Meet Paul Weech, president and CEO of NeighborWorks America.
Weech stepped into the organization’s top post last year after serving as executive vice president for policy and external affairs at the Housing Partnership Network.
Weech has also been chief of staff at the U.S. Small Business Administration; staff director for the Housing Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; and senior analyst for housing and credit for the Senate Budget Committee.
The Washington, D.C.–based NeighborWorks has a vast network of nonprofit community development organizations nationwide. The network’s members invested more than $1.9 billion in the development and preservation of affordable rental homes for low- and moderate-income households in fiscal 2015.
What changes have you brought to NeighborWorks?
I’d like to think the biggest change I’ve brought is an increased focus on the value we provide to the network of almost 250-strong housing and community nonprofits we support around the country through our grant-making, technical assistance, and training services. We’re elevating our commitment to excellent customer service and ensuring that we support a “network of excellence.”
How is the organization changing?
NeighborWorks is adapting to the rapid changes going on in the nonprofit sector so that we can better support our affiliated organizations and provide forward-leaning training and other services to the nonprofit sector as a whole. Among the major trends in the nonprofit housing and community development sector are need for a growing emphasis on social enterprise models—approaches to the mission work that are also economically sustainable—and the recognition that these nonprofits need to engage in cross sector collaborations to have a bigger impact on the lives of the people and communities they serve.
What new issues are emerging for the nonprofit organizations?
With major transformations occurring in the health-care and education sectors—and the growng recognition of the social determinants of health and education outcomes—the network increasingly is being approached by these other sectors to engage in cross-sector collaboration toward better life outcomes for low-income people.
The challenge and opportunity is to figure out how best to support the network as it plays “quarterback” roles coordinating complicated cross-sector collaboration and building new measurement and evaluation tools.
Tell us about a smart move you’ve made that others can learn from:
We’ve launched the Race, Ethnicity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. As a leading institution in the housing and community development field, we were already immersed in these issues. With the events of the past several years—Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston—it was critical that we step up and find our voice as part of the national conversation. How this initiative affects our organization and how we can support our network as part of the initiative is still to be determined, but it feels like an important journey.
Why affordable housing matters…:
Affordable housing matters in too many ways to enumerate here. But, I would say that I’m personally attracted to its role as the platform for creating life opportunities. Without stable housing and safe communities, kids are less likely to succeed in school. Too often, in order to find affordable housing, lower-income families need to live in places with less access to meaningful work.
We understand you’re an avid soccer player. What position do you play, and how does it fit your personality?
I want to continue to play soccer at the highest level I can. I’ve had to make some concessions to age. With the passage of time, I’ve played more on defense, but in my youth, I really enjoyed playing center midfield, where I could see the entire game around me and distribute the ball to others so they could make something happen.
Besides the usual work items, what’s in your office?
A poster from the Bread and Puppet Museum in Glover, Vt. It’s a bright-yellow print with the phrase “Possibilitarians.” I like to think my approach to life centers on the “art of the possible.”
What’s next for Paul Weech?
I could not be happier in this role. It is a huge honor to be able to be of service to such a great organization like NeighborWorks America.