A Path to Purpose: The Journey of Maria Kim, President & CEO of REDF
September 11th was a defining moment for millions of people around the world. And for Maria Kim, it was just that. At that time, she was working in the insurance industry, but the impact of that tragic day made her want to work with purpose. She eventually found herself as President & CEO of REDF, focusing on creating jobs for others. The daughter of immigrants, she jokes her nurse mother and entrepreneur father made her a social entrepreneur determined to help others.
In this podcast, Maria shares lessons learned from her wide variety of work experiences she describes as a “three-act play” in the areas of private, purpose, and now practice. Her path wasn’t always intentional but it was successful nonetheless and from that journey, she learned who she is and what she brings to the table. She is focused on fixing inequities in the workplace citing that even after all the work is done, 10 million people are still “boxed out of today’s economy.” We all have something we can learn from Maria’s unique insights.
[02:15] Maria’s path to her current position
[04:11] Finding your purpose
[06:52] How she found herself working in the service industry
[09:03] Taking a risk and stepping into the unknown
[12:13] Discovering your strengths and learning new skills
[13:50] Maria’s strength of building community
[18:37] Bringing your unique skills to the table
[21:49] How to make sure your talent stands out and overcoming stereotypes
[25:19] Focusing on your goals
[27:38] Work/life integration
[30:55] Lighting round questions
“You don’t have to be on the path you inherit. You can create your own path.” - Maria Kim
“There’s something about listening to your inner you that I think gives you the courage to hustle you through those stages of working your way back up the ladder.” – Maria Kim
“We just spent the last two plus years looking at everyone’s life through the screen of a Zoom room. We saw life in its full intersectionality—beautiful, ugly, everything in between, we saw all it, we saw kids, partners, everything. Let’s not forget what we saw.” – Maria Kim
“There are 10 million people in our country that are boxed out of today’s economy, for a whole host of reasons that challenge the barriers they’re overcoming.” – Maria Kim
Lightning Round Questions:
What book has greatly influenced you?
- “Crying in the H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
What is your favorite inspiring quote or saying?
- “We can be a work in progress and a masterpiece all at the same time.”
What is one word or moniker you would use to describe yourself?
- Fly foxy fish
What is one change you've implanted that made your life better?
- Seeking first to understand, then be understood.
What power song would you want playing as you walk out onto a stage?
- “Good as Hell” by Lizzo
About Maria Kim:
Maria is a reformed insurance professional who describes the chapters of her career as private, purpose, and now practice: private sector in insurance, purpose sector at Cara Collective helping people experiencing homelessness and poverty get back to work, and now consultative practice at REDF – a pioneering venture philanthropy investing in businesses that exist to hire overlooked talent across the country.
Maria serves on the advisory boards of the First Women’s Bank and the University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab. She is a 2008 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, a 2012 American Marshall Memorial Fellow, a 2018 Vital Voices Global Ambassador, a former co-chair within Chicago Mayor Lightfoot’s 2019 transition team, a 2020 Presidential Leadership Scholar, and a 2022 Distinguished Alumni in Public Service from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where she received her MBA.
A social impact enthusiast, advocate, and entrepreneur, Maria knows firsthand we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us; and our job – or more like our opportunity – is to pave the way for others to stand on ours. She writes about that journey as it relates to her time leading Cara in Voice and Vocation: A workforce practitioner’s guide to building hopes, jobs, and opportunity.
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