Executive Charity Chats: Interview with Deb Rosen of Bivona Child Advocacy Center

Mark Thompson, Equity Analyst

Howe & Rusling’s Executive Charity Chats: Leadership and Lessons from Main Street is an interview series connecting you to the wisdom, advice and best practices of the leadership of charitable organizations making an impact in our communities both near and far.

Community, beehive

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Howe & Rusling’s Executive Charity Chats: Leadership and Lessons from Main Street.

In this series, we will connect you to the wisdom, advice, and best practices of leaders of charitable organizations who are making an impact in our community today. We believe that executive insights don’t need to come from Wall Street alone to make a difference to our financial wellbeing, and we are excited to share what we learn with you.

At Howe & Rusling, we value the critical work these organizations do for our communities, and we are honored to not only share their insights, but to also help raise awareness on their behalf.  

Meet Deb Rosen: Executive Director, Bivona Child Advocacy Center  

Deb is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has focused her career on the needs of children and families involved in the child welfare, foster care, juvenile justice, and behavioral health systems. Deb joined Bivona in 2017.  

What is Bivona Child Advocacy Center?

Bivona Child Advocacy Center provides both critical and comprehensive services to children who have endured abuse, helping them begin their journey of healing. The organization’s mission centers on child abuse response, healing and prevention through collaborative service, awareness and education. Located in Rochester, NY, Bivona directly serves over 1,500 children a year from the city and surrounding communities.

Executive Charity Chat Between Mark Thompson (Q) and Deb Rosen (A)

Q: Everyone has something internally that drives them and motivates them to get out of bed each and every morning. Regarding Bivona’s mission specifically, what is this drive for you?

A: Bivona’s work with child advocacy puts me closely in touch with the suffering of those children that are being impacted. Our mission is a powerful one that quickly gets into my mind and motivates me day in and day out. Working with an organization that is laser-focused on its mission helps to keep you focused and motivated as well. In my 30+ years in this field, I can assuredly say I have not worked with a more focused organization than Bivona. 

Q: How do you define your own personal success at work? 

A: I believe the role of a leader is to define an organization’s mission and enable others to effectively get behind the leader and that organization’s mission. I have always viewed financial results as a clear indicator of whether success is being achieved. The community votes through charitable contributions and government votes through funding and awards. If I am not doing my best, that will quickly show up in those results. 

Q: And to then get from A to B, what do you consider the key to great performance at the individual level? 

A: Hands down it is communication. Strong communication is essential at not only the individual level, but also on the whole at the organizational level. Effective communication enables individuals to perform their best and also translates collective team efforts in driving forward an organization’s mission. 

Additionally, one needs to always be thinking of not only where you and your organization are, but where you need to be. I see myself as a growth and development focused leader. I constantly ask myself questions such as “What more should be done to help?” and “How do we deepen the quality of services we provide?” At the end of the day, regardless of your industry you need to be thinking of innovation or you risk obsolescence.

Q: I believe being great at work means one must infuse his or her work with passion and a strong sense of purpose. Does this ring true for you? What advice would you give to help someone refresh these concepts for themselves?

A: Absolutely. You’re most effective when you feel strongly about your work. 

In terms of advice, I recommend people make sure they are doing what they love. Inauthentic leadership is so obvious! But we all have difficult days which is understandable. During those times, try to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. For myself, I find it is important to make sure I remain connected with those that share the same vision that I do. In keeping these connections, I keep myself from becoming isolated and those individuals help remind me of the greater purpose of our collective work, helping me to push forward. 

Q: Collaboration is one of the values we adhere to here at Howe & Rusling. At Bivona, how do you know when it is best to collaborate?

A: Collaboration is huge at Bivona – both within our direct team but also with the agencies that we work with. We can’t do the great work we do without collaborating with these strategic partners. 

In collaborating, it is important to insure the congruence of the brand – your organization’s values. Make sure you collaborate with the right partners because you can’t (and shouldn’t) collaborate with everyone. When you pick the right partners to collaborate with, you will have greater success amplifying your organization’s mission. 

Q: Being an effective leader is a critical skill that not everyone is able to master, but we can certainly learn lessons from both the great and those that could use some improvement. From your own personal career experience, what is the most important lesson you have learned from those that have led you? 

A: The most important lesson I have learned from other leaders is that leaders need to listen. It is especially important to also listen to those that you may not want to listen to or do not agree with. I believe the most important sentence in the English language is “I hear you.” Saying those words when it is even the most painful and uncomfortable is so critical and can get you very far. 

Q: Sometimes advice is best tailored to fit specific scenarios. What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out their career? And similarly, what one piece of advice would you give to someone halfway through their career?

A: When you are just starting your career, focus on doing what you love and be sure to not give up too easily on finding what that specifically means for you. I think there is the tendency, especially for young people to use a very literal translation in making sure they do what they love for a career. This probably closes more opportunities than it opens. We love many things in life – issues we feel strongly about, activities, or showing others a passion we have. There doesn’t need to always be a 1:1 relationship between what you love the most and your exact career. The key is finding a role that allows us to express and practice facets of what we love. Build on those, and you will have the solid foundation to a career that motivates you every day. 

For those mid-way through their career, I think it is very important to get a mentor. I started out in clinical work, and I know that had it not been for various mentors in my life, I would not have ended up where I am today. There are so many important decisions on where you can or should take your career. Mentors help give you an objective perspective and help you understand what you are good at. Now many ask, “How can I find a mentor?” It’s a great question and one that can be intimidating. Remember, a mentor relationship does not have to be and in most instances is not extremely structured. Many are more informal and can be short term. To find individual mentors, look for those around you that impress you. This could be someone related to your organization, someone in another company in your field or even a vendor you might have. Ask them for a Zoom or coffee sometime for their thoughts and perspectives and I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.   

Q: The covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on both individuals and organizations alike. What was the most important learning for you and your leadership of Bivona from covid-19?

A: The pandemic quickly highlighted for me that flexibility is a key competence of an effective leader. We had always prided ourselves on taking care of our employees and helping them institute a positive work/life balance. When the pandemic hit, almost overnight it became clear we needed to drastically update our definition of how we respond to what people need in their personal lives. We changed schedules, compensation, where, when and how people worked. Bivona’s staff is its most valuable asset. We need to make sure we take care of them to enable us to continue doing the great work we do for the community. 

Bivona partners closely with 23 agencies to provide coordinated services to children who have been abused. Many of the staff who work for these agencies are co-located at Bivona’s historic building at 1 Mt. Hope Avenue, so that all services are delivered under one roof. This is an essential component of the child advocacy center model and something that distinguishes Bivona from other human services organizations.

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Mark Thompson

Mark is responsible for identifying, analyzing, and recommending investment opportunities for Howe & Rusling’s equity and ETF strategies.


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