One of Rhode Island’s most important organizations for entrepreneurs has a new leader.
Musa, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Houston, comes to Rhode Island from LIFT-DC, a nonprofit whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty by investing in parents.
She agreed to answer a few questions for Rhode Map ahead of today’s announcement.
Q: What was it about this opportunity in Rhode Island that you found so attractive?
Musa: Rhode Island is a great place for entrepreneurship. There’s an historic connection to manufacturing, which still influences a creative spirit. But what really drew me to the role at SEG was the crystal clear focus on supporting entrepreneurs who are often overlooked. When I told people I was moving to Rhode Island for a job in entrepreneurship, they would often bring up Brown, RISD and URI, but to me that’s only one part of it. The businesses coming out of SEG are pillars in the communities they serve. The founders we support have created more than 3,000 jobs in Rhode Island. That’s a very clear and immediate impact.
Q: What does success look like for you at SEG?
Musa: I want to see two things: First, continued growth for SEG. That means more seats in our programs for more entrepreneurs, more capital for aspiring businesses, and more jobs in our local economy. It also could mean a wider footprint in the state and the region. Second, I want to see our broader community more reflected in the community of entrepreneurs. Across the board, women-led ventures and ventures led by people of color are underfunded. If we can disrupt that disparity in Rhode Island, we can hopefully provide a model of best practices that could help disrupt that disparity more widely.
Q: It sometimes feels like social enterprise gets lost in the broader conversation about business development in Rhode Island. What do you need to do to make it top of mind for state leaders?
Musa: I’ve had the good fortune to work in a couple of different markets. State leaders - whether in Texas, in DC or in Rhode Island - want to see results. The businesses coming out of SEG’s programs stay in Rhode Island and they create jobs for Rhode Islanders. And I think that’s true with other organizations focused on social entrepreneurship. We need to do a better job telling that story. I also think we need to include nonprofit innovation in the discussion about business development and social enterprise. Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector accounts for something in the neighborhood of 15 percent of all jobs in the state. We need state leaders thinking about nonprofits as a central part of the state’s economic development plan and job plan.
Q: I wrote a column a few weeks ago about the new generation of leadership that is taking the reins in Rhode Island. What does it mean to be a millennial, woman of color leading an organization with deep roots?
Musa: Representation matters. I’m still getting to know a lot of the other civic leaders in Rhode Island, but I’ve been impressed by the amount of passion the state’s civic leadership has and I hope to match that. I do think new perspectives are important for growth, especially when it comes to economic development. I’ll certainly bring the perspective I’ve gained living and working elsewhere, but I also plan to spend a lot of time in the weeks and months ahead learning from and listening to people with strong ties in this community.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.