Spitfire Strategies

Spitfire Spotlight: Lifting up People’s Stories — and Each Other’s Work

 

Inga Skippings and Erin Uy have a great deal in common, and it’s not just because they both began working at Spitfire’s Washington, DC office within less than a month of each other this summer.

They share a deep commitment to elevating the stories of people who stand up for social justice, and who deserve the chance at a better life and the opportunity to thrive. They also value being part of a team that brings out the best in each other.

Inga, chief engagement officer and Erin, a vice president, both came to Spitfire with wide-ranging expertise, although storytelling figures largely in both of their lives and careers.

Before joining Spitfire, Inga spent 14 years at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where she was the first Black woman chief of staff of the two-million-member worker organization. Inga led SEIU’s communications department, where she put the voices of working people at the forefront of catalyzing change, on issues such as health care, the Fight for $15, criminal justice reform and more.

“The right story can move people to act,” says Inga, whose parents’ natural talents as storytellers left an indelible impression on her from childhood. “I’ve seen storytelling move someone who was reluctant to be part of forming a union sign up to join the movement. Statistics can’t do that. But when you get people telling compelling, personal stories, people in the room find the courage to do things they probably never would have done otherwise.”

Erin began her career as a journalist before going on to help organizations advance equitable access to quality education, from early childhood through high school. She served the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, and before joining Spitfire, she was vice president at Widmeyer Communications, a Finn Partners company.

“I wanted to go into journalism to lift up the voices of those who needed them to be amplified, and tell their stories in an authentic way,” Erin explains. “Whether I was working in the nonprofit space or agencies, I never lost that through-line that extends across all the work I do now.”

At Spitfire, Erin and Inga are putting their shared passion for storytelling to work on behalf of the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Women and Girls, which brings forward the voices of women and girls who are changemakers around the world. As collaborators, Inga and Erin think their skills complement each other — and compliments flow freely, too.

“Erin is brilliant at posing questions that force us to be smarter and connect,” says Inga. “We led a brainstorming session with some diverse, amazing women and Erin suggested we ask ‘When did you learn you were a leader?’ and what resulted in the room was just magic.”

What Erin particularly appreciates about Inga is how she leads through inclusion. “With all the experience she brings to the table, Inga makes everyone feel like a thought partner,” she explains. “That creates a space for people to feel comfortable bringing up thoughts and ideas for better work to come out of the team.”

Like everyone at Spitfire, Inga and Erin work on a variety of projects. Other clients in Inga’s current portfolio include an Aspen Institute initiative focused on rural America and health and economic equity, as well as a project with the Narrative Initiative exploring the current state of narrative change research. Staff development is also a significant part of Inga’s portfolio.

“We have some very devoted, smart, energetic people at Spitfire and I want them to have every resource and growth opportunity possible,” she says. “They deserve the world in terms of honoring their leadership so they can thrive. At work, I’m only crushing it if everyone else feels like they’re empowered to crush it.”

Given her background, Erin’s portfolio is heavily weighted toward education. It includes a project for Aspen Institute on early education, work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of the Scaling Partners Network — a group of higher education leaders working to create more inclusive, supportive systems — and Raising a Reader, a childhood and family literacy initiative. Erin is also leading Spitfire’s work for the Clean Water for All Coalition, another project she’s collaborating on with Inga.

Both Inga and Erin feel a sense of duty not only as citizens of the world, but also as parents and women from diverse backgrounds. Erin spent her earliest years in Guam, where her family was rooted. Her family’s identity as citizens from a U.S. territory provided a nuanced perspective on what it meant to be American. As the first in her family to graduate from college, she felt a responsibility to break the cycle of struggle she saw her family experience.

Inga and her family come from the Bahamas. She says “I walk through the world in my identity as a black, immigrant woman — I feel a visceral reaction to the othering of people. It creates a fire inside me that keeps me going.”

The same sort of light burns inside Erin, who says she joined Spitfire because she was inspired by the firm’s impactful work.

“I feel like this is a place where I’m able to exercise and apply my knowledge, skills and experience in the most meaningful way,” she says. “Hopefully, that can make the world a better place.”

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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