With 25 years of experience in community development, Dora Leong Gallo serves as the CEO of network member A Community of Friends. Her experience also includes housing policy, planning and entitlements, environmental quality, public art, government affairs, and constituent development.
During this Women's History Month, we sit down with her for a history on her career, advice and some answers to interesting questions.
How has the work around community development and affordable housing changed during your professional career?
In the early years, the field was dominated by nonprofit organizations that were more grassroots-oriented. These nonprofits were guided by passion and their momentum was fueled by a sense of social justice. As the field began to recognize that affordable housing was a critical component of revitalizing/stabilizing communities and creating opportunity, organizations were formed with the specific skillsets needed to develop and manage affordable housing. Now affordable housing is an “industry."
I still see affordable housing as a critical component/strategy of community development. I view affordable housing as a means to an end, not an end unto itself. What has changed is that there are many organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit, who see affordable housing development as the end goal.
What’s your advice for women in this field?
I think the advice I would give to women would be the same for men. You can plan for a career in this field but don’t think you can plan every step of your career because passion can’t be planned.
Be open to possibilities, there are things to learn in every job, and always have a plan B (and sometimes even a plan C).
Has this advice been important to your success? Why or why not?
Yes, I think so. I never thought when I started out in this field that I would eventually run a nonprofit organization. I thought I was heading for a career in city management!
My career has been guided by being open and pursuing my interests. And I have been able to manage problems large and small by having a plan B (and a plan C)!
What has been your biggest career obstacle and how did you overcome it?
I don’t know if I’ve had an obstacle in my career. But early on in my career I switched jobs to learn something new and discovered that I had actually made a lateral move in terms of title and responsibilities, not necessarily an advancement. It was a downer, but I focused on the positive and realized I was indeed learning something new and developing new skills. Many years later those skills have come back to serve me well in unexpected ways, even in my current position at A Community of Friends.
How has technology affected the way we do community development and affordable housing work?
It has had a huge impact. Search engines and mapping tools immediately come to mind, making it much easier for organizations to undertake asset mapping of the communities where we work. The ability to transmit data over the internet (loan documents, applications, etc) instead of mailing and faxing. And of course, social media has helped community organizing/mobilization efforts tremendously and spread awareness (of issues, projects, programs, etc).
If you had the chance to have dinner with or ask advice of anyone throughout history, who would it be and why?
Maybe because I just came back from the NeighborWorks training institute
in Atlanta and toured the Center for Human and Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. is fresh on my mind. I would want to ask him how one perseveres in light of tremendous odds and such daunting opposition. What was going through his mind during that time? His courage and conviction are truly inspiring. And can I also add Jon Lovitz, because he makes me laugh.
What’s your favorite book?
I have a lot of favorites. But going back to the previous question about what advice I would have for women. I would say “Ramona the Brave” by Beverly Cleary. It’s a children’s book that I read when I was eight or nine years old, about a spunky first grader who often got into trouble and wanted to be seen as brave. The series of books about Ramona, and those about Pippi Longstocking, were empowering and confidence-building for a young girl and set me on the path of knowing that girls can have their own mind and be smart, spunky and independent.