We recently welcomed Ursula Wright as a managing director in the Education & Youth practice at FSG. Here, Ursula shares a little bit about her experiences and how she's approaching her work at FSG.
You bring a unique perspective to FSG, having worked in education from the school setting to the federal level. How have these experiences shaped your perspective?
I think systems change is the only way to sustainably improve the large-scale, complex societal problems facing our country—and our schools are often a place where these problems converge. Because of that, I have managed my career to focus on the 3 categories I most align with systems change: policy, programs, and people.
My appointment to the U.S. Department of Education allowed me to expand my public policy lens. I was able to influence policies at the federal level and get a bird’s eye view of how those policies present at the state and local levels of government, where they eventually impact children and their families.
Prior to starting at the U.S. Department of Education, I worked at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the nation’s largest advocacy organization working on behalf of the charter school movement. There, I devoted my energy to growing the organization and shaping the strategies that helped to increase the quality and growth of the charter school sector. The programs and practices created by the Alliance during that period guided a national movement toward increased charter school quality and accountability.
My board service with the Achievement Preparatory Academy is at the center of my “people” work, and by that I mean being immersed in a school: partnering with a school leader, supporting strong teachers and administrators, and serving parents and students directly. Helping to establish a high-performing charter school in Washington, DC’s most economically disadvantaged ward deepened my appreciation for the resilience possessed by so many of our nation’s students and educators. It also heightened my awareness about the many demands placed upon public schools. Having this type of first-hand knowledge informed how my work could and should impact the academic and life outcomes of children across the country.
What brought you to FSG and why did you feel this was the right next step?
I was very drawn to FSG’s increasing focus on systems change, which is the approach I’d adopted in my personal career. The organization’s willingness to address the social inequities that sometimes present themselves in client engagements was also a draw. One of the reasons I left the private sector more than a decade ago was to be a more active contributor to positive social change and to help combat the social inequities that presented themselves regularly.
I was also an FSG client a few times in the past, and each time I worked with the organization I was impressed by the work product, the process, and the personalities around the table. When the opportunity to serve as a managing director came across my desk, I was excited to pursue a career opportunity at a firm that I respected and knew well.
How do you think your experience as a past client of FSG’s will inform your work here?
First and foremost, as a client I felt that FSG came to the table willing to listen to all the stakeholders I put in front of them. Consultants served as true partners in the work, and were always respectful of the limited resources I had as a nonprofit leader. These attributes differentiate FSG from many of its peers and it’s for these reasons that I contracted FSG for multiple engagements.
Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I want to reflect the very same things I valued as a client—to be a respectful steward of scarce resources and a strategic thought partner who delivers custom solutions. This requires paying close attention to what is and isn’t said, and catching those non-verbal cues that often point to meaningful undercurrents that should inform our work with clients.
What are you excited to work on at FSG?
I welcome a breadth of projects, but I’m most excited about the potential for working on large-scale initiatives involving systems change. The thorniest issues facing our nation’s young people—particularly our most vulnerable young people—are the result of interconnected problems that have often been compounded over time. These interconnected challenges can only be addressed through coordinated, systemic solutions.
I also look forward to contributing to FSG’s dynamic leadership team. At a little more than 15 years young, the firm has established itself as one of the leading organizations for catalyzing social change around the world. As we think about the next 15 years, I hope to complement the leadership team to help broaden our reach and deepen our impact.
What client engagements are you working on right now at FSG?
Since starting at FSG in mid-September, I’ve gotten involved with 2 engagements: supporting the launch of a collective impact initiative around early care and education in New York, and developing a strategy for a national initiative focused on increasing physical education and physical activity in America’s public schools.