It’s been an incredible journey and a great privilege to be involved with PRA in many capacities. From my initial role as a research assistant in 1987, when the organization began with one project and four employees, to serving as its immediate past President of 6 years, I am humbled and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. And I’m proud of PRA and the changes that happened under my leadership, but that were driven and executed by the incredible folks who devote their time to PRA’s projects and larger mission. I’m also excited to stay involved in a minimal role as the Executive Director of PRA’s sister company, Policy Research Inc.

Sometimes I just lay here in the early morning, waking after having some—but rarely enough—sleep and reflect on the lessons learned while running our organization. There is no manual for running a business, and that was particularly evident during COVID. I’ve always loved numbers and enjoyed the business end of things, but what I learned was most important was to always put people first. Prioritizing staff considerations and policies that affect staff is critical. You have to put yourself in the back seat and make decisions that are right for the organization, even though they sometimes are tough ones. Delivering hard messages is never fun, but not making the tough decisions and not delivering them clearly will inevitably create more problems down the road.

Having a growth mindset is a prerequisite. I was struck by a recent quote I read from Ben Franklin (of all people): “For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.” Those who can’t think critically and incorporate new knowledge to grow and adapt won’t be successful. We are constantly changing, evolving, and—hopefully—growing and awakening to new and evolving truths. And we need to have the capacity and the willingness to incorporate this new information into doing the right thing.

The pandemic pushed us in this regard, as we needed to adapt and change the rules a bit—where we work, how we work, and various policies and procedures. Social and individual consciousness around racial inequity pushed us to acknowledge historical oppression and racism more overtly and to take further action to address these inequities in our organizational culture and business practices. The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade pushed us again to try to do the right thing by covering travel for our employees who need to seek healthcare in states outside of where they live.

Change is hard, and it is often easier to stay with what we know and how we’ve always operated because it is familiar. However, we’ve been challenged in recent years to question whether those policies and practices need to be adapted to really put people first. And it’s important to implement those revised policies fairly and consistently.

I’ve always felt that my primary responsibility as the leader of PRA was to find the next leader of PRA. And I hit it out of the park on that task. Our new President, Sarah Desmarais, is a well-known researcher and administrator with expertise in just about every area of PRA work. And she has a growth mindset and puts people first. I have no doubt that she’ll be able to successfully lead the organization for decades to come.

But several accomplishments beyond that one come to mind that I’m particularly proud of:

  1. We always try to live our values and to be fair, equitable, and consistent with how we create and apply policies.
  2. PRA stayed independent—we successfully transitioned the organization from the original principals and positioned it for long-term stability.
  3. PRA became and will remain a woman-owned, woman-led small business.
  4. We’re selective about our staff, partners, and consultants; we work with talented folks on work we enjoy.
  5. We have become a more diverse organization, and we now have diversity in the decision makers—the shareholders and the Board of Directors.
  6. We give back and get involved with charitable donations and community service.

I’ll continue to give back…but outside PRA, and I’ll continue to watch the great work that PRA will continue to do from afar.

Thank you, PRA, for 35 years!