Three Questions for a Social Innovation Leader, with Yolanda Coentro

Yolanda Coentro (left), president and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit Practice with Professor Tiziana Dearing during her talk at the United Way.

Yolanda Coentro (left), president and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit Practice with Professor Tiziana Dearing following Coentro’s talk at the United Way.

This academic year, in partnership with the United Way, BCSSW’s Center for Social Innovation launched a Speaker Series held at a shared space in Boston’s Seaport, an area now known as the city’s Innovation District. The series has been designed to bring together BCSSW field supervisors with MSW students in a forum where they can hear from innovative nonprofit practitioners, and then share what they’ve learned with each other in real time. 

The Series’ second speaker was Yolanda Coentro, the president and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, whose mission is to “equip nonprofit executives and middle managers with the skills needed to strengthen their organizations.” A BCSSW graduate, Coentro has enjoyed a prestigious career in nonprofit leadership that includes stints as COO at Horizons for Homeless Children, and as VP for programs at the Boston YWCA.  

Following her conversation with BCSSW students and faculty, she sat down with Innovate for the latest installment of the blog’s ongoing feature Three Questions for a Leader.

What does it mean to be a ‘social innovator’ in 2017?  

Social innovators find creative solutions and approaches to solving society’s most complex problems. Being a social innovator means taking some risks, having courage to go against the grain and getting started even before it is all perfectly planned out.

Tell us about the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader in your field.  

Everyone says this but it is true.  You have to surround yourself with people smarter than you, people who think differently than you, and are strong enough to challenge your thinking.  Surround yourself with people who deeply care for their colleagues so that together you can keep our eyes on the prize. I learned that optimism and appreciation defeats pessimism and criticism every time. I’m not always perfect at prioritizing the former, but I keep trying.

Coentro with BCSSW students.

Coentro with BCSSW students.

What recommendations do you have for those who aspire to be leaders in social innovation in the future? 

Don’t let people tell you things can’t change. Change can be bigger, better and more impactful. If we don’t as a society believe that progress is continuous and always possible we become apathetic and the potential for innovation and social change is diminished.

“Three Questions for a Leader” is a recurring column at Innovate, designed to share some of the knowledge imparted to the Boston College community with social work professionals beyond our campus walls. This semester, the feature focuses on social innovators. 

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