Julia Paige: “Your partner matters”

Your partner matters. I’ve learned how important it is to have a partner in life, whether it’s your husband or wife or significant other, who understands the journey you’re on. Because life gets complicated sometimes. Sometimes I work long hours. Sometimes he works long hours. But we have to be in it together because if […]

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Your partner matters. I’ve learned how important it is to have a partner in life, whether it’s your husband or wife or significant other, who understands the journey you’re on. Because life gets complicated sometimes. Sometimes I work long hours. Sometimes he works long hours. But we have to be in it together because if we didn’t support each other, we couldn’t do it, and I think people underestimate how important who you choose as your partner is.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Paige, Director of Social Impact at Uber.

Julia developed her passion for social impact from both her parents and during the decade she spent working with Maria Shriver at NBC News and in the California Governor’s office where she oversaw programs focused on women’s issues, military families, and connecting California’s working poor to important social programs and services. Following her time in government, she went on to Google as Director of Creative Content and YouTube as their Director of Social Impact before joining Uber as the Global Director of Social Impact in 2020.

A believer in always working to make the world a better place, she applies her expertise in doing good to craft innovative programs that help to address inequality across the globe, fight racism, support victims of domestic violence, and further Uber’s sustainability goals.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I didn’t pick my career path, I think it chose me. I’ve always believed that you do whatever job you have with a social impact lens. That is something my parents firmly believed and reinforced in me and my brother and sisters, and was echoed by those I worked for who share this same mindset. I was lucky enough to spend a good chunk of my career working with Maria Shriver both at NBC News and as her Deputy Chief of Staff when she was the First Lady of California. Maria truly lives her life doing what she can to improve the world and also recognizing and highlighting others who are as well

When you work in the news business, you cannot help but see both the best and worst of humanity. I always found covering moments of crisis to be the most insightful. You saw the difference that one person’s actions could make. This education continued while in the governor’s office. The multiple examples I saw of the impact that one, as well as many, could make set me along the social impact path.

Following my time with Maria, I joined Google as Director of Creative Content. In this role, I introduced amazing change-makers to Google and helped facilitate ways that Google could help them make an impact. From there, it was a natural progression in my Social Impact journey to YouTube where I was the site’s Director of Global Social Impact. In February of 2020, I joined Uber. I took this job because I recognized under our leadership there was an incredible opportunity to help shape the next phase of the company.

What I enjoy most about my role at Uber is doing social impact work in the for-profit space. Corporations affect our lives in so many different ways, and they have a real opportunity to make significant social change. 10 or 20 years ago, it used to be the nonprofits and governments doing all the work but recently, there’s been a fundamental shift. Now, we expect the companies we work for to do more. Being able to help a company with the reach and scale of Uber define and build their impact strategy is precisely the place I was meant to be at this point in my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When I first started at Uber, I was asked to take a few months to think about the Social Impact team’s direction. But two weeks later, COVID happened. Everybody kept coming to me, asking, “Where should we donate?” I thought, “What are you talking about?” That’s philanthropy. We’re not in the philanthropy business. We’re in the social impact business.

At this specific point in time, we had what the world needed. We could help move things. The world needed us to help essential workers get to and from the hospitals and grocery stores and pharmacies, help people who couldn’t go out for groceries to get food, move freight, and do all the things we, at Uber, do daily.

So I presented this idea to the senior leadership to donate 10 million rides across the globe to help people move while at the same time helping others not move, and there was a pause, and then someone very senior said, “I like that.” And from there, it took off.

This was the first time that all of our different product lines across the globe — Rides, Eats, Freight, Health — activated like this. And we’ve been lucky to have incredible external partners come together in such a unique way. We’re working with over 200 NGOs, corporations, and local governments worldwide and expanded on our initial commitment of 10 million rides with an additional 10 million rides to help people get vaccinated. It’s been incredible to see everyone come together with one goal in mind: to use movement to help people.

I’m so proud that Uber has put so much trust in me — the person who had been here for two weeks and had a crazy idea. They let me lead the company in such a meaningful, impactful program.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

You learn the most from mistakes. Earlier in my career, I was listening to a presentation, and one of the ideas presented was terrible. So afterward, I messaged my friend to tell them how bad I thought the idea was. Accidentally, I messaged the person giving the presentation, inadvertently telling them how I felt about their idea. I was mortified.

I had two choices: I could either pretend I didn’t send the message and hope it was never brought up, or I could go to the person and own up to what I said. I chose to own it. When I spoke with them, they asked me why I didn’t just tell them how I felt? And that question stuck with me. Why didn’t I?

My mistake made me realize that to lead, you have to own what you do and say, and have tough conversations. Honest feedback, even if it is difficult, will help get the best out of your team.

It also made me realize that bad ideas often lead to good ideas. Idea A could inspire someone to come up with Idea B, which brings us to Idea C, and we finally make it to Idea J, which is the winner. Momentum and good ideas have to start somewhere. It just takes time.

I’ve also found that to be a creative thinker, it is essential to take feelings out of the process. If I wasn’t able to do that, I don’t think I would be here.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew that Uber could help communities worldwide and help make vaccine access more equitable. Initially offering 10 million free rides and deliveries for those on the frontlines, we quickly expanded our efforts and provided additional 10 million free or discounted rides to vaccination sites around the world.

But we knew we couldn’t stop there. To ensure that lack of access to reliable transportation would not keep someone from receiving a vaccine, we’re launched partnerships with so many incredible organizations and NGOs to help reach those most in need.

Nationally, we’re working with organizations like National Head Start Associated, CORE Relief, and Direct Relief to help those in vulnerable communities, especially those without internet or smartphone access, to get to vaccine sites reliably and to empower local health centers in underserved areas to provide reliable transportation to their appointments.

With studies showing lower rates of vaccination among underserved and minority communities, especially the African American population, we’ve also partnered with officials and local businesses in New Orleans, Montgomery, AL, Baton Rouge, Atlanta, and the Black Doctors Consortium in Philadelphia, to help fill the crucial transportation gap in underserved minority populations.

Outside of our vaccine equity initiatives, we also focus on developing innovative programs that help address inequality across the country, fight racism, support victims of domestic violence, and further Uber’s sustainability goals.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We hope we have helped people through our vaccine efforts and partnerships. The work which has struck me most and the partner who has moved me is the National Head Start Association.

I knew I wanted to work with the organization to help eliminate transportation as a barrier of access in vulnerable communities, especially for those without smartphones or internet access. I also feel very connected to the Head Start program because of my work with Maria — her father started Head Start, so it holds a special place in my heart.

Earlier in our partnership, we had a call with the various Head Start chapters we worked with across the country. One of the leaders raised their hand and thanked us for stepping up and helping them in a time of great need.

Her comment struck me. Organizations like Head Start shouldn’t have to thank Uber for doing their part. We should be thanking them for the work that they do. These organizations are doing the hard work. They’re on the front lines of some of the most complex social problems we have, helping those most in need every day.

My team and I are happy to do what we can to make their work that much easier, and it’s been truly incredible to see how we can help make an impact.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We all have to work together. There is not one business, NGO, social good group, or government entity that can do it alone. It will take a lot more public sector/private sector/NGO partnerships to get things done.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I am one of four children in my family — three girls, one boy. One day, we were playing a game, and my brother asked me, “How come you get to make the rules?” And I said, “How come you followed them?”. I’ve realized that a leader doesn’t have to tell people they are the leader. They just are the leader. A leader is a person who everybody turns to automatically. No one has to say “look to X.” Everyone just already knows to look to that person.

I think leadership is also making sure you’re confident and staying calm even in the most challenging times. Someone once said to me, “When I see you get nervous, I get nervous because you never get nervous,” and I’m like well, I do get nervous, but I don’t show it. If someone tells you they don’t get scared, they’re not honest. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and fake it to make it through.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Your partner matters. I’ve learned how important it is to have a partner in life, whether it’s your husband or wife or significant other, who understands the journey you’re on. Because life gets complicated sometimes. Sometimes I work long hours. Sometimes he works long hours. But we have to be in it together because if we didn’t support each other, we couldn’t do it, and I think people underestimate how important who you choose as your partner is. I always go back to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who says very clearly, “if it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have been a Supreme Court justice.” His support and partnership made a difference for her. It’s an idea I carry with me every day.
  2. Believe in yourself. I’m fortunate I had extraordinary parents. One day I came home from school when I was in third grade. I was running for class president, and my father asked me who I had voted for, and I told him I voted for Bill. And he asked me why I voted for someone else and not myself. I told him, “well, you can’t do that. That would be conceited!” And my father told me, “You have to believe in yourself before anybody else will.”
  3. Go with your gut. I’ve always been the type of person to know when it was time to move on. When a job ceases being a challenge, if I’ve stopped being curious about something, when I stop seeking out problems to solve, it was time to leave. I’ve never been the type of person to plan out my career meticulously. I believe that if the timing is right, and if you’re ready, that next challenge, that next adventure will come.
  4. You will make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life and a part of growth. You will make mistakes. The more you stop trying to be perfect, the more you can focus on doing your job well. When mistakes happen, be gracious with yourself and don’t dwell on them. You have to see this as an opportunity. Learn from your mistakes — I rarely make the same mistake twice. A long time ago, I was a manager, and I was not a very good manager, and I got into trouble for it, but the lessons I learned from it have made me a conscientious, thoughtful manager today.
  5. Know your real priorities. I love my job and am passionate about what I do, but the most important thing is raising my three children. I have 8-year-old triplets, two boys and one girl. My number one priority is making sure those three human beings turn out to be good people who contribute to society and love each other.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Do something. That something doesn’t have to be big — it could be making sure you recycle, doing one kind act for someone else, just doing something to make the world around you a little better. Because we will never move forward as a world until we all realize we’re all in this together.

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

“Leap, and the net will appear” — John Burroughs.

There are no certainties in life. Sometimes, you have to believe in yourself, trust yourself and take the leap. That’s how I try to live my life, and that’s what I hope to inspire my team to do. Don’t worry, just try to do the best you can, and we’ll figure it out.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She showed that you could be a leader and make an incredible difference in the world while also being quiet and soft-spoken. Her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia showed that you can differ with someone and still find things to share. She and Justice Scalia both loved opera. She revealed that ideology is not a reason not to call someone your friend. During this polarized time, I think that is important to keep in mind. Also, you can’t win allies if no one’s listening. You have to figure out a way to talk to or work with people you vehemently disagree with. Justice Ginsberg was able to accomplish so much in her life by doing all of that. Sometimes, you just need to channel your inner RBG.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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