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Female Disruptors: “No matter how many times I heard no, I decided that I would never give up on my dream based on someone else’s opinion of my ability to start my organization.”with Alicia White

I was denied funding, press, resources, fellowships and a lot of other important resources needed to get started, but from every no, I learned to not only tweak my idea but refine my idea to the best of my ability. And no matter how many times I heard no, I decided that I would never […]


I was denied funding, press, resources, fellowships and a lot of other important resources needed to get started, but from every no, I learned to not only tweak my idea but refine my idea to the best of my ability. And no matter how many times I heard no, I decided that I would never give up on my dream based on someone else’s opinion of my ability to start my organization. So a few short years later, I received along with my organization, awards from the NYC Mayor’s office, the NY Knicks, the Discovery Channel, and have gained the support of not only my community but other companies as well.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia White. Alicia is a social entrepreneur, innovator, commentator, and advocate. Alicia’s professional career has centered around building equity in communities, business, and social growth. Alicia has worked with organizations in the private and public sector to unlock their fullest potential. She works with organizations and companies on inclusion, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability. Alicia lends her commentary on both environmental and social issues to many publications. Alicia has also created educational programming to improve future outcomes of youth. Her advocacy work stems from a passion for expanding the economic and environmental growth of communities in need. Alicia White is the President and Founder of Project Petals an environmental and community development organization in NYC. She had the vision to start a non-profit organization that focused on revitalizing under-served, minority and under-resourced communities. That is where Project Petals started. She founded the Project Petals Builders Program an educational program that helps foster youth leadership in their communities. By introducing them to architecture, engineering, urban planning, design, and tech. Her goal is not only to revitalize communities but also create capacity and build internal leadership. With a passion and the skill set for identifying and redistributing resources; Alicia works to connect people with the necessary tools, funding, and connections they need to transform their communities. Alicia and her work have been featured in the New York Post, ABC News, NBC, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; she was named ABC News Hidden Hero, Huffington Posts 99 Limit Breaking Female Founders, NBA Knicks City Award and Discovery Channel’s Inspire, a Difference Hero. Alicia has also been featured in Vogue online, Allure, Nylon Magazine, DNA Info and has received the NYC Mayor Service Award. She has dedicated her career to the betterment of communities, building equity in under-resourced areas and the environment. Alicia is a lifelong diversity, environmental, women rights, and youth advocate. She believes that every person deserves to live in a safe, clean, economically strong and environmentally sound environment. Alicia was most recently selected by Techub Diversity initiative for a technology upstart.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always had a passion for building equity in communities. My experience growing up in southeast Queens in New York City had an impact on the trajectory of my work. My passion grew from me wanting to improve the lives of people who didn’t have the resources available that they needed to build their communities. Overtime, I started to explore ways that I could make an impact in areas where it’s needed most.

Three years ago, I transitioned out of a Development role at an organization and thought it was a great time to start working on projects I was passionate about. So I started a non-profit organization, Project Petals, to help improve the environment, build strong resilient communities and foster leadership amongst youth. Most of my development career was based in Manhattan, and I saw a complete difference between what the city looked liked opposed to the outer boroughs. There was just more funding in resources, beautifications and equity; unlike other communities outside of the major city.

With this disparity in mind, I started to help community members develop projects throughout NYC to environmentally improve and beautify their neighborhoods. Soon after, I started taking on projects to improve the environment in un-resourced areas, from public property, NYCHA, NYC public schools, to starting a leadership program for young people struggling to find career paths that are suitable for them.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The majority of my work had been disruptive because my work is based in areas that are not a priority to people. I’m solving equity disparagement in communities from the bottom up. My work is determined by the needs and the directive of the communities and not the other way around. My first project challenged many city agencies to take responsibility to work on a acres of land that was dilapidated and run down for over 30 years. Most people shy away from setting out on this path because it’s an uphill battle, but it’s one that I enjoy. There is nothing more disruptive than empowering people who are disenfranchised, to help them become leaders, and put them in a position of power to make progressive changes in their environments. I am a black woman who has founded and is leading an environmental non-profit organization. That in itself is disruptive!

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?

My mother and father have been the biggest mentors in my work. . My mother integrated schools in Alabama and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King as a child. Both have made it through extreme adversity, so,from them I learned to not get discouraged and most importantly to never under any circumstance to give up.

I’ve never had a professional mentor or a mentor in school which is why I added a mentorship aspect in my organization, the Project Petals Youth Builder to help match young people with mentors that can help them excel in school and college. My program is something that I wish was available to me growing up.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Look up”

I received an award at Madison Square Garden in 2018 in front of 35,000 people. In the moment I found myself looking at the audience. John Stark, a legendary basketball player for the New York Knicks told me to look up and I found myself looking up in front of everyone; taking it all in. Whenever I’m overwhelmed with work, muddled with projects or bogged down with feelings of “what if”, or failure. I take a minute to look up, look around me, look at my work, visualize my future projects and take it all in.

“Your tenacity will get you far” When I first thought of the idea for my organization, I failed many times in regard to getting it off the ground because I was waiting for the perfect moment to start. I learned that no moment would be perfect and I realized that I just have to put myself out there and start somewhere.

I was denied funding, press, resources, fellowships and a lot of other important resources needed to get started, but from every no, I learned to not only tweak my idea but refine my idea to the best of my ability. And no matter how many times I heard no, I decided that I would never give up on my dream based on someone else’s opinion of my ability to start my organization. So a few short years later, I received along with my organization, awards from the NYC Mayor’s office, the NY Knicks, the Discovery Channel, and have gained the support of not only my community but other companies as well.

“Failure is a part of the process”

I used to wait for everything to be perfect, always expecting perfection from myself and others. I quickly learned when starting an organization, I would fail a lot. I’ve been denied for funding, told my organization wouldn’t scale, and at some point I thought that those failures would be a hindrance to me starting my organization. Turns out that everytime I failed, something bigger and better was just on the horizon. In my case, failure has paved the road to my success.

How are you going to shake things up next?

When first starting my organization, there were many roadblocks that prevented my from receiving the funding that I needed. Because of my experience I’m creating an innovative fintech platform to help build inclusivity in investing, especially within marginalized groups. I think it’s important to diversify the way we look at funding and investing. In addition to understanding who has access to the funding, it’s my passion to build equity in people and communities, so this is a permanent extension of my work. This year, I also hosting a sustainability conference to bring visibility to the importance of sustainability within brands and companies. So we can work toward a more sound environment collectively.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s exploration of the Dangers of a Single Story really impacted my work. Mainly because my work is centered around shifting and changing the narrative of under-resourced communities. The narrative for many years has been that some external person has to come save people living in communities without, when in fact,the community members need to be empowered with resources, equity and advocacy. Single stories of the communities that I’ve worked in, especially minority communities,aren’t always favorable. It’s important to highlight and champion the stories, like so many that are working in their communities to have a positive impact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You don’t become what you want, you become what you believe.”

― Oprah Winfrey

In my life, merely wanting something to happen didn’t mean it actually would. Before I could pitch myself, or my ideas to someone else. I found it was really important for me to first believe it. If I wanted to change communities and create programs, I first had to believe they would create some time of change. Overtime, I gained the confidence to completely believe in my ideas and myself. As of today I believe in myself as a leader, innovator and person.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/AliciaLWhiteOfficial

website: www.AliciaLWhite.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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