A Moment With...
Shelley A. Davis
President & CEO, Coleman Foundation
Shelley Davis

A Moment With Shelley A. Davis

What is “A Moment With”? The Women’s Business Development Center is pleased to continue with our series, “A Moment With”, where we periodically highlight some of our greatest supporters and partners, sharing their career experiences and advice. This month, we will be highlighting Shelley A. Davis, President and CEO of the Coleman Foundation.

Meet Shelley A. Davis: Shelley Davis was appointed as President and CEO of the Coleman Foundation in 2020. She has dedicated her career to the nonprofit and philanthropic sector and is a lifelong Chicago South Sider who grew up in the South Shore neighborhood. In her early career she provided crisis intervention counseling and policy advocacy. She began working in philanthropy during graduate school at the University of Illinois, Chicago with a fellowship at The Field Foundation. Shelley credits excellent mentoring and training at The Ford Foundation and The Joyce Foundation for guiding her development as a grant maker, instilling a deep appreciation for the privilege and responsibilities of moving resources to benefit communities, and preparing her for the challenges of senior management. Over the past 10 years, Shelley has held leadership roles as Vice President at the Chicago Foundation for Women and, beginning in 2013, as the inaugural Executive Director of the Forest Preserve Foundation, a public/ private partnership. At the Forest Preserve Foundation, she raised funds and made grants to support ecological restoration projects in Cook County preserves and opportunities for families and children from a diversity of backgrounds to enjoy nature. 

A Lesson

We asked: Tell us about a piece of advice you received from a mentor that has helped you succeed.
Shelley A. Davis shared: My dad was a community development banker who helped people gain access to credit to own homes or access to capital to grow their businesses. Throughout my life I watched people thank him for providing opportunities and for treating them with dignity and respect when so many others before him did not. My dad always said to me, “do what you love, and the money will follow.” In retrospect, I realize what a romantic and unrealistic sentiment this is, but it worked for me. I have crafted a career centered on the mission of bringing resources to communities with less access to opportunity.

A Turning Point

We asked: Where do you look to for creativity?
Shelley A. Davis shared: I co-founded a women of color storytelling collective called SOL. We create and perform personal stories on live or virtual stages at least twice a year—picture The Moth radio stories without the story slam competition element. We tell true stories that spotlight the joys, fears, and realities of women of color. Working on my stories with these women has provided the opportunity for us to be vulnerable and display our full range of human experiences, challenge the stereotypes of the “strong and angry black woman,” and receive unconditional listening and curiosity that stimulates our learning and growth.

A Guidepost

We asked: What book/podcast/other resource do you consider a must read/listen?
Shelley A. Davis shared: I read the New York Times every Sunday, starting with the Modern Love essay in the style section. Modern Love is great piece of personal essay writing that demonstrates how others struggle, learn from, and celebrate personal relationships. Then, I turn to the business section and read the Corner Office column, which profiles a CEO with a series of questions about their early influences, career choices, how they hire, and organizational culture. I always learn something from these leaders, particularly as they describe their philosophies of team building.

Thank you, Shelley A. Davis, for participating in “A Moment With”; we are proud to call you a loyal friend of the WBDC.

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