Can a global pandemic provide a platform for change? If you are Kwame Owusu-Kesse, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the answer is a resounding yes. With a pre-existing, comprehensive, platform aimed to combat racial inequity and bridge educational divides, the Harlem Children’s Zone was in a uniquely well prepared position when COVID hit. Able to identify the immediate and long term needs of their community members, HCZ focused on a 5-pronged approach. Comprehensive and strategic, Kwame’s plan, designed to serve the local Harlem community, was quickly scaled for national use.
Kwame explains how his journey as the child of Ghanaian immigrants was forever changed as the result of a little luck in a little church basement. He took that luck and turned it into opportunity and from that opportunity and hard work, Kwame has successfully transferred his experience in the private sector to benefit the public sector.
Kwame shares how he and the HCZ are dedicated to taking luck out of the equation so that every child experiences the freedom and independence that comes with opportunity.
Meet our guest:
Kwame Owusu-Kesse is chief executive officer of Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a nationally acclaimed, anti-poverty organization that has pioneered the field of comprehensive, place-based services. Owusu-Kesse serves as a multi-sector leader across private, public, and social domains with demonstrated expertise in cross-disciplinary management, financial analysis, social innovation, fundraising, community building, and socioeconomic mobility.
As CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, Owusu-Kesse oversees the organization’s comprehensive programming, ranging from life-shaping early development and innovative education programs to community health and wellness and outreach initiatives. He is also responsible for leading the implementation of a multifaceted five-year strategic plan that leverages HCZ’s program data to refine its strategies, pursue innovative solutions to further improve participant outcomes, create efficiencies to reduce costs without reducing effectiveness, and improve operations and procedures in several key areas.
Additionally, Owusu-Kesse has spearheaded a national COVID-19 response and recovery strategy that, to date, has raised more than $50M to support 7 cities across the US: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Newark, New York City, and Oakland. Given the early success of the national COVID response and recovery strategy, and with a highlighted focus on bridging the digital divide across the U.S., Owusu-Kesse also helped broker a unique corporate partnership with the Take on Race Initiative led by Proctor and Gamble and a coalition of major corporations including Walmart, Dell, Dow Jones, and others. His TED Talk, “5 needs that any Covid response should meet” garnered over a million views in the first nine weeks of its release in July of 2020.
Owusu-Kesse has appeared on numerous many national media shows including CNBC’s SquawkBox, MSNBC’s Live with Stephanie Ruhle, PBS’ Amanpour and Company, and CNN’s Newsroom w/ Poppy Harlow. He has written for The New York Times and has been profiled in their “Sunday Routine.” He also was named to BETs Future 40 List, and most recently selected to City & State New York’s Top 100 list of most influential African Americans in New York politics and the 2021 Nonprofit Power 100. Owusu-Kesse is a sought-after speaker on various topics including socioeconomic mobility, business leadership, community building, affordable housing, youth development, and mental health and wellness.
Prior to joining HCZ, Owusu-Kesse worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley.
Owusu-Kesse received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard College, a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School, and a master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School.