We believe that Black women are the chief executive officers of culture, home and community. This column, Chief to Chief, focuses on helping every Black woman recognize the “chief” that already exists within her—by introducing her to the chiefs who live among us. Chanda Smith Baker has more than 20 years of experience anchored in sharing, identifying and responding to the multiple narratives that exist within our community. In 2017, Baker joined the Minneapolis Foundation as the Chief Impact Officer and Senior Vice President, where she oversees the foundation’s grant-making programs, providing strategic direction to community initiatives and multi-sector partnerships. She’s also the podcast host of Conversations with Chanda and is a fifth generation North Minneapolis—a historically Black area—native.
Her personal and professional purpose were further ignited in 2020, following the tragic killing of George Floyd. Here, Baker shares lessons in community and creating impact.
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Caroline Wanga: Who is Chanda?
Chanda Smith Baker: That’s such a great question, because Chanda is evolving. I am a woman. I’m a mother. I’m a daughter. I’m a learner. I’m a student. I’m responsible. I’m irresponsible. I’m perfect and imperfect. I’m faithful and grateful.
Wanga: How did you get to the place of comfort where, when asked “Who is Chanda?” you can have one
of the answers be “imperfect”? And as we continue to help other Black chiefs, how do we help them realize it is okay to be imperfect?
Baker: It is personally important for me to open up space for other people to lead. I recognize that one of the barriers for me was that I felt I had to be perfect before I took a step. There are lots of reasons that I moved into leadership and, in doing so, I realized—through the exposure, and through opportunities that were out of my control, and in some cases even through public opportunities to make mistakes—that they didn’t break me, but they made me stronger. Those are the lessons that helped me realize what I was built from. Embedded in leadership, embedded in life and embedded in parenting—embedded in every aspect of life—is imperfection and the opportunity to be introspective, to learn and to grow.
Wanga: How has that driven your career path, from in-home day-care provider to SVP of Community Impact with the Minneapolis Foundation—in a city that got on the map via George Floyd for a moment, which was a different kind of moment for our community?
Baker: I am grateful for the community that has poured into me and the people who have always nurtured the possibilities in me. That stayed consistent. The parents who believed in me, the families that believed in me, and my church community that believed in me.
Wanga: In your position as Chief Impact Officer at the Minneapolis Foundation, what is that role responsible for, and why is it important for a place like a foundation to have a role like that? And why, then, was it important for you to step into that role?
Baker: I realize the importance, now more than ever, of the visibility of me in that role—particularly with the background I have in this city, and based on my history in North Minneapolis. Philanthropy has not always been accessible to our community, and certainly that has not always had Black women or people of color in visible leadership roles. In a moment of crisis in our city, like we have seen—if people didn’t know Black people lived here before, they knew following 2020. They have seen our pain and our actions on display, on a global level. For me to be able to respond in a way of knowing, versus a place of trying to understand, was important. For me to be able to be -networked and to respond quickly has been important. The role is beyond -giving out money—philanthropy is so much more than that. It is about leveraging power to build power for people who have been left out of the equation. It is about creating opportunities to make systems change.
Caroline Wanga (@wangawoman) is ESSENCE’s Chief Executive Officer. This interview has been condensed for brevity.