A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Arva Rice

President and CEO of New York Urban League


Apr. 17 2023, Published 7:00 a.m. ET

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Community, passion, and leadership are words to describe the President and CEO of the New York Urban League, Arva Rice. For years, Arva has dedicated herself to creating pathways to success for young people, primarily girls and women of color. With more than 15 years of experience working in the nonprofit industry, she also has extensive experience in collaboration building, strategic marketing, fundraising, and marketing. As the CEO, leading the way for underserved African Americans, the New York Urban League has ignited over 1 million Black people to achieve their highest aspirations.

Her Agenda spoke with Arva to learn more about leadership from the perspective of a CEO running a philanthropic business, as well as a little bit about the woman behind the business.

Her Agenda:Outside of being a CEO, what do you spend most of your time on? And what do you enjoy doing the most?

Arva Rice: I think the thing that I probably spend the second most amount of time on, honestly, is serving as the Interim Chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is New York City’s largest oversight agency for the police department. I would like to say that the second thing I spend the most time on is being an auntie, which is something that I truly love and enjoy. I have four nieces and one nephew, and I absolutely love spending time with them!

Her Agenda: In your experience, as a CEO, what do you believe constitutes a successful organization?

Arva Rice: Oh, what a great question! I think a successful organization has a positive, measurable impact on the community, and the staff feels like they are valued and supported in their work.

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Her Agenda: As a CEO, what does leadership look like in your position?

Arva Rice: Leadership — I often say, and it’s a quote from Ruth Messenger, ‘Leadership is about doing things that make your stomach hurt.’ And I continue to believe that. Leadership is doing the thing that’s scary, but you think is right. Leadership is being willing to stay the extra hour, the extra day, leadership is, being able to be more connected to the mission, than who gets the credit. Leadership is believing in your cause, and doing all that you need to do in order to realize it.

Her Agenda:Wow, I need to write that down. That was spot on!

Arva Rice: [Laughs]

Her Agenda:No, seriously! [Laughs] What are some tough decisions the organization has faced and how did you navigate them?

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Arva Rice: There are lots of tough decisions we’ve had to make along the way. I think that the most recent is we have three brownstones that we own in Harlem. And, the organization has gone through financial ups and downs throughout the course of over 100 years. We had to figure out whether we would sell them or dig our heels in and try to raise the money in order to help to renovate them. It’s a Black organization owning buildings in Harlem. And so we decided that we would try to figure out how to keep and hold them, and have started our fundraising efforts and have been fairly successful to this point in time.

Her Agenda:What would you say are some misconceptions when it comes to nonprofit work? And what do you think is something that people should know about them?

Avra Rice: [The most ideal one] is when people think that you can’t get paid [when] working [at] a nonprofit. People don’t realize the breadth of nonprofits that are out there, that there are some nonprofits whose budgets parallel the size of a small business or even a medium-sized business. And then also, sometimes people just assume that nonprofits don’t run like businesses, that they’re all mom-and-pop shops, and that’s not true, either. There are nonprofits that can have more of a corporate feel or run more like a business and some that are less so.

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Her Agenda:In the New York Urban League, are there any of your mentees that have joined that remind you of your younger self?

Arva Rice: Oh, funny! [Laughs] Yeah, certainly, I see elements of myself in almost all of the young women that we work with! Individuals who are incredibly talented, and need the support and opportunity to rise to the next level, and sometimes just doubt our ability to get there and just need that extra push, that extra drive. I definitely recognize that in many of the young women.

Her Agenda:What is your motto?

Arva Rice: So my personal mission is to make a difference in the life of a girl. And I think in terms of mottos, I always try to remind my staff members and remind myself that the only people that don’t make mistakes are people that aren’t doing anything.

[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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By: Briana Boateng

Briana Boateng is an entertainment news and lifestyle journalist Some of her best works are featured in Her Campus Magazine and The Knockturnal. She's also worked in production, as a Newscast Producer at CBS 6 in Albany. Some of Briana's hobbies include eating out, watching interviews, as well as reading lifestyle articles. As a writer for Her Agenda, Briana is dedicated to writing stories that speak to the experience of Black women and all things catered to us and our reality.

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