Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Jamie Sears, Head of Community Affairs and Corporate Responsibility for the Americas with the global financial firm UBS, who also leads the UBS Foundation USA.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
Get practice using your voice, and don’t be afraid to use it. That was important when I started out and is still important now. I grew up as an adopted Asian American in a small town that was predominantly white and, from my earliest days, I did not feel comfortable speaking up. Even as I moved through life and a career at some incredible organizations, I largely put my head down, did the work and thought it would speak for me. That is not how the world works if you want to have a big impact. I wish I had known the power of believing that my voice was worth something, and that the most powerful thing I could do is use it to advocate for myself and for others. Ultimately, it’s about having the confidence to know that you are contributing to the world.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Right now, I feel my greatest challenge is living up to this moment in the fight for a more equitable society. In some ways, after 20 years of working in social impact, I feel built for this. In other ways, admittedly, I’ve had many moments of being overwhelmed at how far we need to go. We must center equity in every aspect of how we rebuild after this pandemic, especially because it revealed a disproportionate impact on women and communities of color, who also happen to make up the largest portion of our front line and essential workers. So the challenge for me and our sector is making sure we uphold our democratic ideals and correct the inequitable access to health, education, basic freedoms and rights, and economic opportunities that these communities have faced for generations.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
I truly lucked out in having a career where I can actively contribute to building the world I want to see and link arms with so many people in this effort. There are countless colleagues I work with now or have worked alongside in the past, those I don’t know personally but inspire me from afar, and the people we are working on behalf of that give me energy to keep moving things forward. I love that my daily work is focused on social impact. This makes me feel like I’ve chosen the right path. However, progress can feel slow, and I can be impatient. So to stay motivated when things get hard, I keep these two things in mind: Every day is a new day and opportunity, and each victory creates more victory.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
My lived experience as an underrepresented leader in social impact and financial services is an important part of what I bring to my work. Layer in my identity as an Asian woman, first-generation college graduate, mother of a bi-racial child; there are privileges and prejudices at this intersection. I am certain there is a connection to the work I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to.
5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?
We plant the seeds of change and invest in leveling the playing field, where inequities exist. Project Entrepreneur, a program by UBS that I co-founded in 2015, is focused on accelerating the work of female founders in the U.S. While this is funded using philanthropic dollars, this should not be seen as charity. With Project Entrepreneur, what we are doing is investing in human potential and breaking down long-held barriers for women in entrepreneurship. This type of patient capital is useful when you want to change the status quo; in our case, advancing the success of female founders by unlocking access to capital, connecting them to mentors and capital networks, and investing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports them.
Before UBS, I was part of the team that launched a global women’s entrepreneurship initiative providing business education to 10,000 women in emerging market countries. This was a philanthropic investment that helped women build their companies with the aim to have an exponential impact on the individuals, their families, their communities and society at large. Used in an intentional way, philanthropy is an important tool in building a market. Philanthropic dollars can be used as risk capital to test new ideas and interventions, and invest in catalytic ideas that when proven successful, can and should be scaled.
6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
I am optimistic we will see an acceleration of the progress made toward gender equity. A generational shift is underway, bringing greater awareness of our contributions as well as the burdens and inequalities we still face, whether it be in the pay gap, women’s share of unpaid labor, or lack of access to capital. This is as much about a change in mindset as it is about building on the work and sacrifices of women who came before us. As the saying goes, women hold up half the sky. There are significant societal benefits when we’ve been able to close some gaps, expand opportunities, and increase the leadership and representation of women in all realms.
More on Jamie Sears:
Jamie Sears is Head of UBS Community Affairs & Corporate Responsibility, Americas, and she also leads the UBS Foundation USA. Since joining UBS in 2012, Sears has co-led the development of its philanthropic strategy, overseeing the firm’s high-impact flagship initiatives and launching its signature programs in the areas of education and entrepreneurship. As the architect and program head for UBS Elevating Entrepreneurs, a portfolio of programs focused on driving inclusive entrepreneurship, she oversaw the creation of Project Entrepreneur, which seeks to build the pipeline of female founders of high-growth companies. She also oversaw the establishment of UBS NextGen Leaders, a multi-year commitment to increasing college and career success for first-generation and low-income students. Sears holds a Master of Public Administration from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Politics and Spanish from Pennsylvania State University.
This interview has been minimally edited.
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