Dr. Jeanne Contardo joined the Partnership as Managing Director of the Capital CoLAB in fall 2019. During her tenure leading the Partnership’s signature skills and talent program, we have gained valuable business and academic partners, expanded our programmatic offerings, articulated a clear vision for our work, and most importantly, engaged thousands of learners in meaningful pathways to develop and hone their digital tech skills.
Now, as she prepares to transition out of her role, we got her take on the value of CoLAB’s work and bright spots from her time leading the team.
Why did you choose to join the CoLAB team in 2019?
I was inspired by the mission of the Greater Washington Partnership to make this region the best place to live, work, build a business, and thrive. Throughout my professional career, I’d always worked in other regions that were other people’s communities. So the opportunity to work on behalf of my neighbors and friends was heady stuff and always made me work just a little harder.
What has been your favorite part of leading the CoLAB team?
Gosh, I have a long list: Those moments when we choreographed events, and you could see the lightbulbs and connections going off with stakeholders; the times when we engaged early career team members and coached them into growth and new roles; the joy of imagining new ideas and bringing them from concept to execution; and those intentional examinations of our success when we would take stock of everything we accomplished—and it was a lot!
What has surprised you most throughout your experience with CoLAB?
During my time with CoLAB, I was fortunate to have four Advisory Committee chairs (Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman Corporation; Tom Kirchmaier, General Dynamics; Nora Gardner, McKinsey; and Ardine Williams, Amazon). All of them stunned me regularly with their generosity of time and their combination of brilliance and humanity. I always left our encounters feeling I was better for their leadership, their thinking, and how they guided while allowing the team to create and grow. Watching their leadership in action strengthened my faith in this work and the role corporate America will play in ensuring the inclusive growth of our region.
(L-R) Dr. Jeanne Contardo and Tom Kirchmaier, Capital CoLAB Advisory Committee Co-Chair
What excites you most about working in the education space?
I sometimes say that everyone who works in education is a true believer—I know in my heart that good education is transformational for individuals and society. A good education can help level the playing field and correct centuries-old systemic wrongs. And, there’s growing awareness that the intentional interplay of education and workforce systems will be required to achieve equitable outcomes. So, I am deeply excited by the sustained nature of the focus on equity and social justice reform and believe that education remains the vital ingredient for a well-functioning democracy.
How has your experience with CoLAB helped you evolve as a leader?
I was fortunate during my time with CoLAB to observe many very strong leaders in action. The characteristics I strive to emulate include a thirst for information and a commitment to excellence; confidence in what I know and what I don’t know; the reminder to surround myself with people who are smarter than me; and humble recognition of the many people it takes to do hard work. A strong team can achieve anything.
If you could snap your fingers and solve any issue or hurdle you’ve encountered in this work, what would it be and why?
Systemic change is messy, hard work that just takes time. In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, our stakeholders sometimes don’t have the appetite to invest for the length of time it will realistically take to drive change. We also get nervous when we see lots of players in the same space. My mantra is “there’s enough work to go around,”– and if we can take the time to figure out who’s doing what and when knowing we have the support of key players in the ecosystem for the long haul, I think we will see the ecosystem evolution we are striving for.
As the Capital CoLAB continues to evolve and reach new learners across the Capital Region, we encourage you to stay in touch! You can sign up for regular updates here.