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Seeking Truth: Nike Irvin Answers the Call to Action

Thursday, February 15, 2018

UCLA Anderson Nike Irvin


By Carolyn Gray Anderson

Woman Worth Watching … Philanthropist of the Year … Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow … Inspirational 100 Alumna …

These are a few of Nike Irvin’s (’89) distinctions, all earned in recognition of more than 20 years of nonprofit leadership, board service and private-sector brand management.

When Irvin walks into a room, she attracts the people in it with a palpable and open calm. Speaking in a quiet voice about such loud topics as poverty, social injustice, equality in higher education, Irvin exudes compassion and introspection. She served as vice president of programs at the California Community Foundation for six years, becoming a donor to CCF herself and establishing a fund to make her own grants to nonprofits. But she recently resigned to shift her attention to consulting and research. “I’m in a mindfulness mode,” she told a UCLA Anderson High Impact Tea audience. “A confluence of things going on encouraged me to slow down.”

But that doesn’t minimize the urgency behind the causes she champions. She devotes her time now to researching, compiling and drafting an intentional model for truth and reconciliation efforts in the U.S. In collaboration with fellow Aspen Institute thought leaders and scholars, as well as a diverse crew of professionals in academia and business, Irvin looks as far afield as the Solomon Islands for practices that have achieved reparations on a par with South Africa’s, and that might be emulated here at home.

“We’re in a moment of growing transparency,” she said. “Don’t you feel a sea change?”

Nike Irvin Impact@Anderson

Nike Irvin spoke to a UCLA Anderson Audience in conversation with Bhavna Sivanand (’14), director of [email protected], and Julie Ortega (’19), Net Impact director of engagement


Irvin was a self-described fervent soft drink brand manager in the Bay Area when, in 1992, the Los Angeles riots and their after-effects tugged her homeward, where she eventually pivoted from corporate to nonprofit leadership. She said, “I detest the term ‘nonprofit.’ Why would you identify with a term that starts with ‘non’?” And so she labels her arena “for-purpose.” At CCF, she said, this meant serving the community’s most vulnerable members and “trying to create a neutral table for people who possess resources to meet at a crossroads with people who need them.”

She is a veteran of the Riordan Foundation as well as UCLA Anderson’s Riordan Programs, and now is an advisory board member to both. She serves on the L.A. advisory council of REDF and is vice chair of the board of Southern California Grantmakers. “All of us have a mission at our core,” she said, “but not all of us want mission as a career.” She believes progressive businesses can teach the social sector.

Irvin said she was glad to read fellow Anderson alumnus Larry Fink’s (B.A. ’74, ’76) recent letter to corporate leaders, in which he issued an ultimatum to companies seeking BlackRock’s support to make a priority of social responsibility. “I hope that five to 10 years from now his challenge won’t be so exceptional,” Irvin said. “It’s a call to action. We should think of it as ‘doing business,’ not as ‘doing good.’ I predict an increasing blurring of the lines. And business schools can take up this challenge.”

Irvin shared her insights into inclusive, people-focused business practices just as [email protected] is launching its Impact Spotlight on understanding the causes and consequences of poverty and income inequality. In the late 1980s, she said, the prospect of a #MeToo movement “would have been like colonizing Mars.”


Published by:  UCLA Anderson Blog

Author: Carolyn Gray Anderson

Date: 2/1/18

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