There are thousands of untold stories that could have changed the course of humankind. For decades, people’s voice has been suppressed, creating racial hatred and discrimination. Even now, millions of people are fighting the arduous battles against racial prejudice to receive proper civil rights and social justice. For over a century (NAACP) has led the fight, ensuring all persons’ political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights and eliminating race-based discrimination.
Supporting the fight against racial prejudice is Vanessa Mbonu, the Vice President, Digital Marketing & Communications, utilizing her experience as a communicator to work advancing social justice through media and technology.
Vanessa knew that she wanted to tell stories for a living from a young age; thus, she received a degree in journalism from St. John’s University and a Masters in Global Media and Communication from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She then interned at Maxim Magazine and worked as a production assistant at Voice of America until landing her first paid job as a content creator for AARP the Magazine.
Following her drive to tell stories that positively impact people’s lives, Vanessa made a conscious decision, pivoting into public relations for non-profit organizations and started her journey at the NAACP as a Communications Associate. NAACP created a fostering environment where she could learn and innovate on the job. Her agility aided her in climbing the ladder in the organization to become the Vice President of Digital Marketing and Communications.
While constantly being challenged with learning the ins and outs of public policy to keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape, innovative strategies, and campaigns at a legacy organization, Vanessa tries to be a bold, supportive, and motivational team leader. She asserts, “With any career transition, there will always be a learning curve, but I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from a team of inspiring women leaders. After all, the NAACP is the nation’s first and largest civil rights organization and it’s led by a C-suite made up almost entirely of women of color.”
Sustaining Democracy Digitally
Vanessa oversees, protects, and manages the NAACP brand online. Her work directly impacts people’s lives, which is why she doesn’t take it lightly. Understanding the power of words, every email, tweet, and ad that engages the audience brings them one step closer to sustaining democracy. Vanessa sees millions of opportunities to impact when viewing analytics, metrics, and numbers.
Vanessa has reached audiences across the country and beyond by conducting extensive research, testing, and strategy. NAACP’s email marketing program is incredibly successful, surpassing industry engagement standards by more than half. She says, “We’ve been able to do this, as a small team at that, by taking the time to STIR the pot. Strategize, Test, Implement and Report. Sometimes you stir the pot too much, and you end up burning your food. That’s okay. Fail, but fail fast. You can’t build award-winning campaigns by playing it safe.”
Fostering Encouraging Work Culture
Vanessa mentions that the culture of the NAACP aims to reflect the world it advocates for, valuing diversity, inclusion, and equity, and believes these should be fundamental principles of every organization in the 21st century. The NAACP also prides itself in fostering a culture where every staff person is encouraged to show up as their most authentic self. The organization genuinely invests in the wellbeing of staff, knowing the importance of the work they do.
The NAACP recently launched a Find Your Fit initiate, with programs, tools, and resources that help the staff enhance their physical, financial, professional, and emotional wellbeing. Vanessa asserts, “We’re dedicated to improving the country for people of color, and we do that by starting from the inside out.”
The Responsible Use of Technology
The technological advancements have made it more straightforward for the companies that work as B2B and B2C; however, the NAACP is a non-profit organization that tries to leverage technology to improve, protect, and change communities. Vanessa is constantly looking at data analytics, researching the latest marketing trends, and diving deeper to figure out how to leverage them. The primary goal is to mobilize activists, and social media, digital ads, and geo-targeting have proven themselves invaluable on that front.
Though technology can be a huge helping hand, it can also disrupt the flow, so it is a huge responsibility to ensure it is not inherently discriminatory in nature and use it to advance society. Vanessa expresses, “We’ve tackled tech giants like Facebook for negligence and malpractice in the spread of misinformation on its platform. We’ve fought back against mobile carriers for rules such as “10DLC,” which make it harder for organizations like us to reach our subscribers through text message.”
The Upcoming Transformative Shifts
Vanessa sees a gradual growth in the non-profit industry and wishes that there would be more innovation. She says, “We can’t fight 21st-century problems with 20th-century weapons.” Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly more in tune with the world around them, demanding more transparency, committing to make the world better than how they see it today. Vanessa sees them as self-starters, having the entrepreneurial spirit of starting more organizations and bringing the change.
From ME to YOU
Sharing her thoughts about the future, Vanessa envisions herself building a life where she is pouring back into the community more than it has poured into her. She has seen firsthand, people dedicating their entire lives to the betterment of their communities, leaving incredible legacies for the next generation. She heartily expresses, “If I can achieve just 10 percent of what some of the most notable people who’ve come from this organization have done, I will be feel accomplished.”
Tell Your Tales
Vanessa advises budding women entrepreneurs to find a mentor. She notes, “Whenever people ask me how I’ve been able to achieve what I have at such a young-ish age (I’m 27), I always tell them I only did 60 percent of the work. The other 40 percent came from the Black women who’ve helped me along the way. Even if you don’t have someone in your immediate circle that can serve as a mentor, go on LinkedIn, open up a business journal, find someone who emulates the career path you desire, and follow their journey. Read their articles. Listen to their talks.”
Last but not least, You need to see people like you achieving what the world has told you is impossible, Vanessa concludes.