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Akilah Watkins-Butler 

Incoming President and Chief Executive Officer

Akilah Watkins-Butler has spent the bulk of her professional career improving the conditions of vulnerable communities. In 1991, Akilah co-founded I AM Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low achieving youth self-actualize. Through this organization, Akilah led a community organizing effort that resulted in acquiring and creating a charter school using the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the first organization in New York State to do so.


In 2002, Akilah became Program Officer of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta where she led their Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Opportunities Initiative. It was a three-year initiative to ensure the success of youth transitioning out of foster care. Akilah leveraged millions in resources (funding and services) and created a state-wide policy which included Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) for participants. In 2004, she was promoted to direct the Community Foundation’s multi-million dollar community development fund that included providing grants, technical assistance, and local and national resources to over 1,000 low-income neighborhood residents.  

Akilah joined Leadership for Healthy Communities in 2010, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to assist national policy makers, support local and state government leaders nationwide in their efforts to reduce childhood obesity through public policies that promote active living, healthy eating and access to healthy food.

After leaving Leadership for Healthy Communities, Akilah became Director of National Partnerships for NeighborWorks America where she developed and managed national funding relationships valued at $100M. Additionally, she designed and implemented a national public health and housing initiative for over 4,000 low-to-moderate income families and communities. This initiative formed partnerships between single family and multi-family developers and health care organizations such as hospitals and clinics.

In 2014, she led the national anti-poverty and place based portfolio at the Center for the Study of Social Policy in collaboration with the Obama administration vis-à-vis their signature initiatives of Building Neighborhood Capacity Program and Promise and Choice Neighborhoods. Using a Collective Impact Framework, Akilah led national teams in providing technical assistance and capacity building to more than 25 different communities across the country. Her leadership supported community-driven, place-based efforts that continue to improve educational and economic outcomes for children and families in distressed communities. Most recently, Akilah led the Opportunity Institute, a consulting firm dedicated to creating opportunities for vulnerable families.


Akilah has earned her undergraduate degree at Empire State College in New York State in community and human services and is an alumnus of Southern New Hampshire University where she earned two Master degrees: community economic development and business education. Akilah currently holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Illinois.