Evolving Skills

Growing skills to strengthen our capacity for innovation

For any organization to stand the test of time, it needs a dedicated staff willing to evolve their skills in service of the mission. We’re lucky to have skills spanning library science, research methodologies, data science, facilitation, computer programming, and even ping pong. In 2016, we saw roles grow in interesting ways, and we thought we’d share Amy Stern’s and Arif Ekram’s stories with you here.

As we have evolved our data systems, our staff have built new skills and evolved their roles to support more streamlined, automated processes. Amy Stern came to Foundation Center as a special data projects associate manually cleaning excel spreadsheet data from foundations. Now, she is an application developer, working on various aspects of database development including using SSIS to support loading data from a wider variety of sources, deploying back-end bulk updates, and brainstorming solutions to needs identified by user stories.

“Moving into this new role was very empowering. I can answer questions myself, and I know the questions to ask.”

Her growth started through a class taught by another staff member about SQL, and continued through online courses, other peer-led classes (most recently, Python) and encouraged curiosity. “The classes have been great, but applying what I learned to actually solve real-world problems is very satisfying. Strengthening our data and our processes is motivating, because I know it will help organizations get quality information they need faster.” Amy is also a clutch player on Foundation Center’s softball team.


Arif Ekram similarly worked as a data analyst, with a specific focus on international foundations. In 2016, he became a critical part of our global partnerships work, where he manages multiple projects tied to topics ranging from the sustainable development goals (SDGs), to data capacity building, to early childhood development, to agriculture. “Ultimately, the hope is that this work will bring transparency to the sector. It’s broad, multi-year, multi-region work, but that’s what’s exciting. It requires investment in understanding the cultural, legal, and political environments of different countries and how that relates to data work, which can vary a lot.” For Arif, part of this evolved role is representing Foundation Center and philanthropy more broadly in multi-stakeholder conversations. At the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network conference in Hong Kong, Arif spoke on a panel about data availability and quality issues, mostly focusing on Asia. This is a big leap from what he was previously working on, and he credits “learning from experts, both colleagues at Foundation Center and externally through workshops, conferences, and simply following the news” as core to his skill development.