EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DC SCORES
Bethany Rubin Henderson, a nationally recognized social entrepreneur; Echoing Green Fellow; and recent White House Fellow, became DC SCORES Executive Director in 2014. Bethany’s career has spanned the social, for-profit, and government sectors. While in the White House, Bethany coordinated the 2013 Youth Jobs+ initiative and participated in developing My Brother’s Keeper, a public-private partnership focused on helping boys and young men of color get and stay on track cradle to career. In 2008, Bethany founded City Hall Fellows, an award-winning, nonpartisan, post-college local government service corps, raising more than $4M to launch and build the organization during the recession. City Hall Fellows uses service-learning principles to prepare young people to take active civic leadership roles in their own hometowns.
Previously, Bethany was a trial attorney at international litigation firm Quinn Emanuel, where she won an award from the California State Bar Association for her pro bono work helping special needs low-income students obtain the education to which the law entitles them. She also helped build out the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at George Mason University. Bethany earned her JD at Harvard Law School and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned both an MA and BA in Political Science.
At DC SCORES it’s imperative to find a “win-win” even when there’s not always an obvious one. It’s also important to get buy-in from our various stakeholders, who often have divergent interests. So, with that in mind, I think what I do best is move fluidly between the forest and trees, while always keeping the “north stars” and big picture in mind. In simpler words: being focused yet nimble!
I’m the best version of myself when I’m encouraging others around me to be the best they can be. When the team is clicking and the infrastructure is supporting that, we accomplish amazing things with a pretty small staff. Having an organization that can function without micro-management and a team that consistently gives their all because they want to, not because someone is looking over their shoulders, makes me shine and feel like I’m doing the best I can to make DC SCORES thrive. When all of this is happening, I am the best professional version of myself.
In general, I aspire to do a little good and have fun along the way.
Specifically, my professional aspiration is to sustainably grow DC SCORES to serve every child that needs us. We have over 20 schools in Washington DC on a waitlist to get into our program. Because of the sector, town, and time we’re in, we have to re-raise our entire budget from scratch every year. If we can get out of this cycle and create sustainable multi-year funding streams, we can be more strategic and consistent in supporting the community.
My personal aspiration is to have a great family dynamic and, with my husband, raise smart, cool, enlightened kids. And, not to be overlooked, another overall aspiration that straddles my family and my career is to have the best possible work-life juggle. I say juggle, not balance, intentionally. Balance evokes a static image, and the notion of constantly teetering on the edge of being out of balance. Not only do I find that vision depressing, it’s simply not practical for a working mom whose job doesn’t fit neatly into 9-5 with a working spouse whose job doesn’t fit neatly into 9-5 co-parenting two active elementary schoolers whose schedules don’t fit neatly into 9-5 while also taking of a house, a dog, and a lizard. I am constantly juggling among the important priorities in life, and different facets of my life regularly move and up and down the priority ladder depending on what is happening in any given moment — much like balls when you juggle them.
I am currently living my biggest success: working as a social entrepreneur, and keeping DC SCORES thriving, growing, and serving the community. But since this is still an ongoing work, my biggest completed success occurred when I left a high-paying, high-powered job as a litigator to start a local government service corps, City Hall Fellows, and built it from scratch while relegated to bedrest on my couch while pregnant and living in a city other than where the organization was operating.
When I started City Hall Fellows, it was definitely not THE right time to undertake this crazy venture. I was on the verge of being put up for partner at a big law firm, my husband had just joined a risky tech start-up, and we were trying to have a baby. Still, I leapt. Three months after I left the law firm and its comforting, steady, six-figure paycheck behind, I got pregnant with my first kid. Less than a year later, the economy crashed, and took with it my dreams that I would be able to fully support my family anytime in the near future running City Hall Fellows. But, through hard work, persistence and maybe a bit of luck, the organization survived and sustained and made a big impact on multiple cities and multiple lives. And that baby who put me on bedrest is now a beautiful, vibrant, crazy tall 9 year-old with a fierce, high-energy 7 year-old sister.
The beginning of my career in social impact work was my most challenging moment. I was on a partnership track at a big law firm with the possibility for a 7-figure salary in a few years dangled in front of me. When I told the founding partners that I was leaving to start a nonprofit, they reminded me how much money I was leaving on the table. As I told them at the time, “I wish money did it for me– it would probably make my life a lot easier.” But at my core I’m a social entrepreneur — I thrive on mission and growth, and spending my time on things that are meaningful, important and transformative. I was determined then – and remain determined now – that life’s too short to do otherwise.
That doesn’t mean following my passion has been easy. It’s been hard. Circuitous. Nothing like I expected. Filled with false starts, dead ends, and unplanned detours. Lots of doors slammed in my face. But that’s okay – those false starts and dead ends, those detours and closed doors, they opened windows to so many incredible experiences I would have missed out on otherwise.
I’ve survived soul-crushing lows. Like the recession almost forcing me to shut down the organization I left biglaw to start, City Hall Fellows. Like narrowly escaping death and becoming temporarily homeless after carbon monoxide leaked into my apartment building and killed my neighbors. It was pure dumb luck that my husband and I weren’t home at the time.
Challenging moments are inevitable. I do the best I can to prepare for those that I can foresee, and have learned to live with ambiguity, to be nimble and adapt to those that can’t be foreseen.
I don’t really have a motto, but I do have three pieces of advice that I’ve learned throughout my career, try to live by, and share when possible:
Lesson Number 1: Don’t wait for someday
There are a lot of things I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that if you wait for THE right time to try something new, life will pass you by. Someday will never come. I learned this the hard way.
In my case, I put off pursuing my dream of starting a national service corps for almost a decade, because I was waiting for THE right moment. It never came. Years went by as I worked my way up in corporate America. I was earning great money. Yet, as time passed, I realized that every free waking moment, I was thinking about this service corps I wanted to build. I dreamed about it every night. So even though I was terrified that I might be derailing my life and everything I’d worked so hard to build, I made the choice not to wait for someday.
While there is never a PERFECT time to take big risks, I think you can pick one of the BETTER times to try something new. And in doing so, make mistakes — learn from them. Have good relationships and bad ones — learn from them. Have lots of adventures where you can’t predict the ending — learn from them too. And always surround yourself with people who will give you a hug when you fall down, and give them lots of hugs when they need it, too. Because when things get hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good, it just means you leveled up. But above all, don’t wait for a someday that may never come.
Lesson Number 2: Find your superpower and use it relentlessly to make the world a better place.
In this golden age of TV, it seems like every time you open Netflix there is a new character with awesome superpowers. But it’s not just fictional characters who have superpowers. Real-life superpowers aren’t like in tv or the movies. None of us can control the weather or become invisible or fly like a speeding bullet – as much as we might daydream about it. But each and every person has something inside themselves that they are uniquely able to do. For example one of my superpowers is dogged persistence. When I set my mind to doing something, I just keep plugging away no matter what obstacles appear.
Once you figure out your superpower, look for ways to use it as a force for good. Find something you’re passionate about. It might be healing the sick, exploring the universe, or rebuilding cars. Maybe it’s playing soccer, helping those less fortunate, creating art that inspires, a beautiful singing voice, a way with words, understanding numbers, or even building a business. Then deploy your superpower in service of your passions to leave the world just a little bit better than you found it. Because after all, what good is a superpower if you don’t use it for good?
Lesson Number 3: The 20-year-rule
When faced with any decision, big or small, ask yourself “20 years from now, will I kick myself if I didn’t try it?” That is, close your eyes and imagine 20 years from now … how important is this thing you’re agonizing over. Will you regret having NOT done it? What will the older future you most regret NOT doing? Your gut will show you the way. And if an immediate answer doesn’t come to mind, sleep on it. The unconscious mind is about 200,000 times more powerful than the conscious one.
A really cool thing about the 20 year rule is that it forces you out of the grip of immediate fear. It gives you perspective. Yes, on some level, every choice you make WILL affect the rest of your life. But not every choice you make will affect the rest of your life EQUALLY. And the reality is that, after you make a decision, most of the time you STILL can’t control what happens. So the trick is to only spend time agonizing about the few things that truly matter and let all the other ones go. Putting yourself in the shoes of future you makes that a whole lot easier. Analysis paralysis tends to go away when you stop worrying about what you “SHOULD” do, and instead consider what you’ll most regret NOT trying.
My dad once told me that “all famous people are just people too.” I’ve been lucky enough to have met many inspirational and famous people — presidents, Supreme Court justices, stars of sport and screen — and all of them are just people too. The concept of idealizing role models feels unfair to me, since we’re all flawed. I’m most impressed and inspired by people who put in the effort to rise up to or above their circumstances (whatever they may be) and challenges, and lift up others along the way.
I would always pick visiting a new place versus any place I’ve already been, even a favorite. I want to see everything, and to show my daughters the world. My family is big on DIY travel and this almost always leads to an amazing experience, and a real taste of the place we’re visiting. Most of all, when travelling to any new destination I like to spend time with locals and see their world through their eyes.
That said, I was born and bred in southern Louisiana and I always love going home!
I’m an experience person, not a product person, but I’m so proud of DC SCORES, that I make sure I’m always branded, so give me a comfy DC SCORES tee and I’m happy.
I am passionate about developing young civic leaders, about giving kids the ability to have life-altering experiences, and then to reinvest what they’ve learned to build up their communities. For example, we were able to help Uniyah, a 10 year-old DC SCORES poet athlete travel recently to Switzerland as the USA representative of the Eleven Campaign, a non-profit documentary bringing together 11 soccer-playing children from across the world. I’ve worked hard this year to help nine DC SCORES teens travel to Moscow, Russia, as the only team representing the United States of America in the Street Child World Cup. These teens — all of whom live in high-poverty neighborhoods — will be playing soccer on the international stage and, afterwards, advocating both abroad and back her at home about the issue of youth homelessness. I’m blown away by these kids’ grace, poise, and potential. It’s amazing and inspiring what kids overcome to thrive in DC SCORES, and the passion for enabling that motivates me every day.