Meet Natalie Evans Harris, entrepreneur, data advocate, and executive director of the Black Wealth Data Center
As a data advocate, she believes that everyone has the ability to transform lives when the right data is accessible at the right time and in the right way
Meet Natalie Evans Harris, entrepreneur, data advocate, and the executive director of the Black Wealth Data Center, a platform addressing the inaccessibility and lack of data surrounding the topic of Black wealth. Over the course of her career, Natalie has been working towards advancing the public sector’s use of data, responsible data use, and ethical algorithms meant to benefit people.
She spent 16 years at the National Security Agency leading an analytics development center, and 18 months with the Obama administration as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Chief Technology Officer. Additionally, Natalie co-founded and currently serves as Head of Strategic Initiatives of BrightHive, a data trust platform that delivers data collection, governance, and integration products to social services providers, allowing for better access to and usability of social sector data. To learn more about Natalie, keep reading.
My first job ever was… working in the shoe department of Sears. I was a salesperson. I’m an introvert, so interactions with strangers have always been a little awkward for me, but the cheques were nice, the hours were good, and it worked with my schedule.
Before the Black Wealth Data Center, I was… Senior Advisor for the Delivery of Tech and Data at the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Biden Administration. I focused on ways to leverage data and technology to advance equity and help Commerce build its equity agenda.
I’m passionate about what I do because… I believe that we can create a society where everyone thrives. Technology and data are key components, and we’ve seen that throughout time. I love the work I do because I feel like I’m helping tell the stories and create the foundations for everyone to be able to live the life they want.
I started my business because… during my time in the Obama administration, I had seen that state governments can transform communities, but it was really hard for them to get and share the data they needed to develop their solutions. We saw Brighthive (a data trust platform delivering a suite of smart data collection, integration, and governance products to social services providers) as an opportunity to provide a platform and process to help local governments share data with non-government entities. Think about a state Department of Labor being able to share data with educational institutions, so we can make sure the skills we’re offering students lead to jobs.
My proudest accomplishment is… I’m proud of my daughter every day. She’s nine, and she’s got a lot of personality. She’s a pretty cool kid. Workwise, I’d say my proudest accomplishment was working under the Obama administration and getting to form the Data Cabinet, which brought together all the data leaders across the federal government to think about and talk about data and share and trade stories and build capacity. I’m proud that I got to serve. The White House was one place where I really learned how to work with people and bring everyone’s strengths to the table to move mountains.
My biggest setback was… a situation when I realized that I was not aligned with other key stakeholders in how to drive impact. It created a situation where I needed to look for a different opportunity. I saw how the situation could go one way, but the decision was made to go another direction. It was out of my control, and I didn’t feel aligned with where the project was going anymore.
Another setback was… the first time I gave a keynote speech when I worked in the White House. The whole process was stiff and strict, and that’s not me. I was completely nervous, and I don’t think I performed as well or delivered the message or connected with the people as much because of how it was set up.
I overcame it by… learning about what the conditions of success are for me so that everyone walks away happy. I learned to take more active control over when, where, and how I communicate and do speaking engagements.
My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and would like to become involved is… do it. There are so many ways to be involved in a cause, so my best advice is whatever the challenge is that you want to leave your fingerprint on, learn as much as you can about it, go to the spaces where people are talking about it, and connect with people who have similar passions. You never have to work alone. Ideate about the cause and build your community and build your connections in those spaces. Never try to do it alone.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… never go it alone. I tell people regularly that the best way to flesh out an idea or a thought is to bounce it off of other people. I have a hard time with that because I like to really solidify ideas in my head before I share them out. I’m being more intentional now about putting thoughts out there in the universe and seeing how people react to them.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my agility. When I’m flexible about the how, then it’s easy to navigate the journey. I try not to over define processes because you never know what’s going to come up, and the ability to pivot and pivot thoughtfully is so important. That has been consistent throughout my career. I’m really clear about keeping an eye on a prize, but the path to get there can be squishy, and I stay open-minded to some of those changes along the way.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I can’t swim. I have a huge fear of swimming. Not water or water sports, just the act of swimming.
I stay inspired by… the people around me. I learn from everybody. I stay inspired by what’s going on around me, the stories my daughter tells me in the car, whatever my husband has going on — I’m inspired by the people around me.
The future excites me because… we’re putting the pieces in place today for it to be so much better for our kids in the future. I believe the things we’re doing today, even though they’re hard, are getting us closer to utopia than apocalypse. I feel like there’s more intention today and thoughtfulness and impact on the future that can only make things better for the next generation.
My next step is… I don’t know, I never plan these things. There’s nothing that said when I was at Commerce that I was going to be doing the Black Wealth Data Center next. There’s nothing that said when I did the fellowship at the National Security Agency that I was going to be at the White House after that. I never plan my next step. I live in the moment.