ABOVE PHOTO: Campaign for Working Families team and volunteers
By Michael Butscher
As the free tax preparation season approaches, the new president and CEO of Campaign for Working Families (CWF), Dr. Nikia Owens, says her vision for CWF is to grow and expand its service delivery and to make a clear, direct impact on people’s lives socially and financially.
In an exclusive interview, Owens maintained that to achieve success, she wants to increase the budget significantly. “I want to be able to serve more people. We currently serve about 30,000, and during the tax season, we file over 25,000 federal tax returns,” she stated.
“As a person, I am dedicated to serve individuals that are not where they want to be socially or financially, or even academically. I sit in a position that provides an opportunity for me to lead efforts that help elevate and build people up academically, socially, and financially. So that is the seat where I want to be able to make a difference in people’s lives, and this has been the trajectory of my life. I believe my purpose is to serve people.”
Since assuming the office of president/CEO with Campaign for Working Families beginning October 1, 2022, her vision is to passionately help working families and individuals reach economic mobility. She says she is determined to carry on the legacy of providing the highest level of service and support to the community. Over two decades now, CWF has advocated for financial stability for individuals and families, operating free community-based tax sites maximizing federal and state tax credits, accessing public benefits for individuals and families, and providing workforce training and experiences for individuals throughout Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
Born and raised in California, Owens grew up in the child welfare care system and was emancipated from the system at the age of 17. She got admission to Howard University, Washington, DC, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The determined graduate then went on to attain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in social work planning, administration and social science with a subspeciality in educational leadership.
“Throughout my academic years, I had the opportunity to work in various capacities from direct service dealing with clients to administrative roles, supervising and overseeing major projects working in government, philanthropy and the non-profit sector, which all have positioned me well in assuming this particular position as President/CEO of Campaign for Working Families,” Owens said.
She has a wealth of proven leadership experience in project management and fund development. Before joining the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, Owens worked as managing director of financial empowerment at the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ), where she was responsible for leading family empowerment and income stability initiatives. Prior to joining UWGPSNJ, she held several leadership positions in the areas of research, education, and human services.
After supervising a state educational project in Pennsylvania, commuting between Houston, Texas and Pennsylvania every other week for three years, she assumed the position as director of internal and executive communications at a large non-profit organization in Texas. Within that position, she supervised all communications of the organization as well as the president’s office. That assignment covered 64 counties across Houston and Galveston, Texas.
A significant achievement by Owens was being able to fundraise over $30 million for an organization to help move their work forward and being able to execute research on projects from criminal justice, workforce, universal basic income research, and leadership in the production of publications.
She cited one of her successes while she worked on a state education project; “There were 12 students that were on the brink of failing ninth grade a third time, and everyone had just about given up on these students, and I was able to implement an academic project that enabled most of those students to successfully complete high school on time,” she said proudly. “I used to work in the philanthropic sector, where I had the opportunity to fund a lot of small organizations, which supported their ability to secure other funding and grow their service delivery, making a greater impact than organizations significantly larger than their organization.”
So how have all these experiences prepared Nikia Owens for her new role as CEO of Campaign for Working Families?
“I believe all my life and professional experiences work together; my ability to demonstrate leadership, the ability to be strategic in your leadership, managing people, and learning what kind of management system works best. More importantly, it is about being strategic in terms of how to move forward as a leader, work in a more streamlined, seamless, and more efficient way.” Owens said.
Given such a busy work schedule, Owens explains how she finds time to relax and for her family.
“I start most mornings rising at 4:00 am with a challenging exercise at 5 am – a whole fitness regime class at the gym. That’s what I do to keep my health and my mind intact before burrowing into the day’s work. Outside of that, I spend time with my children; my daughter is in her last year of high school. My son, a senior in college, joins us on outings sometimes. I spend the rest of my free time reading and writing. Traveling to visit other places to experience other cultures is what I also enjoy doing with my children, with another trip planned for the upcoming summer.”
Owens has received several awards recognizing her for her systems change and advocacy works. The Social Innovations Journal, Race and Gender Equity 2020 awarded her first place for its racial equity award. She received other awards from organizations she worked with for helping them to advance their service delivery, including Sisters Returning Home (2021), and Why Not Prosper (2021).
Regarding individuals and families CWF serves, she pledged to “make sure we bring back the most in terms of experience whether it is refund or resources; we are here to serve to make your life is a little bit kinder for you.”
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