Q&A with Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace

By Will Crow

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation's CEO, Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace

Ingram's and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation's newest CEO, Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace, discuss education and entrepreneurial culture in Kansas City. As Burns-Wallace enters her first month in her new role, learn more about the transition process and what lies down the road for the organization.

Posted September 5, 2023

"Kansas City is a destination, and we are here for the short-term impactful and the long-term haul."

Q: You began your new role as CEO on August 7, How has the transition been and how is your background going to drive the Kauffman Foundation’s mission forward?

A: The transition has already been a whirlwind. If you are familiar with the foundation, you know we have many areas that tie into the history and the legacy of the Kansas City community and around the region. I’ve spent these first couple of weeks doing deep dives and getting to know the work firsthand across different areas in our work here locally with our civic and local engagement opportunities like education and entrepreneurship.

We are looking for opportunities where I can engage—I’m calling it an engagement tour rather than the traditional listening tour—because I don’t want to listen to someone for just an hour, I want to see their work live. To be honest, I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time with my team because the team we have at the foundation is key to the connectivity in our community to understand the needs of our partners.

As far as my background, my career spans from federal government, public and private education as well as state government. I talk about my career as a tread affecting lives and marshaling resources to have an impact on communities that I have served. I think my previous works position me well to bring a rich perspective to a body of work that is already robust.

Q: We are seeing trends in lower overall enrollment for college students, especially in community colleges. Given your background in education, what ways can we work to remedy these lower figures in our region?

A: The thing is, the pandemic had an interesting effect on all aspects of education, there were various aspects of education where we were seeing gains. However, community colleges in particular play such a key role, both in terms of pathways to and through various degrees and credentialing, in different certifications that prepare those in our community for various workforce pathways. The community colleges in this region have played a critical role in partnership with organizations like ourselves as well as the opposite side with private companies that source and find their workforce through them.

What I will say is we are seeing continued partnerships between community colleges and K12 schools, four-year institutions, workforce development spaces and employers. As we continue to massage that ecosystem and strengthen the partnership within those different systems I do believe that we will continue to rebound from those enrollment figures. However, I do think it is an intentionality to work in our region and make sure our students have opportunities to see what they need to be successful and understand what credentials are prepared in those pathways.

Q: What initiatives do you wish to pursue as the Kauffman Foundation’s new CEO in terms of more entrepreneurial opportunities in Kansas City?

A: The Kauffman Foundation has the FastTrac program and our Capital Access Labs, those are some of the core programs that we currently have and ones that I will continue to learn more about those and how to support them. I’m looking forward to understanding the places and spaces Kauffman can really leverage into entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are the creators of new knowledge if you think about what they do. They create and innovate in just the work that they do. Being able to be a catalyst in their learning and growth is vital. Some of the things the foundation is working on and investing in like 1 Million Cups and FastTrac are the heart of what we are doing currently. However, there will be more to come and I’m excited to delve into it.

Q: There has been discussion among states since the Supreme Court’s ruling on the use of Affirmative Action in colleges’ enrollment practices and those same practices bleeding over into the business hiring process. Have you given thought to how this can affect Kansas City’s entrepreneurial opportunities and the Kauffman Foundation’s mission?

A: When thinking of the Kauffman Foundation we always go back to donor intent. When Mr. Kauffman put his money, I would say where his mouth was, he believed in this idea of opportunity for people to improve their lives. He was very particular about his donor’s intent around his scholars that he wanted to prepare people for economic mobility. The work was about creating access for people of all communities and all walks of life to have the ability to access what they need for their own economic stability, mobility and prosperity. He believed that the two levers to access those were education and entrepreneurship.

Behind the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s decision, I don’t believe that the Kauffman Foundation’s work has changed. We continue to work in communities where we are trying to create access with systemic barriers to opportunities.

As someone who came out of higher education and enrollment, that Supreme Court decision is something that I tread very closely. It does and will have growing implications in many different ways. And it’s something that we are mindful of in our work and our country. What I will say is that the Kauffman Foundation and the work that we do is the work that Mr. K started. We are still committed to it and will continue to do that work.

Q: Now that you are active in your CEO position, is the Kauffman Foundation accepting new grant proposals and from your perspective what are you looking for in a new grant opportunity?

A: Not at this moment, no. We have a strong portfolio that we making sure is up to date. Three weeks into my role as CEO, the team is detailing the clarity of our strategic direction and all that is coming soon. Know that foundationally, our commitment to the Kansas City community is key and critical. We simply need a bit of time as we go through this transition period but the good part is we are still out there connecting with our partnerships. So, the work hasn’t stopped but at this moment we are on a slite pause and need a refresh.

Q: As a Kansas City native, where do you see Kansas City growing economically and where do you wish to see it grow and do those two visions intersect in any way?

A: I think about the companies that moved here in the past several years and how the national organizations and entities that have identified Kansas City as their home or a place of up-and-coming events, both national and international. The work happening with the KC Current, having the first women’s professional stadiums built here and elevating women’s professional soccer in those ways comes to mind. We are seen as a region that is truly nationally competitive but I hope that we don’t limit ourselves to just one sector of growth. Kansas City is a destination, and we are here for the short-term impactful and the long-term haul. I hope we will continue to push ourselves to see growth in many sectors. With that comes training, and with training comes jobs that will lead to economic prosperity. I don’t have a particular dream or vision except for us to truly capitalize on this moment and continue to grow. Because what we do know is when we dream big we can make it happen and it has a direct economic impact on our future.