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Office Hours: I’m the CEO & Founder of Natives Rising where our mission is to economically empower Indigenous communities in tech and entrepreneurship. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Danielle Forward and I’m the CEO & Founder of Natives Rising. Our mission is to economically empower Indigenous communities through careers in Silicon Valley's tech industry. We’re also working on providing an incubator for Native founders, who are incredibly underrepresented and lack the network and resources that other Silicon Valley founders often have.

Before Natives Rising, I spent about 5 years as a Product Designer at Meta. It was and still is rare for an indigenous person to be working in big tech at all. At first, I just wanted to find out if there was anyone else like me. Most people around me came from Ivy League schools and had a lot of parental support. I started in junior college and paid for everything on my own. It took me ten years to earn my bachelors degree, taking classes part-time while working full-time along the way.

For context, indigenous folks are the most impoverished group in the US. There are over 9.7 million of us in the US alone. We have the lowest high school and college graduation rates. This has nothing to do with merit, but everything to do with intergenerational trauma from colonization, lack of role models, broken familial and social support networks, and exclusion from privileged institutions and networks due to financial means. Over 70% of indigenous people live in urban areas, but for the ones that live in rural areas, these statistics are even worse, and the list goes on.

It was an incredibly long journey to get to where I am now, and I wanted to create a product that could redesign how I got here. Natives Rising was birthed from the question: how might we economically empower indigenous communities? At Natives Rising we provide mentorship, networking, community and job placement assistance for our tech fellows. For founders, in addition to the above, we’re raising money to give them a seed round and access to skilled volunteers that can help them with marketing, brand, design, distribution, engineering, or anything else they might need to launch their company.

Outside of work, I enjoy reading nonfiction, learning everything I can to become the best version of myself, meditation (specifically I follow the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza), studying mind-body healing for chronic conditions, making roadmaps and spreadsheets to track my personal growth, and training to continue transcending myself again and again :) I’m also studying to become an NLP practitioner and life coach.

Ask me anything about product design, systems design, social impact, social justice, economic empowerment, running a nonprofit like a startup, personal growth & transformation, NLP, or anything else!

And do let me know if you’re interested in volunteering with us or donating :) we’re looking for volunteers or mentors in finance / accounting, marketing, design, HR, business development, recruiting, and operations!

Thanks so much for joining us @danielleforward!Elphas – please ask @danielleforward your questions before Friday, November 11th. @danielleforward may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@danielleforward Thank you so much for sharing about your incredible journey! As a first-generation college student myself, I found the college process a very unfamiliar path. Having recently graduated with an engineering degree, I am finding it tough to break into UX/Product Design. What kind of advice would you recommend for someone in my shoe? I feel under pressure to follow a specific timeline and although I am making good progress overall, I fear the one-year post-grad deadline approaching. How do you balance respecting your process but making sure that you are also moving towards your goals?Additionally, I am interested in volunteering in design. If I can help Natives Rising in any way in bridging tech opportunities to a traditionally underrepresented community, I would love to! My portfolio is https://trang.work/ if you want to take a look to see if I can be of help!
This is amazing---I'm in awe!
Danielle, thank you so much for sharing your journey and the work that you are doing! Would love to have a link to your website to be able to share it more broadly as well :)
Thank you for your work and sharing your story! What has been the biggest surprise leaving the private sector and going into the non-profit space?
Thank you so much for sharing your story! What an inspiration you are. I would absolutely love to volunteer.
@danielleforward, I'd like to connect with you regarding a non-profit that I am in the process of starting. The mission of this non-profit organization is to provide free year-round programs that enlighten, educate and empower all human beings to a balanced mental, emotional, and physical state of existence through the practice of Sahaja Yoga and meditation. I've been providing these programs at Oracle for over 2 years now (as an employee volunteer service) and I feel it's about time more people got access to such programs for free. I can set up a program for your organization and provide regular meditation sessions (all free) to assist with the spiritual wellbeing for your tech fellows as well.
Hi @danielleforward, Congratulations on starting this initiative. You are being a great role model to the community and there is nothing more satisfying than giving back to the community where we came from.I am a non profit founder myself ( we serve the students in rural India learn CS and other skills that will help them land better jobs). One of the main issues we have now is, finding and keeping mentors. How do you find and convince mentors to join you? more importantly, how do you make sure the mentors continue with you ? What makes the mentors excited and continue?thanks for your time and best wishes.
I'd love to learn more about your organization and how to get involved/support! I identify as Latinx of Kʼiche Maya and Nahua Pipil descent. I have a few questions:1/ What does Indigenous mean for the organization?2/ BIPOC is most used to address non-white communities but can be dangerous as it erases the people and/or experiences of the folks within that umbrella term. What are specific challenges Indigenous folks face in tech?3/ Why is it important to have advocacy groups targeted specifically to the Indigenous community?
Thank you @kimtercero, great questions!1/ What does Indigenous mean for the organization? We focus our programs and recruitment efforts on Native folks within the United States, which is also where the majority of our members reside.We do, however, have members and folks in our network that are First Nations, Métis, or Māori (New Zealand) and those who identify as Indigenous with heritage from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, or South America. These other Indigenous groups often have very similar histories, present-day statistics, and similar relationships to their federal governments as the US tribes, especially in Canada. Since these communities’ challenges, histories, legal status as sovereign nations, and identities are often similar, we happily include them in our network if they wish to become a member or join an event. So when I use the term Indigenous, it’s the best way to inclusively refer to all regions globally.2/ BIPOC is most used to address non-white communities but can be dangerous as it erases the people and/or experiences of the folks within that umbrella term. What are specific challenges Indigenous folks face in tech? I totally agree that the term BIPOC can often mask or gloss over the disproportionate disadvantages between each community within it. For example, this recent poll by NPR / Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows how inflation currently disproportionately affects Black families and Native American families in the US, with Native families feeling the effects the most. (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/poll-high-u-s-inflation-rates-are-having-a-more-serious-impact-on-black-americans-than-white-americans/) As for being Indigenous in tech—speaking of inflation—socioeconomic status has a lot to do with the barriers. Access to computer science education is generally more accessible in well-off communities, with Native Americans being the least likely to attend a school that teaches computer science out of any other group (https://advocacy.code.org/2022_state_of_cs.pdf). On top of that, SAT Math scores also tend to mirror racial inequity and economic inequity (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/12/01/sat-math-scores-mirror-and-maintain-racial-inequity/). Since math remains a requirement in technical college majors like computer science, many Indigenous folks are automatically ineligible to even enroll in the major without a lot of catching up to do. So we’re less likely to even pursue the field at all. For the folks who live on reservations or rural areas, these structural and systemic challenges are often amplified. That becomes a vicious cycle and as a result, Native folks are far less likely to know someone who works in tech or even consider those roles due to extremely low representation. They might not even know these roles exist. If they do know the roles exist, they likely won’t see themselves in the role, or they might think they’re “not smart enough” to pursue it. This is of course not true, but when we don’t see what’s possible for people that look like us or come from the place we come from, we limit what we think we can achieve to whatever we’ve already seen. This is why representation is so important, and I’d say this is one of the major challenges Indigenous folks face, along with the structural and systemic barriers I explained above, which create the representation issue—and the cycle continues. Natives Rising directly intervenes in that cycle by representing and elevating what people believe is possible for them, and then making it happen.3/ Why is it important to have advocacy groups targeted specifically to the Indigenous community?Two big reasons come to mind: 1) enhancing the benefits from sociocultural diversity and 2) greater support for protecting the environment from climate change. And depending on your personal values 3) social justice (given the difficult history of this country, which is a much longer discussion).3.1) In general, the preservation and support of sociocultural diversity enriches society and provides more opportunities for innovation. Different people experience different problems, think differently, see the world differently, and they bring different solutions to the table. Any one of us could have the solution for the biggest challenges the world is currently facing, and the more diversity we have in every industry, the greater the likelihood we’ll come up with the best and most innovative solutions. We need to think differently and do things differently to get new and interesting results. This is a case that could be made for any group and it’s why I support diversity more broadly.Indigenous people, in particular, have unique cultural worldviews, histories, and unique language structures that provide a different way of seeing the world. It’s this different way of seeing that could unlock more innovation for everyone, and that’s what we invest in. One major example of this importance is how the Navajo Code Talkers were pivotal in ending World War II. (https://www.uso.org/stories/2511-how-navajo-code-talker-marines-used-their-indigenous-language-to-help-win-world-war-ii) It was their language that became the unbreakable code that helped the United States win!3.2) Speaking of cultural worldviews, it is often Indigenous people who are on the frontlines of protecting our planet from climate change, yet rarely get the recognition. In general, if you invest in Indigenous communities, you invest in the land and protect the climate, because caring for the land is our cultural responsibility as stewards. Mother Jones reported on a recent study by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, which found that Indigenous-led resistance to 21 fossil fuel projects in the US and Canada over the past decade has stopped or delayed an amount of greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual US and Canadian emissions (https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2021/09/indigenous-resistors-are-staving-off-tons-of-fossil-fuel-emissions-in-us-and-canada/). These gains are for everyone. Most importantly here, when you invest in communities who share a fundamental cultural view that we are deeply connected with the Earth, when you empower and sponsor people who have ties to that worldview, suddenly you have more folks in power who view it as their responsibility to protect land, air, forest, and water, and can use that power to do so. And yet, Indigenous people in the US and Canada remain the most disempowered group in pretty much every category I can find. That latent knowledge, responsibility and potential is just waiting to be empowered, and that's what we focus on.
Hi Danielle! Thanks for sharing your story and time with us. Your self-intro has sparked so many questions on a wide breadth of topics! 1. I'm curious to know, if at any point of your life, you felt feelings of resentment, anger, etc. at these systemic injustices and systemic discrimination and how did you work through that outlook on society? 2. How can we better empower ourselves with knowledge about personal finance and principles of economics that are most applicable to day-to-day life to make informed decisions? 3. You mentioned personal transformation - looking back on your life, what sort of "phases" did you find yourself go through? How did each of them shape you into who you are today? I've recently started a new role but would be interested in helping in after April 2023 or so. My background is in product management and now I'm doing program management work, the latter of which is heavily operations-focused.
@danielleforward Thank you very much for sharing your interesting journey. I am wondering if you support underrepresented individuals globally or only the U.S.? Also, could you please talk about business development strategies?I am looking forward to Nov11.Thank you.
@danielleforward I've been following your work at Natives Rising and am SO GLAD that you are doing what you do. Thank you for sharing your story. If tech companies are looking to hire from the talent pool you are aware of through your org and/or donate to your org through a % of rev from product sales, what is the best way to engage your team to find out if there's a fit?
@helkin I'm so happy to hear that! For partnership conversations you can email me directly at [email protected] Would love to collaborate!
@danielleforward - I am interested in helping. Let me know how I can. I have a good background in software engineering - cloud services.
Danielle thank you so much for being here this week! This is going to sound super odd but we met a few years ago (pre pandemic era) over the phone because I was worked at an early stage VC trying to create tech and entrepreneurship programs in indigenous community in the state of NY/border with Canada, so I went on a journey of interviewing inspiring people in tech coming from Indigenous communities! At the time you were at Meta! What has been the most challenging part about running Natives Rising ?
@iynna Oh yes, I remember you! It would be great to connect again. :)I would say the most challenging part has been developing a sustainable revenue model and fundraising strategy when our chosen community is inherently small, especially when other similar organizations (e.g. Black or Latinx communities) can more easily leverage population size to fundraise or generate revenue to sustain their organization.When people look to allocate money, whether that’s from a company sponsor or other grant-making entity, people can often be fixated on big numbers or measuring the opportunity by size—ironically, even in the diversity space, when success should be more about supporting variety and equity!People tend to love seeing big numbers—like how many scholars you’ve funded, how many members you have in your community, etc. But with the Native population within the US, we’re working at a much smaller volume. Sometimes people forget that is exactly why we’re working on this problem—it’s BECAUSE the numbers are so low that there is an opportunity for social impact and social justice. That is the impact. It’s because the college graduation rates are so low. It’s because their outcomes are lagging behind other groups. So from a justice lens, it makes more sense to care more about equity than scale. In this space, we have to think about success differently, and part of the challenge includes reminding people of that. So while the question, “How many people can I help with each dollar?” is a valid and useful question, a more equity focused version of that might be, “Which group is the furthest away from achieving equity with other groups in this space, and how much farther will my dollars help bridge that gap?”