Changing Our World: Vanessa Washington
This profile series highlights colleagues across Bank of the West who serve our communities through board service or volunteerism. Vanessa Washington, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, talks about her support for Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco and the California Minority Counsel Program, and why she’s passionate about supporting community.
What inspires you to be involved in our community?
I grew up in a small town that had a strong sense for helping people directly (rather than through nonprofits). Our community activity was through the church and my parents, who were very giving people, were great role models for helping others. There is a wonderful culture of giving in my family, which continues today.
I believe to whom much is given, much is expected. If we all gave a little the world would be a better place. I never understood until I was much older, but you actually get more out of giving than from receiving. You’re doing good. You feel good. And it’s good for your soul, you know?
We can take life and our jobs way too seriously. When we’re involved in our community, we’re connected to others who can help us put things in perspective.
Tell us about the organization(s) you serve and how they’re making an impact in our community.
I‘ve been with Habitat for over a year. I feel strongly about the lack of housing in the Bay Area and people struggling to find good and decent housing. I grew up with the concept that if you work hard, you should be able to buy a home. But housing seems out of reach for so many people. I like Habitat’s mission of putting people in homes and also keeping people in homes.
I’ve been on the board of the California Minority Counsel Program (CMCP) since 2006. I want to make sure that there are opportunities in the legal profession for people of color and for women. I continue to participate in this organization as a part of my commitment to diversity.What is your role with the nonprofits?
I’m on the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, and I’m also the Chair of the Audit Committee and serve on the Governance Committee, which is an obvious fit.
For CMCP I am currently a Director but at different times, I have served as the Treasurer and have been on the Executive Committee.How did you choose the organization you serve?
I’d been on CPMC for a number of years and wanted to expand onto another board. I was affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs for a number of years and I was also interested in seniors and housing. The advice I would give team members considering a board position is to find a nonprofit that is your passion. I looked at a number of organizations with the help of Community Affairs and spoke to other executives in those nonprofits. Doing your due diligence is important. Luckily, I wanted to do Habitat and they wanted me, too!What is the single most rewarding community service experience you’ve had, and why?
At one time I mentored a young woman in the foster care system in Alameda County. I had not seen her in 20 years and had lunch with her last summer. She is successful in her professional life and has a wonderful family. It was terrific to catch up with her and to hear how she has made her way in life. There have been times in my life when I’ve been busy and I can’t be as active as I want to be, but I always come back to volunteering.What are some of the personal benefits to being engaged through volunteerism or board service?
I think depending on the activities you do, it’s a great networking opportunity. I meet people from different companies and disciplines whom I ordinarily would not meet, particularly on the Habitat board. I also get to meet people outside of banking which I find interesting.
Also there are opportunities to gain new skills. I mentioned that I am chair of the audit committee. Normally you wouldn’t think the General Counsel would serve in that capacity but I had an interest in developing those skills. And for colleagues who want to develop leadership skills, nonprofits always need people to volunteer on projects and programs. For team members who haven’t had a chance to be a manager but want to be a leader, serving on a board and chairing a committee is a great opportunity to lead.