By Fern Gillespie
In 2019, Council Member Farah N. Louis was newly installed in her former boss Jumaane Williams’ seat when she successfully pushed for legislation to create a new city office that would help nonprofits navigate the city’s contracting system. The bill would require then Mayor Bill de Blasio to create an Office of Not-For-Profit Services. This summer, Mayor Eric Adams paid NYC nonprofits back-pay contracts of $4.2 billion and officially launched Council Member Louis’ recommended Office of Not-For-Profit Services.
Louis has a varied career that spans politics, healthcare, unions, nonprofits and media. A first-generation Brooklynite, her parents immigrated from Haiti. After nearly six years of service as a key staffer for Council Member Williams, she won his seat when he was elected to Congress. Council Member Louis became the first woman to represent the 45th District which comprises Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, and Kensington in Brooklyn, NY.
Since being elected, she has focused on domestic violence; close-the-food insecurity gap; and expanding access to nonprofit services, education, reproductive rights, and healthcare. She’s been appointed as Chair of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Maritime Use, and elected as both Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus and Co-Chair of the Brooklyn Delegation.
Prior to joining the City Council, Louis worked as an administrator in healthcare at Mount Sinai Hospital and a communications executive and member of 1199 union. In 2012, she founded Girls Leading Up, a mentoring organization for girls. She holds a Master’s in Public Administration from New York University and a journalism degree from Long Island University.
Our Time Press reached out to her for insights on the importance of nonprofits in New York City.
OTP: Why did you think it was important for the Mayor’s Office to create an NYC Office of Not-For-Profits?
FL: Not-for-profit organizations across this city provide an incredible scope of services each and every day, and in many cases, are the lifeblood of underserved communities in this city. As a City Council Member, I allot funding to thousands of organizations, to cover the needs of diverse neighborhoods, ranging from housing, and senior services to street cleanups, and youth programming.
While this funding is crucial to ensuring thousands of human service workers employed by these nonprofits are paid, it is but a fraction of the support they need to continue providing supportive services. One of the challenges that many nonprofit organizations face is balancing their day-to-day operations while keeping pace with the needs of New Yorkers during their time of need, which increased exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a city, we recognize that running a nonprofit organization is never easy and it can be difficult to navigate the checks and balances in place, which is why my bill, Intro 1784, is intended to provide nonprofit organizations with a liaison that can help streamline the budgeting process from allocation to disbursement while bridging the communication and information gap between city agencies and the organizations working on-the-ground.
OTP: What do you think are some of the issues the Mayor’s Office of Not-For-Profit Services should handle for non-profits?
FL: By establishing an Office of Non-For-Profit Services within the Mayor’s office, there will be dedicated resources to exclusively provide nonprofit operators with support services regarding funding allocations to allow them to focus on providing transformative services to New Yorkers and not be bogged down by figuring out the intricacies of our city government funding. In addition, this office will provide a plethora of services to assist organizations with capacity building, access to other grants opportunities from city agencies and issuing reports and information on the trajectory of the nonprofits and the work they are doing in specific sectors.
OTP: You were a founder and director of a youth non-profit. What were some of the major problems you faced in managing your organization?
FL: As the Founder of Girls Leading Up, we had robust roster of programs, our membership retention was excellent but what we lacked was access to consistent funding streams and competing with larger nonprofits for grants was a major challenge. While I enjoyed working with young women from my community, we were unable to financially sustain the program.