Tanya Gonzalez sees her path as one of discovery. Now the chief of staff at Populace, a Boston-based think tank, she started her professional life as a web designer and discovered it wasn’t for her. Moving to social work helped her discover her true passion, and, as a Koch Associate, that discovery continues. Gonzalez commuted between Boston and Washington, D.C. to participate in the program, which she credits for giving her the space to think, to debate, and to look at challenges in new ways. We caught up with her recently, and she shared her story with us.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in Vermont in a little town outside of Montpelier. It was a very rural community with dirt roads and no cell phone reception. I went to Johnson and Wales in Providence, R.I., and after I graduated, I moved to Chicago. I did web design work for a while and realized it just wasn’t for me. I love working with people. And I realized that the real difference I wanted to make in the world was with people and decided that I wanted to move into social work. I did in-home work with children and families, and then I started working in development, raising money for organizations. That’s how I got to my current job at Populace. Now I’m the chief of staff here, and I’m happy to be at a place whose mission I can really get behind. I’ve never been happier to be where I am. We are dedicated to building a world where all people have the chance to live fulfilling lives in a thriving society.
How did you get involved with the Koch Associate Program (KAP)?
I heard about KAP through a colleague that was familiar with the Charles Koch Institute (CKI). I then went online to look, and it seemed like such a great program. I was eager to learn Market-Based Management because as a new leader I needed a management style that was proven to work. As I learned more, I realized that CKI works in a student-centric way and being familiar with studentent-centric learning I was excited to join the program.
What did you hope to get out of the program?
For me, I was really interested in being in a room with people who don’t think like me and to participate in a feedback culture.
What are your main takeaways from the program?
What really came through for me were the principles of Market-Based Management. Through learning how to become self-actualized, what my comparative advantages are, how to identify risks and assumptions, and what a great vision looks like, I am now better able to create a program that will be sustainable.
I’ve been able to ask questions and feel like I was in a safe enough place to really be able to debate things, which is rare nowadays. I’ve networked with great people and filled knowledge gaps with the help of the great team at CKI. I knew nothing about policy before I joined CKI, so I think it’s been really beneficial. I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone in many ways and met a lot of really great people.
Market-Based Management has prepared me for social entrepreneurship in a way nothing else could. These tools are ones I’ll carry throughout my journey.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m building my passion project, which is helping and enhancing the quality of life of young adults who age out of the foster care system. My idea is to open a home for youth that have aged out of foster care to help bridge the gap between aging out and adulthood. The program would be focused on building community. I am focused on putting together a business plan for what I want to do, utilizing the network that I built here with hopes of opening my program within the next five years.
What kind of soul searching have you been able to do?
I’ve been thinking about what the next 5 to 10 years look like and how I’m going to continue my path of social entrepreneurship. I’m working on a project that has been a lifelong passion, so that’s what I’ve found. I’m also happy with the bonds and relationships I’ve made with a close-knit group of people and my advisor. And I love that they ask: What is it that you need, and what is it that you need to learn?
Did you find what you were looking for?
Yes! I want to take the things I’ve learned and create the most fulfilling work I can for my life. I think KAP has been a big piece of that. It’s given me a compass to help guide my work now and in the future.