How this Philly school exec is taking her public leadership to the next level

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How this Philly school exec is taking her public leadership to the next level
Cameron Miller
May 8, 2018

When the public good is at stake, strong leaders and effective organizations are worth the investment.

Coming from a low-income household and raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, Estelle Acquah understands the critical importance of support. “My early life was significantly influenced by other peoples’ investment in me,” she said. “My life is an amalgamation of nonprofit, personal, private sector, public sector investment.”

With support and resources at her back, Estelle went on to attend Brown University to build a career that gives back to communities like the one she grew up in and, crucially, one that honors the boundless support she received from her mother.

She began her career at a nonprofit focused on healthcare policy. Ultimately, she realized that youth development was everything and that the best way to remove barriers for the marginalized and underserved – her “North Star goal” – was to ensure groups with vast public reach were running as effectively as possible.

Today, Estelle is paying it forward, and is herself a leader in the public sector, ensuring the schools of Philadelphia are filled with great leaders through her work managing Leadership Pathways and Pipelines in the School District’s Office of Leadership Development and Evaluation. And when she's not at work or active in multiple groups in the community, Estelle is investing in developing her own expertise by pursuing an Executive Master of Public Administration at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government.

Estelle recognizes that organizations are ultimately as good as the people in them, so it’s crucial that leaders foster upcoming talent and provide them with the resources to succeed. “Organizations want to be judicious in using public dollars,” she said. “So it feels hard to justify using money for internal culture building and development, but it’s critical."

And Estelle has seen that investment pay off – both in her work and for herself. “I'm really passionate about helping people learn and grow,” she says, “because the only reason that I was able to achieve social and economic mobility is because other people helped me to learn and grow. It’s incumbent upon me to spread those opportunities.”

When it comes to the growth necessary to achieve her “North Star goal,” Estelle walks the walk. Not only does she foster leaders making a difference every day in Philadelphia through her work at the School District, but she continues to invest in her own development as an MPA student at Fels, building practical skills in organizational management, quantitative analysis, and financial administration.

“Public leadership is servant leadership,” she says, “and how our public organizations run is the new frontier. I’m really excited to be part of the Fels community and a cohort of people that understand that.”

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326
felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu

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