VOL. 128 | NO. 229 | Friday, November 22, 2013
Memphis Standout Profile
Pote Builds Bridges Through Seedco Community Work
RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News
Seedco is a national nonprofit whose mission statement since 1987 has been “to advance economic opportunity for people, businesses and communities in need.”
This is done, says Lisa Pote, senior vice president for Seedco’s Mid-South regional office, by working with individuals and businesses, and within the communities themselves, “to be a contribution to the communities that we’re in.” Seedco has been working within Shelby County since 2004, and has 30 employees.
Pote was born and raised in Washington, received a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and worked for Dun & Bradstreet before moving to Nashville in 1994. There, she attended the University of Tennessee-Nashville College of Social Work for a master’s degree in social work with a focus in management and community practice.
She doesn’t do clinical work but, instead, is a “bridge builder” who has a passion for problem-solving and doesn’t shy away from confrontation.
“I’m not afraid to step into the middle of a difficult conversation to try and make it better,” Pote said.
Leading a consultant practice for nonprofits at the Center for Nonprofit Management at the time, Pote was recruited as the interim director of Seedco in 2011. Saying she “always thought they would be a great organization to work for because the purpose of Seedco aligns with my own mission personally and professionally,” she nevertheless split her time between Memphis and Nashville, unwilling to commit to the Bluff City.
“Interim directors are supposed to have the trains run on time,” she said, “and I had no intention whatsoever of moving, none.”
While she’d been working across a broad range of nonprofits, though not necessarily for the purpose of poverty relief, within a month the work she did in Memphis, she said, “tugged at me.”
Going back to her personal mission and how it aligns with that of Seedco’s, Pote paints the picture: “My mother will tell you that I pretty much popped out of the womb trying to solve problems. We’re all born with our own thing that we’re meant to do. For me, weaving together systems that don’t love to work together because of their own rules – to make things better for people – that really is, I believe, my purpose.”
During her tenure as interim director over that spring and into summer, no obvious leader rose to the top, and in August of 2011, with those missions aligning, it was a natural leap into her role at Seedco.
“If you really are worried about making people stronger, the No. 1 way, from my perspective, you can do that is from work,” she said. “Work stabilizes a person and a family and a community.”
Seedco has a contract with the Tennessee Department of Human Services to do welfare reform work and help thousands make the transition off of public assistance through its Families First program. They have implemented a training project with the Memphis BioWorks Foundation for industry-specific training to move people into higher-paying jobs.
Pote calls the statewide project to get people enrolled into the health insurance marketplace “our sweet spot.” Their first statewide initiative to help consumers shop, compare and apply for coverage, is paramount to the mission “because those are working Tennesseans that need access to health care and don’t have it otherwise.”
Within the community, Seedco has some big name partners all working toward a better Shelby County. They include Bridges Inc., Christ Community Health Services, Exchange Club Family Center, GrowMemphis, Memphis Area Legal Services, Porter-Leath and The Works Inc.
“Our model isn’t to do the work ourselves; our model is to subcontract with trusted neighborhood community entities and have them work with the clients that they work with,” she said. “We sort of leverage their strength against ours, which really is about building networks and creating systems of accountability for them.”
Though she says her work doesn’t leave her with a lot of free time, the mother of two grown sons – one a chef in San Francisco and the other an international club DJ based in Los Angeles – enjoys exercising, salsa dancing and the food that Memphis has to offer. She’s fallen for the city she said she never had any intention of moving to, and is impressed with its nonprofits, its communities, and the way they work together.
“I believe in the good of people, honestly,” she said. “I believe that things are doable. I enter into situations thinking that, ‘OK, here’s a problem. Let’s figure it out.’ So this work of moving people from poverty to self-sufficiency is at the core of who I am. Everything I do professionally is about that. And personally, I have a great deal of passion for that work.”