Every month LGW highlights a new member of the Leadership Greater Washington Community. This month we had the pleasure of getting to know Karen Wawrzaszek, recent graduate of the Class of 2018: Making a Scene.
Meet Karen: Karen Wawrzaszek (’18) is the Managing Director for Rockefeller Capital Management. As Managing Director, she works with families of wealth and non-profit organizations to provide investment programming and holistic financial planning. Ultimately, harmonizing their financial behaviors with their investment and philanthropic goals. As an advisor with a specialty in impact investing, she leads a variety of impact and sustainability initiatives on behalf of my clients as part of their overall wealth plan. Karen is also the Co-Founder/Chief Empowerment Officer for the Pomona Society (a non-profit membership association working to alleviate poverty).
Can you give us some background or insight into your personal leadership path – including your sources of inspiration and most important lessons learned?
My leadership path has definitely not been a traditional one. I have always admired leaders that encourage their teams to learn beyond the scope of the work they were originally hired to complete. Armed with a degree in finance, I started my career in the Midwest (where I am from) auditing closely-held businesses that coincidentally were family owned, which in hindsight, equipped me very well for the work I do today. I stepped into the role reluctantly because I would be alone and on the road most of the time and as a young woman, that felt scary. Taking the role was a blessing in disguise because it took my naturally independent self to a much higher level and helped me gain the confidence to go with the independence. I learned from so many of the leaders of each of these enterprises…it was a miracle start for me.
I seek inspiration from leaders that have overcome personal tragedy and have not lost their way…stayed the course and grew from the experience. These leaders are relatable to me because I came from very poor beginnings and overcame adversity. The lessons that I have learned really center around vulnerability and to not be afraid to NOT have all of the answers.
How did you first become involved with Leadership Greater Washington and the Signature Program?
Serving on the Board of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation has been such a life-changing experience for me. Several of the board members and the current CEO participated in the program and encouraged me to do the same. I will forever be grateful for the experience.
What do you love most about your LGW Class? Class of 2018: Making a Scene!
Where do I start with my class? Hmmm…They are SPIRITED and I love that so much. We have a lot of fun and so many classmates could do stand-up comedy – such a nice surprise because it fosters a real inclusiveness.
What has been your favorite program day?
Health Day was the best followed closely with Education Day – both days presented with real eye-openers about what is transpiring in Washington.
How would you describe LGW - the alumni, leadership, staff, and overall mission of the organization?
The alumni that I have had the privilege of meeting and those that I previously knew have been wonderful and have felt like the program has been beneficial for their leadership journey(s). The staff has been responsive and helpful. The Leadership team has been supportive and responsive to how to continue evolving and growing The Signature Program!
Can you describe an extraordinary LGW Moment from your experience - a connection you made, something you pursued because of LGW, or a distinctive memory?
I attribute launching my non-profit, Pomona Society to the encouragement I received from LGW classmates. The underlying purpose (poverty alleviation) has been an initiative of mine for a number of years and the time felt right with the support of some of my classmates to forge ahead and launch!
How do you envision the future of the region? What about LGW’s role in that future?
I am optimistic about the future of the region. I have long felt that the power of Washington is a trifecta if we leverage what is right in front of us with talent, policymakers, the enterprise sector, and innovative non-profits. I have met some amazing leaders spearheading incredible initiatives since joining LGW and have no doubt we can meet the current challenges of the region and grow and attract businesses and residents.
Tell us more about your new nonprofit, Pomona Society. How did this new venture come to fruition?
Pomona Society became a non-profit that started as a conversation about poverty and Washington with my ultimate co-founder, Abby Skeans. We both have spent our entire adult lives contributing time and resources to issues affecting women and children and found that our collective network and the community could benefit from an action-oriented membership organization focused on high impact. We designed the program to address the uniqueness of women living in poverty in Washington through a pillar and project approach. You can learn more at www.pomonasociety.com
How has LGW played a role in your professional life?
LGW has been a great conversation starter professionally. People I meet that I would like to engage in business with are eager to learn about it and impressed to learn about the connectedness of the program. Many of our classmates and thought leaders have given me new ways to think about some professional challenges – I find myself thinking about the day-to-day differently and how can I inspire those around me?
What are some keys to staying innovative in your field or some tips for success?
I can’t say it enough, but keep learning and learn about things OUTSIDE of the scope of your daily work. You will find a connection that impacts your work…I promise. You will also open networks you didn’t know existed and the education cycle will continue. I would also say, learn to say “no” when you really need to, especially if the “no” means you can hit the cover off the ball on the “yes” for something else.
Please tell us something most people might not know about you.
Not having resources growing up, I learned to do basic repairs on my VW Rabbit during college.