Meet Dianna English, Regional Director, New York & Tri-State Office
From WE to the White House and back—for Dianna English, her return is something of a homecoming.
After years working at the highest levels of government, there’s a poetic symmetry to her career path. The Regional Director of WE’s New York & Tri-State Office, she has a vision to reach more young people with WE Schools than ever before. It’s reminiscent of her teenage years when she launched WE (formerly Free The Children) in the United States in 1996, introducing a generation of young people to activism.
Getting ready for school one morning, then-13-year-old Dianna heard Craig Kielburger talk about child labor around the world on NBC’s Today Show. She’d also been looking for a way to engage in social issues, without many options for young people. She knew that if more young people got involved, they could make a difference. She began speaking about global issues at schools, recruiting members to WE; she guided the organization as a member of its first Board of Directors; and she was a major force in helping WE grow from a Toronto basement to a global movement.
Those early days with WE sowed a seed of activism that would flower continually as her career took her far and wide. First, to Tanzania with the U.S.’s Peace Corps. where she worked with teachers and community members to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Then, to The Hague as a researcher with the International Criminal Court. Next, to positions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the Department of State, working on transitional justice and the rule of law. Finally, she ended up at the White House as a Director for African Affairs for the National Security Council.
Dianna’s career has focused on development and justice—two sides of the same coin and pursuits she first discovered with WE. Helping young people across the Tri-state Area develop a passion for activism while supporting development work in communities around the world, she’s putting her skills to use in a new way.
WE talked to her about working in the nonprofit sector after a decade in government and what her experiences overseas taught her.
Question and Answer
After 10 years in the government, what motivated you to come back to WE?
Coming out of a foreign policy background, an international development background, I feel it is a really important time to start engaging more with a domestic audience, supporting young people in the United States to start thinking of themselves as part of a global community. The problems I’m focused on now are how to build compassion, how to develop empathy, how to create citizenship within local communities. Whether young people join the Peace Corps or become diplomats and development professionals, or whether they become business leaders, scientists or teachers, we need to instill in all young people a sense of global responsibility and engagement.
What are the skills you bring with you from your work in government that will help the New York office—and WE—thrive?
My job is to plant the WE flag here—to work with stakeholders, with partners, with the UN, with schools. We’re building the New York office, so I’m drawing on experiences leading teams in DRC and South Sudan. And I was a donor so I know how to speak to donors. I was reading reports, approving programs, following up on how groups were allocating resources. I’m now translating all of that experience into business development and program management, into overseeing sustainable growth, into monitoring and evaluation to ensure we’re providing returns and services in the best way we can, ultimately impacting the most young people, schools and communities.
What’s been the biggest shift, from a work-culture point of view?
Coming from a traditional established bureaucracy—which I loved—it’s been great to be in a start-up environment, which is what WE is like. It’s dynamic, interesting and constantly pushing me to stay on my toes. It challenges me and helps me grow. The government is defined by process, it’s the air you breathe. Here, I’ve enjoyed being pushed by that creativity and dynamic energy.
This interview has been condensed and edited.