Remembering the Why

Anna Walker ’17, Project 55 Fellow at 
Partners for the Common Good

Anna Walker is a Flowery Branch, Georgia native who grew up in a diverse public school system fifty minutes outside Atlanta. At Princeton, she majored in History with a focus on Eastern Europe and nationalism in the post-Soviet world. Anna served the Princeton community by leading groups in the Community Action orientation program for two years, serving as a college counselor and mentor in the College Counseling Program and the Brooklyn College Awareness Program, and tutoring at the Princeton Public Library. Through her term as Vice President of the Cannon Dial Elm eating club, Anna organized the first Eating Club Women’s Officer group to promote female leadership on campus and in the eating clubs. She has also served on the Undergraduate Women’s Leadership Task Force. After a summer as a PICS intern with the U.S. Forest Service in science communications, she looks forward to using her writing, marketing, and research skills to advance Partners for the Common Good’s mission of advancing economic justice and opportunity for low-income communities.

You’ve heard the question before during every job interview. You’ve heard it from your parents, and probably from an uncle or aunt or two. You’ve asked yourself the same question many times, probably in preparation for those job interviews:

“Why do you want to work in _______?”

Fill in the blank with whatever industry you have chosen to dedicate the next year or more of your life to. For me, and for most Project 55 Fellows, that blank is the nonprofit world.

We are all motivated to do public service, which is what drove us to a Project 55 Fellowship. Yet, we also struggle with the common issue of temporarily (we hope) losing sight of that motivation when we’re in the trenches working nine to five, drinking our third cup of coffee before 1 p.m., and staring at SalesForce on our screens for the fourth hour in a row. Welcome to the real world, Class of 2017.

Luckily, for most of us in the nonprofit sphere, it is easier to find and remember why we do what we do than it is for some of our dear friends on the 72nd floors of glass-sheathed skyscrapers on Wall Street.

But back to the question: Why do I want to work in the nonprofit sphere? Because I want to give back to the communities I came from and use my Princeton education to better the world. “In the nation’s service and the service of all nations,” right?

October is the fifth month of my Fellowship at Partners for the Common Good (PCG), a community development financial institution (CDFI) that provides capital to communities that need it most for projects such as affordable housing, charter schools, and healthcare centers.

In my first month at PCG, I learned how to ride the DC Metro (actual slogan: “Back to Good”) and send Outlook calendar invites. In my second month, I took over PCG’s social media and newsletter duties as the resident millennial. By the third month, I actually understood what a CDFI is and what PCG does as a national participatory lending loan fund.

During these past five months, did I occasionally lose focus on why I was working in public service? Did my eyes glaze over as I read a credit memo for the third time that day? Did my back hurt from my terrible desk posture? Of course.

But, I also got to research and write profiles of our borrowers across the nation who benefit from projects that would never receive financing through traditional economic channels. I helped edit a massive grant application for federal dollars that would allow PCG to fund 1,540 affordable housing units in severely distressed census tracts. I got to revamp our marketing materials and work with grassroots community developers to tell on-the-ground stories of how these projects change lives. And I got to work with 10 other passionate, like-minded individuals in our office every day.

That’s why I chose a Project 55 Fellowship. Now is the time to devote my 22-year-old energies to the greater good. Now is the time to learn from those who can teach me so much, both in the office and in the communities we work to support and improve.

Anna (3rd from left) and her coworkers, including fellow Project 55 Fellow Hayley Roth 17 (right), at the Opportunity Finance Network Conference in September 2017.

My “why” was reinforced last week at our industry conference, where 1,400 community development and CDFI leaders gathered to learn and share how we can better affect the lives of the lowest-income populations in the nation. I was brought to tears by stories of first-time business owners, formerly homeless families, and first-time homeowners who achieved some part of the quickly retreating American Dream through the work of CDFIs like us. I was inspired by the unity and fighting spirit our industry shares in the face of today’s economically, racially, and socially divided world.

I know I am in the right place. I know that my Project 55 Fellowship has a positive effect on the world around me. Every moment in the office may not be a thrilling adventure that changes someone’s life, but every day is an opportunity to get one step closer to that life-changing moment for the low-income individuals we serve.

Now, Interviewer/Mom/Dad/Uncle Bob/Aunt Sally, does that answer your question?

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