Dr. Akilah Watkins

Dr. Akilah


President and CEO

Independent Sector


Dr. Akilah Watkins is president and CEO of Independent Sector. She joined the organization on January 17, 2023.

Previously, Dr. Watkins was the president and CEO for the Center for Community Progress (Community Progress), America’s nonprofit leader for turning “vacant spaces into vibrant places.”

A 25-year national thought leader, conference speaker, and nonprofit executive, Dr. Watkins’ work began at the age of 14 when she led efforts to convert a vacant lot and abandoned home into a community center in Roosevelt, New York.

Since then, she’s served as an executive leader for nonprofits and community development initiatives which includes work with the Obama administration, NeighborWorks America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

Her career’s work has focused on helping people, communities, and local and federal government drive impactful reform for key issues including land banking, property vacancy, childhood obesity, community health, and economic development.

From California to Long Island, and Puerto Rico, Dr. Watkins’ thought leadership on diversity, inclusion, racial equity, and community development has been featured by America’s leading authorities and helped hundreds of communities. Those presentations and features include recognition by CNN, the New York Times, and Essence for her contributions to the field of community development.

Dr. Watkins is an alumna of the University of Illinois at Chicago where she received her Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Sociology. She is also a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University where she received two Master of Science degrees in Education and Community Economic Development. Dr. Watkins received her Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services from the State University of New York, Empire State College.

Dr. Watkins’ work as an equity advocate includes past leadership efforts in more than 300 communities in 48 states.

Dr. Watkins serves as President of the Board of Directors of Grounded Solutions Network, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of Up for Growth Action, an Executive Committee member of the National Housing Conference’s Board of Governors, and a Board member for Common Future.

Follow Dr. Watkins on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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