SEIR & Community Development Expert Angela Blanchard Connects with Brown on Personal Level

by Kia Sadahiro '18
March 22, 2018

Angela Blanchard is the former CEO of BakerRipley, a Ted Talk speaker, an expert in community development and a person with great sense of humor, and she is using her position as a Swearer Center Social Entrepreneur in Residence to build community here at Brown. Baker joined the Center for the semester in early January, in a residency program for social change senior leaders who aim to reflect, explore academic and research insights and pursue new ideas in their areas of interest and experience.

Angela Blanchard facilitated a lunch & learn event at the Swearer Center on March 6, which included a Q&A with students​.

As part of her residency, Blanchard is teaching a graduate-level course in the public policy department on “Disaster, Displacement and Response: A Practitioner, People-Focused Lens on Urban Policy & Practice” where she brings together her experiences as a practitioner in disaster recovery, immigration and community development.

Blanchard is accessible outside of the classroom for other Brown community members. Every Thursday she welcomes guests to a space at 125 Waterman Street where she both lives and hosts gatherings. Sitting at a cozy lounge table piled up with chocolates, Blanchard hosts “Good Company” from 4 - 6 p.m., open to all students and other members of the Brown community. The open hours events are unique in that they have no agenda --- encouraging an unexpected encounter because, as Blanchard explains, “whoever comes, comes” and a lot of “innovation is born from improvisation.”

On one evening, she welcomes two students from Honduras and Uganda to discuss the pros and cons of villages and cities. On another Thursday, she consults two students who are working on a podcast project for queer and transgender people, focused on sex education and pleasure.

Regardless of the topic of the open hours discussions, Blanchard weaves advice into each session, even drawing the occasional nod -- or groan -- when it comes to advice on budgeting, law, money and concepts drawn from her own experiences.

Blanchard reflected back to 15 years ago when there was a huge dialogue in Houston about immigrants.

“We weren’t willing to have a story that said ‘you should help them [the immigrants], because they’re so in need.’ We were only willing to have a story that included everyone,” Blanchard said. “We’re all in Houston, for the same reason. We all came here for an opportunity, we all came here for work. We didn’t come here for the weather, we came here because we thought, if we worked hard here we could make it. You own the crowd when you say that.”

Angela linked the experience back to the present students’ podcast project. “So the big ‘we’ here is not ‘queer people need this.’ The big ‘we’ is “we all remember what it was like to have to learn about our own sexuality.’”

“Most of the Silicon Valley story all started with pizza -- but I happen to have chocolates,” laughs Blanchard.

Transitioning into her role at Brown has been jarring, as she explains, since it’s part of a pause in her life from the busy days she experienced in displacement shelters, working until 3 in the morning.

“I come from this whole culture of deliver, deliver, deliver. Everybody is judged on how much they do, how quickly they do, how well they do it and what are they going to do next. And so I was in desperate need to pause, and think. It’s a wonderful thing to be in a place where thinking is valued.”

After talking to the students at an open hours session, she comments that, from her own lived experience, social change is possible.

“And it’s so much harder than you think it is when you’re young. But it helps not to know, because you are going to be doing for a really long time to get where you wanna go,” Blanchard advised. “For me, I love it - that, people who are younger can see beyond where we are, to what [it] could be like. Especially here [at Brown], because people are genuinely curious. At least the students I’ve met so far. So it’s a big blessing for me to be here.”


More about Angela Blanchard:

Angela is available on Thursdays (through July, 2018) from 4-6 p.m. at 125 Waterman Street.*

*Directions for entry to the building are listed on the front door. 

 More about the podcast project: send questions and story submissions to [email protected]