Director Spotlight: Debra Joy Pérez

Evidence-Based Evaluations Leader Joins HIP Board

By Teresa Morales, HIP Contributor

In 2016 HIP welcomed an incredible cast of new directors, including Debra Joy Pérez, Chief of Evaluation and Learning for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Debra Joy Pérez

HIP will introduce each Board member through a series of blog posts. The first, below, consists of excerpts of an interview that Teresa Morales had with Pérez, who has been a leader in advancing evidence-based practices in evaluation and building new fields of research in health. (She was also featured in “Latina Style Magazine” as a Latina leader in philanthropy!)

How did you first hear about HIP?

I heard about HIP in 1999. At that time, HIP was focusing more on creating a network with Latinos who worked in philanthropy. I attended a great meeting and became aware of other Latinos working in the field of philanthropy.

What gets you excited about your work?

I have been in philanthropy for 20 years. I love the combination of programming, narrative, and new areas, such as the evaluation and the measuring of outcomes. It’s exciting to know that everything we do at Moore is about addressing big problems. It is about the long-term commitment to long-term sustainable communities that excites me.

What are the rewards and challenges of your work?

I am all about contrasts. I am inquisitive and a problem-solver that sees the interconnectedness. My personal style helps me exercise those qualities. In philanthropy, you have to be good with social connectedness and mentoring other professionals.

The constant challenge: measuring impact! The burden: making sure our investment is having an impact. Being able to demonstrate that impact is key. Making difficult decisions is also important. When investing in program areas for several years, sometimes you become enamored with the programs and you forget about measuring impact; but the program is the means not the end.

You graduated from Baruch College, in New York City, and Harvard University, in Massachusetts. When you graduated, did you think you would be involved in philanthropy?

No. I did not even know this world existed. I first worked in a battered women and disabled people community-based organization. I went to Europe for a number of years and, when I returned to the U.S., I did not know where to start looking for work. I knew some people in New Jersey. It was all about networks then, and it’s all about networks now. I got a job through someone I knew at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That was my introduction to the philanthropy sector.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change and why?

Having the realization early on that mentoring and coaching were important. I now do mentoring and coaching with mid-career professionals. I wish I had more mentoring early in my career. It makes a difference. I am not talking about mentors like people in your life who already support you; I am talking about professionals in the sector that give advice and guidance to mid-level career professionals.

I wish I had had that sooner in my life. I was the first in my family to go to college. I am one of nine kids. I had to figure out my way, discovering those “Aha!” moments on my own. I had people who helped me along, but I had no one to review my papers, no guidance, no coaching or support. We must never forget how we got here. The day I forget what a privilege, responsibility, and honor it is to be a philanthropist, that’s the day I need to get out of philanthropy.

Tell me about your favorite sport or a favorite movie.

I love the Olympic Games! What I love about it is seeing the representatives from so many countries stand at the podium. I do have one sport I like. Hiking. I have been in California three weeks in my new job as Vice President of Research, Evaluation, and Learning with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and I have gone hiking at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. A favorite movie, “When Harry Met Sally.” I love romantic comedy!

What excites you about being on HIP’s Board?

I am excited to be a part of the next years with HIP. Making contributions is important and exciting to me. Knowing the work that [HIP President] Diana [Campoamor] has done, what she has taught me, and what she has accomplished, is inspiring. There are not as many Latinos as there should be in this sector and as an older philanthropist, I am committed to who we are and who we are becoming. I want to contribute to HIP, to its future, to make sure that HIP is a leader in the integration of evaluation to be able to demonstrate impact.

Is there anything else you want to add?

This is an important year for HIP and the future direction of the organization. I look forward to assisting HIP integrate high-level professionals into the philanthropic sector.

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