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Black History Month 2023: Q&A with Paul Simpson, CFO of LifeMoves

By Kim Bradberry February 20, 2023

This Black History Month, Salesforce is shining a light on some of our nonprofit customers who support and work with Black communities in the United States. This blog post is the third in a series that will appear each week in February, focused on the themes of resilience, compassion, and social justice. Third in the series is a Q&A with Paul Simpson, Chief Financial Officer at LifeMoves, a nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of homelessness for families and individuals in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

Kim Bradberry: Please tell us about LifeMoves and the work that you and your team do throughout the year

Paul Simpson: LifeMoves is the largest provider of interim housing and supportive services in Silicon Valley. The mission of LifeMoves is to be an integral partner within the ecosystem of partners dedicated to ending homelessness by providing interim housing and supportive services that help individuals get back on their feet and thrive. Envisioning communities where every neighbor has a home. 

We work every day with the urgency of that challenge — looking to get to a point where in the two counties we work — homelessness can be solved. I’m excited to be a part of an ecosystem of partners that are helping to reduce rates of homelessness at scale. I’m thrilled to go to work every day, fueled by the energy of coworkers and peers both inside and outside the organization who are all devoted to solving this problem.

KB: What is the significance of Black History Month, and why is it important to recognize it? Does LifeMoves do anything specific during Black History Month?

PS: Black History Month is essential for building an inclusive world. Its significance should not be limited to a once-a-year recognition of the contributions of the Black community but should be acknowledged daily. Understanding the struggles and achievements of any community is vital. Black History Month represents a time for celebration and reflection. It is a reminder to honor the extraordinary impact of the African-American and Black community not only in the U.S. but also around the world.

Black History Month inspires me to challenge myself to advance the missions of those who have dedicated their lives to helping the Black community. It is a time for reflection, where we question how we can be better and how we can positively impact our communities and achieve our goals. Black History Month reinvigorates within me a sense of responsibility to reflect and acknowledge the contribution of those before me. It’s a reminder to strive and always do better in my mission to positively impact the lives of 1 Billion people within my lifetime.  The celebration of Black History Month is important not just for the Black community, but for the world. The solution to challenges faced by one group of individuals often benefits everyone, but this concept needs to be highlighted more. Black history highlights the achievements of African Americans and their contributions to the world, not just to one community.

KB: Black History Month is a moment to pause and examine the ongoing fight for civil rights and social justice through the lens of history. What lessons from that history does LifeMoves find most valuable in its ongoing work?

PS: As a newcomer to working in the homeless space, I came from the technology world and was quickly made aware that the most salient disparity can be found among African Americans, who represent 13 percent of the general population but account for 39 percent of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50 percent of homeless families with children. This highlights the urgency of the work we do at LifeMoves.

I believe that homelessness can come to an end — every day that it continues, it means that someone, especially from the African-American community, is struggling. It means that society has failed to provide someone with what should be universally acknowledged as a human right.  To solve this issue, it’s important to understand the underlying social systems that have failed. The disproportionality in homelessness is a by-product of systemic inequity. The unabating effects of racism continue to perpetuate disparities in critical areas that directly impact rates of homelessness. I’m excited about the potential for technology and the tech world to help solve these global problems. At LifeMoves, I’m interested in answering questions about equity, such as whether African-Americans are equitably receiving services within our shelters and if we’re having success helping them find permanent housing. Can we use technology to drive better outcomes for our Black clients?

From a CFO perspective, I’m interested in understanding if the funds for supportive services at LifeMoves are being equally distributed across different demographics, including the Black community. I’m excited about using platforms like Salesforce to gather data and find answers to these important questions. Black History Month is a moment to reflect on and examine the lessons of history. The most valuable lesson is that without knowledge, history is likely to repeat itself. However, with knowledge of history, we can challenge ourselves to prevent repetition and drive positive change.

KB: What are some common misconceptions or inaccuracies about Black history that you often come across in your work?

PS: I think a common misconception is the idea that Black History Month is the only time the Black community should be celebrated. As long as people are experiencing injustice or challenges in the world, there is a responsibility for everyone to help. It’s a missed opportunity not to invest in solutions that can help the entire country and world. Another misconception is that Black History Month is solely for the Black community to celebrate within itself, when the real point is to share the achievements and challenges of the community with the world, so people of all backgrounds can participate.

The African-American/Black community does not discriminate against itself, and the responsibility of finding solutions to challenges the community faces does not rest solely on our community. Another common inaccuracy is that the African-American/Black community is monolithic. Our community is vastly diverse. We should recognize the events and innovations of the community, and encourage everyone to participate in Black History Month to create a world that is more inclusive and diverse.

KB: How has technology and/or Salesforce for Nonprofits enabled LifeMoves work in support of the Black community?

PS:  One of the goals of LifeMoves is to let technology partners see what is happening within the ecosystem of homelessness to understand the challenges and needs. Salesforce has the platforms and systems that help provide pathways to solve some of these challenges present. Homelessness faces a “lot of friction” in getting to a solution. No one agency can solve it alone, but a company like Salesforce can remove many of the barriers in the way of getting to a solution. One of the things I like about Salesforce is that the team always comes to the table with a question, not just presenting its platform, in order to understand what currently works and what agencies within our ecosystem need. By understanding the challenges agencies like LifeMoves face, companies like Salesforce can provide new perspectives that often lead to barriers that are in the way of solutions being removed.

KB: How can people support the work that you do throughout the year, not just during Black History Month? 

PS: The biggest thing is to come and see our communities. Come get to know your fellow community members. I believe that gaining perspective on homelessness is crucial, and one way to do that is through service. It’s important to understand that there are many pathways to homelessness and to not just focus on the end result. To help our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness, we must first understand their paths and what led them there. We must reframe the question from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What’s happened to you?” It’s essential to recognize how society has failed them and their needs. By challenging ourselves to be part of the solution, we can make a positive impact on our community. We can take a certain amount of time each year to help solve homelessness in any way we can. As we wake up every day, we should ask ourselves what we can do to positively impact someone within our community.

Thousands of nonprofits around the world rely on Salesforce technology to power their purpose. To find out more, visit our Nonprofit Hub