Conversations Across Generations: Shawn Dove and Anderson Sainci

Building an America where everyone can thrive is not a solo endeavor.

March 8, 2023

Building an America where everyone can thrive is not a solo endeavor. It requires us to come together across lines of difference that have largely divided and fragmented us. At New Profit, we firmly believe that, if we are to create the transformational change we seek in our schools, our communities, and our economy, we must work together across racial identities, generations, and sectors.

We must also come together to share and understand each other’s ideas, experiences, and hopes. This is why we’re hosting a series of dialogues between social impact leaders: To lift up stories based on connection with someone with a different perspective. 

Shawn Dove, a Managing Partner at New Profit, has spent much of his career connecting with young people. For more than a decade, Shawn led the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, an initiative that has become the largest national movement to improve the life outcomes of Black men and boys. Shawn also served as a key advisor and organizer for the launch of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, was the founding editor-in-chief of the award-winning Harlem Overheard youth-produced newspaper, and served as Vice President for MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership and Director of Youth Ministries for First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ. In this series, Shawn will lead conversations with emerging leaders to explore their personal and professional journeys, learn from their experience, and hear about their vision for building a more equitable future.

Anderson Sainci, who has been part of the co-design process for New Profit’s annual gathering, The Well, recently spoke with Shawn about his path to leadership, commitment to community, and experience as a Millennial Impact Fellow at New Profit’s 2017 Gathering of Leaders. Anderson was raised by a single mom who migrated to the US from Haiti and taught him to always be in service to other people. A former AmeriCorps member, he has held several roles in city government and currently serves as the Director of the Office of Shared Prosperity and Neighborhood Support for the City of Dubuque, Iowa. Shawn and Anderson previously worked together on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.


Shawn: I am glad that we have reconnected, and we are working together. You’ve been on the front lines of social change for a while. Tell me a little bit about how working with New Profit has impacted your social justice leadership.

Anderson: For me, the most important part is the relationships that I’m able to build in a genuine and authentic way, and to learn from people who I may not have the privilege of connecting with on a normal basis here in Dubuque, Iowa. I think that’s the most important part, for me to hear what other people are doing throughout the country, to make change, and New Profit creates those spaces where people across differences can come together for a common goal. 

I am designing a session for The Well focused on Accelerating Trust. We know that everything starts off with trust, and if you don’t have genuine and authentic trust across differences, it’s challenging to get certain resources—human resources or financial resources, whatever that may be. And so what we’re trying to do is talk about why it’s important to build that trust from a common place and how you can build new systems and new opportunities for everyone to thrive, because that should be the goal in every community. To make sure that everyone’s thriving. Everyone has access to the things that they need. But we know historically that hasn’t been the case. Those who have the power have the opportunity to create what system that they want.

Shawn: Being a social entrepreneur in city government and through your engagement with young people, what are you sensing? What are you hearing? What are you feeling and getting from young people about their belief, both in the future for them in this nation and in the nation as a whole?

Anderson: I have had the privilege of mentoring young adults throughout my career, and I think there’s a mixture of feelings that’s going on right now. I think the best thing that I can do is to model the change that they could create in this community because most of them may not have an example in front of them. And so making myself available, and showing them like, hey, you can make a difference in this world. And it’s already inside of you. 

I believe each and every one of us has a gift. We each have a talent that was given to us by our Creator to make the world a better place. But some people don’t get that tap on the shoulder, right? And so I think youth right now, they have the capabilities, if we tap them on the shoulders to really make the world a better place. I am getting old– I’m starting to get gray hair. I’m not too prideful, where I can’t get out of the way and allow people to do what they do best. Right, I have my opportunity and my time. I have my time right now where I can put my imprint into the world, and I feel comfortable assisting those who need my help, and I also feel comfortable just getting out of the way and allowing people to do what’s best.

Shawn: New Profit is thinking about how we are elevating, investing in and supporting the faith community. Speak a little bit about infusing and incorporating the faith community in social impact and social change and your thoughts around that.

Anderson: Well, I I think that’s an amazing opportunity for New Profit to lead the way. If you think historically, for a lot of community members, where do they go to get fed? The Well for them was the church. You could figure out where the food pantry was. You could figure out how to vote. You could figure out how to drive, and many churches still have that space for people to be filled up with all the things that they need locally. Here in Dubuque we have an organization called the Dubuque Dream Center. That is a faith-based organization that works specifically with underprivileged youth and they have an amazing structure called In Your Life Mentoring, where they mentor and support not only the students, but also the families, and they work hand in hand with the school district to make sure that each and every single kid, I believe up to 200 kids, have an individualized plan to help them to succeed, to be college and career ready. And so we know there are huge opportunities to leverage churches to help build community, and we cannot forget that they play huge roles in some communities. And so I think the work that you guys are striving to do to engage the churches to help them to be more involved is critical.

Shawn: When you say you’re a community-builder, what does community mean to you? How do you build a coalition across community, across identity, across race and gender and other things that at times are used to create wedges?

Anderson: Community to me is building genuine and authentic relationships across differences. And so how do you do that?For me, it is about being a servant leader. My faith has taught me in oder to be a leader you have to be a servant. You have to serve people in a genuine way, not expecting them to do anything in return for you. Being a servant leader has allowed me to build community across racial, political and/or economic backgrounds.  When I am around people, I don’t think I’m too big or too small to be around them. I don’t have to change who I am. I know my mission. I know what I’m called to do. I’m called to build community. 

Shawn: What advice, leadership and insights would you offer me and my colleagues at New Profit as we go about this mighty mission of creating opportunity for all?

Anderson: It’s similar to what I tell my own team right now;  after we all understand the mission of what we’re trying to accomplish. Be the CEO of your space. Meaning, you have to own the work. Build relationships. Nothing happens without trust and genuine relationships, and you know, going to The Well, I would say let’s make sure everyone feels like a million bucks. That’s something you probably don’t see at most conferences, where your leadership is going out and making sure people feel connected and valued. This will encourage and empower people to want to come back to future gatherings. 

Shawn: What would you do if you were ten times bolder?

Anderson: Continue to empower people. The mission doesn’t change for me, if I’m 10 times, 20 times bolder,  it’s still about serving people, building genuine relationships, and making people around me powerful. That’s my mission.