Kwayera Archer Cunningham’s nonprofit, Ifetayo Cultural Arts, caught the White House’s attention and had her receive an award from First Lady Michelle Obama. Yet, it’s not that magical moment that ranks as her career highlight. It’s her achievement of growing her nonprofit to a sustainable business that can run without her. Now she travels the globe helping other companies plan for their what’s next. See her strategies for success and succession.
Name: Kwayera Archer Cunningham
Title: President and Chief Executive Officer of Global Ase
Hometown: Brooklyn and Jamaica
The gig: I partner with corporate companies, social ventures, NGOs and philanthropic entities to improve their operations beyond their current needs. I assist them to vision their optimal structure and create a sustainable enterprise. I also coach leaders to define and embrace their personal leadership style, particularly encouraging women to work in male-centered environments that often negate the expression of any feminine qualities as valuable.
The journey: When I was a young girl, my mom, Violet Archer’s favorite hobby was producing fashion shows and my dad Lawrence Archer’s loved intellectually sparring with me. They taught me you can do good in the world while creating a space for people to have fun. I became a professional modern and ballet dancer at age 12, performing globally. Later I focused on dancing and toured the world with Jubilation Dance Company before starting a non-profit.
Confessions of a Black Woman in Philanthropy: The most significant challenge in America is I am often the only Black woman at meetings, on boards or panels. This has unfortunately reinforced the notion that there are not a lot Black women to offer the same level of expertise, which is completely untrue. The challenge is that there continues to be systemic structures that limit the numbers of Black women’s voices in philanthropy and the development of marginalized communities. By being in the room I’ve had the ability to be at the table to advocate bringing on others who are qualified, as well as changing systems that seek more Black women’s inclusion.
Her lesson learned: The one thing that I can say may have been a mistake was not getting annual breast screenings. Although everything eventually turned out well for me, it could have been a very different scenario. I now get regular breast screenings, mammograms and MRIs.
What may surprise you: When I was 22 years old, I moved to Kenya, East Africa for one year. At one point I lived with the Samburu Massai in the bush, which was probably the most powerful experience in my life to date. I felt that I was going back home, reconnecting with myself instead of visiting another culture. To be able to immerse oneself in another culture was the pathway that defined the course for my life.
Her mantra: An African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”
Her career highlight: Receiving an award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House was unforgettable. I would rank creating a non-profit that grew over 25 years and became sustainable even higher.
Her downtime: In my downtime I read, go to the beach and spend time with family and friends. Having gatherings at home is part of a regular occurrence in the Caribbean, something I try to do at my home when in Brooklyn. I relax by going to yoga and taking long walks.
Her secret superpower: My super power is the ability to forgive and believe in one’s higher self, including my own.
Her tech fix: I love Waze because I’m always learning how to get to somewhere new in my travels.
Her beauty bag: My must haves include Bite Beauty toxin free lipsticks, Tattoo eyeliner by Kat Von D and regular pedicures.
Her power style accessory: My personal power style accessory includes earrings from two of my favorite designers, Adha Zelma and Imani Jewelry, culturally inspired with a touch of elegance and unapologetically artistic.
Her work/life tip: Involve your loved ones and children in your career in appropriate ways. This gives you more bonding time and creates opportunities for exposure and familiarity. The more we see work as something that we do away from those we love, the more we create a gap between career and family. Keep creating ways to find points of connection.
Her theme song: “You Will” by Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Nettles