Saturday, January 19, 2013

Happy Fernandez--Her Latest Mission

Photo by Steven M. Falk, Phila. Inquirer

Just 10 days ago,  on the eve of lung surgery,  Happy Craven Fernandez sent an email to friends and colleagues, closing with,  “Please do not send flowers or gifts etc. Non-profits in this region can always put dollars and cents to good use.”
Happy, who retired last spring from her post as president of Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design, was like that. Whether running for  mayor of Philadelphia (1999), serving on City Council (1991), or teaching at Temple University and launching child advocacy programs, she poured her energy into benefitting her community.
 Last summer, while reveling in the freedom, at last, of a rare vacation in New England, she had also spent it strategizing her next step.
With fulltime work behind her, Happy was plotting out her ‘encore career.’ She had decided that she wanted to mentor women engaged in non-profit and public service work so that they could both fulfill themselves and better fulfill the missions of their organizations. But she wanted to do this in the biggest and best way possible.  So she brought together 22 of the city’s most prominent women – leaders who, like herself, had long and successful careers in the non-profit world. The group included a law school dean, a TV executive, as well as board members and leaders of some of the city’s most prominent 501(3C)s.
And, lucky for me, because of my focus on “unretiring,” she swept me into her fold.

I felt fortunate to be able to watch the process as these talented, influential women debated the best use to which their expertise and energy could be put. Should they focus on younger women just launching careers? Or people in mid-career reaching for leadership positions? Maybe their mission should be nurturing non-profit boards, some of which struggle to be effective and some of which are simply dysfunctional. Or should the group focus on advocacy – looking to foster change in organizations in which women are under-represented?
After several meetings (the last, with Happy at the helm, was just two days before her surgery), the group was beginning to coalesce, to harness their skills to a higher purpose.
With Happy’s leadership, they were (to quote Marc Freedman, the guru of the Encore Career movement) blending “clear-eyed pragmatism and the determination to make a better world, the idealism of a generation tempered by years of experience at making things work.”

Will this continue without Happy, who died today following a massive stroke three days after her surgery? What’s the most effective way to harness the collective power of women with non-profit expertise? And to what end?
Send along your ideas and I’ll share them with the group Happy launched. Perhaps this will be yet another legacy she would be proud of.

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