Equity Leadership Initiative class

Goal is to build a pipeline of Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous and multi-racial future leaders in established positions of influence throughout the state

Rupa Datta and Carla Wahnon of West Warwick have been selected to participate in the inaugural class of the Rhode Island Foundation's Equity Leadership Initiative (ELI). Through the program, the Foundation will build a pipeline of Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial future leaders for positions of influence throughout the state.

“I am excited to get to work to cultivate the next generation of industry leaders – bank presidents, hospital CEOs, leaders in academia and kindergarten through 12 education, corporate executives, policy-makers, judges and more – who are people of color,” said Angie Ankoma, ELI executive director and a vice president at the Foundation.

Rupa Datta is Manager, State Director Office and Human Resources Operations at the Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island, where she works with the leadership team, the trustees and staff to create a diverse and inclusive workplace culture that fosters a strong sense of belonging.

“This experience will help me navigate my leadership goals to create inclusive workplaces and connected communities that foster cross-cultural consciousness. Building a network to collaborate with a cohort of BIPOC leaders is highly motivating and a promise to my growth through interpersonal learning."

- Rupa Datta

Datta earned a PhD in Urban Ecological Planning at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and a certificate of Organizational Leadership from the Judge Business School at Cambridge University. She is a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.

“I am a leader, collaborator, entrepreneur and motivator who helps organizations and other leaders reach their full potential. Relationship building, bridging multi-cultural networks, and making people feel safe and comfortable during conversation are my strengths,” she said.

Datta is co-founder of an award-winning dance business, Dance BFF (dancebff.com) that creates awareness about Indian dances as cultural artform as well as promotes fitness and mental health in the community by sharing the joyful and celebratory nature of the dance style.

“We have built communities of dancers and dance enthusiasts over last five years. I believe that increasing cross-cultural awareness will contribute towards to a more inclusive and respected world,” she said.

Carla Wahnon is Manager of Integrated Health Care at East Bay Community Action Program, where her responsibilities include ensuring that patients receive holistic support for medical, social service, and behavioral health needs. In addition, she serves as co-chair of the agency’s Task Force for Justice and Equity, which was convened in 2020 to address equity issues and guide the organization in becoming an anti-racist agency.

“I welcome the opportunity to challenge myself, strengthen my leadership style, and learn from peers, all with the goal for giving back to the community and supporting diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives."

- Carla Wahnon

Wahnon earned a BA in Community Health at Brown University and an MS in Maternal and Child Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Datta, Wahnon and the other 29 members of the inaugural class were selected from nearly 100 applicants. Members identify as Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial. Nearly 75 percent identify as women. Members of the cohort work across a variety of sectors.

The 12-month leadership development initiative is scheduled to begin in September. In addition to monthly half-day group meetings, participants will receive regular one-to-one coaching sessions, will develop a personal leadership vision and goals; will be matched with a mentor and will make high-level connections across industries.

The other participants are Adetola Abiade, Adewole Akinbi, Rose Albert, Janelle Amoako, Ana Barraza, Doris Blanchard, Madeline Burke, Michael Cancilliere, Krystal Carvalho, Angelyne Cooper, Steve Craddock, David Dankwah, Nwando Egbuche Ofokansi, Yvonne Heredia, Teddi Jallow, Stacy Jones, Silvermoon Mars LaRose, Francisco Lovera, Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Ray Nuñez, Monsurat Ottun, Alisha Pina, Manuela Raposo, Victoria Rodriguez, Juan Rodriguez, Rosedelma Seraphin, Kajette Solomon, Edward Tavarez and Kilah Walters-Clinton.

The leadership program is just one facet of the Rhode Island Foundation’s broad, 3-year, $8.5 million plan to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and access – with a first focus on racial equity – above and beyond its traditional yearly grant-making.

Recent work includes creating a capacity-building program to support nonprofits led by Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial executive directors or other decision-makers within an organization; and launching a grant program to help nonprofits create anti-racist organizational cultures.

“Eliminating disparities and inequities is among our core values, and is a major focus across all of our work in the community. We use a racial equity lens while making decisions about allocating resources to improve health, educational success and economic security among other critical issues."

- Neil D. Steinberg, Foundation president & CEO

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $68 million and awarded a record $87 million in grants in 2020. Since its centennial five years ago, the Foundation has awarded more than $284 million in grants and has raised more than $328 million. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.