Staff Spotlight: Leann Bankoski, Executive Director November 11, 2014 by Carolina For Kibera
By: Sophia Wilhelm, Communications Intern, and Nick Johnson, Staff Associate
When Leann Bankoski first learned of Carolina for Kibera, the organization was not hiring. In fact, everything was done by volunteers and members of the Board of Directors who were willing to donate their time to creating change in Kibera. Restless in her job in New York City, she found CFK’s 2009 Annual Report, which had been dropped on her desk by a colleague, both intriguing and impactful. A few months later, on a trip to North Carolina to visit friends, she made a detour to Chapel Hill and met with a student volunteer to learn more. And as luck would have it, within 9 months, CFK was hiring and she joined as its first Executive Director.
With her passion for serving others, Leann always knew that she wanted to pursue a career in community-led development. Before joining CFK, Leann’s 10 years of past experience in program development and non-profit fundraising made her exceptionally qualified for the position of CFK Executive Director. Over those 10 years, Leann recognized that the symptoms of poverty are similar no matter the location, whether that place is Nairobi, Nicaragua, or even New York City. Issues like inadequate housing, food insecurity, and unclean water affect all people living in poverty, regardless of where they live. “In poor communities around the world, the only way to live is day to day,” she explains. “The problem with poverty is that it prevents you from thinking about tomorrow. If you’re poor, surviving every day is a challenge that requires your complete focus.”
Leann believes that in order to alleviate poverty in places like Kibera, there must be a shift in focus from survival to growth. By listening to community members, CFK can offer resources and opportunities that help motivated Kiberans secure a better future. Creating change doesn’t happen overnight, however, and the staff and volunteers working with CFK know this. When she first joined the organization, Leann was struck by the staff’s dedication to CFK’s mission. “Unlike other organizations I’d seen, I could tell this team is in it for the long run. They’re competent and ambitious, small but mighty.”
Working at CFK’s U.S. office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has also brought her closer to a formative place from her past: Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, where she studied as an undergraduate. While in school, Leann had the opportunity to study abroad in Kenya. Though she had previously spent time traveling and studying in Latin America, she acknowledges that her time in Kenya was entirely transformative. “Kenya has such a compelling history. There is so much potential, even though it also faces significant challenges.” Her past experiences traveling in Kenya—including many trips to Kibera—gave her a crucial, personal perspective of Kibera when developing relationships with partners and leveraging support for CFK’s programs.
According to Leann, CFK’s work is about bringing hope and prosperity to as many people as possible. “The simplest way to say it is that we’re trying to create freedom. It’s always about people and working closely with each and every individual.” She adds, “More people coming into CFK’s programs is great, but more people graduating from programs is even better.” Under Leann’s leadership, CFK has grown tremendously and will continue to grow, providing robust support for Kiberans who seek it. The U.S. team is fortunate to have someone with such professional and personal experience devoting their talents to CFK’s purpose every day.