On April 3, amidst the chaos and chatter of Twitter, a single Tweet resonated with many Rhode Islanders especially in the philanthropic, non-profit, and media sectors. After thirteen years, @JDinRI aka Jessica David, then-Executive Vice President of Strategy & Community Investments at the Rhode Island Foundation, announced it was her last day on the job. David, who worked her way up from Officer to Director to VP to EVP, made and left her mark working on and for a variety of worthwhile endeavors including Rhode Island Innovation Fellowships and Make It Happen RI. (Notice a theme?) On Twitter, her thoughtful Tweets always close with a reaffirming “Chin up.” We interviewed David – from a safe distance, of course – for some of her signature insights and to find out what’s next.
What are your proudest accomplishments at the RI Foundation?
It’s an honor to have been part of the Rhode Island Foundation team. Hands down, the most rewarding part was connecting with and supporting the people and organizations making good things happen across our state. I’m also particularly proud to have worked on the campaign for Roger Williams Park and the Foundation’s impact investing initiative.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge ahead for the community during COVID-19?
We’re all eager to get back to our normal lives, and yet we know that there’s going to be a new normal going forward. Our greatest challenge (and opportunity!) is to not simply recreate the status quo. Many of our assumptions are being tested, from which workers are essential to how healthcare is delivered to how we sustain local news. COVID-19 has laid bare huge gaps and fundamental inequities in our economic and social structures. We have a chance to rebuild our local communities in ways that make us more resilient for whatever future challenges we might face.
You were a Providence Monthly 10 to Watch in 2013. Any reflections?
Wow; times goes so quickly! I thank Providence Monthly for the chance to be in such good company.
Your signature "chin up" tweets are such a source of inspiration. What advice do you have for Rhode Islanders who are feeling unsteady right now?
Everyone needs to find their own footing, but here’s what I tell myself: First, Iook to the people around you. Connections with other people – often unexpected – are getting me through the scary moments. People are meeting this moment of human vulnerability in warm, creative, surprising, and unique ways. They reach out and respond with wisdom and generosity. People are amazing! Second, we get to make meaning for ourselves out of this unsteady moment. What do we want to bring forward (and how do we want to change)?
What will you miss most about working downtown? Any favorite cafes or shops you'd like to give a shout-out to?
Downtown Providence is a very special place, with so much charm and character. Luckily, I live just a short walk away, so I won’t have to miss out on too much. Right now, I miss Ellie’s breakfast sandwiches and tacos from Poco Loco’s visits to Kennedy Plaza.
What's next for Jessica David?
I’m crazy about Rhode Island. Whatever I do next, I want to be of service to this place and our people. There is exciting work happening to build community capacity, and I plan to support that. In the meantime, I’m staying home, catching up on reading, trying to teach myself how to podcast, and working on my local t-shirt collection.