Entrepreneurship and a passion for social change drive the trajectory of Vanessa Wakeman’s career.
As Founder and CEO of one of the country’s leading social change agencies, Vanessa is a trusted advisor and influential futurist in the nonprofit world. Her company, The Wakeman Agency, addresses the entire ecosystem of what nonprofit organizations need to succeed: strategic counsel, public relations, events, fundraising, and thought leadership. Vanessa is one of the few black women to found and own a social change agency – helping to shift the paradigm of an industry that is led primarily by white men.
In 2016, Vanessa evolved the agency’s core services to include She Roars, the first thought leadership program for women working in social change. Through She Roars, Vanessa enables women leaders to harness their ideas and expertise to advance important social causes by driving conversations, building credibility, strengthening support, and inspiring activism.
Growing up in New York, Vanessa’s activism and commitment to social justice was instilled early on. She organized the workers at her first job, a catering company, to demand and win better labor conditions—when she was only 15. After working her way through college as a telecommunications manager at a law firm, Vanessa landed a position at Morgan Stanley. There, she re-engineered a technology department and expanded its services. While at the firm, she created career opportunities for women and people of color. Ultimately, her natural predilection for entrepreneurship compelled her to leave the corporate world and establish her own company. She established her thriving agency without any prior experience in the sector. Since launching The Wakeman Agency in 2003, Vanessa has been recognized as a champion for social change and building support for mission-driven causes. She masterminded campaigns for clients that include: U.C.L.A.’s Civil Rights Project, Metropolitan College of New York, YWCA of New York City, New York Urban League, Africa-America Institute, Harlem Education Activities Fund, Grace Institute, ROC-NY, Real World Scholars, ChemoCars, Help for Children, Animal Farm Foundation, and others.
Vanessa has been consistently recognized for evangelizing innovation and disruption in the nonprofit sector. In 2017, PRNews named her as one of “50 PR Game Changers” and she earned a spot on PRWeek’s list of “Champions of PR.” She was also designated one of the leading women in business in the New York metro region by 914Inc. magazine. As a thought leader, Vanessa has been quoted by “ABC Eyewitness News,” Crain’s NY Business, New York Daily News, Black Enterprise, Smart Money, Philanthropy Journal, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and many other outlets. She is an increasingly sought after speaker, having presented this past year for UN Women, Hive, Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits and the Women’s Leadership Institute of New York. She also hosts “The Social Change Diaries” podcast, where she interviews leading figures in the nonprofit world about addressing the most pressing issues of our time.
My Goal of the Day: To make "today" the best day of my life.
My Thought of the Day: What can I do to make an impact.
My Action of the Day: To be the best version of myself.
What do you love most about Your City?
I love that there is always something to do and explore. I’ve lived in New York my entire life and still enjoy stumbling upon new places and having new experiences.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
This sounds pretty boring but I love cold cereal and would be content having a bowl of my cereal with a banana and almond milk.
My favorite restaurant is Blossom NYC. I became a vegan seven years ago and it was one of the very first vegan restaurants that I was introduced to and I love it!
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – Still sleeping.
10:00 AM – Reading emails, scanning the news and social media and plotting out my day.
12:00 PM - Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
I work from home as often as I can and my favorite lunch spot is my backyard. Any meal is a favorite when I am there, it’s incredibly serene.
7:00 PM - Checking in with family and friends in person or on the phone.
11:00 PM – Getting ready for bed.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
Water. I try to drink at least a gallon of water each day.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Will Smith’s IG account is my absolute favorite.
What should everyone try at least once?
Doing something that really scares them, it’s so addictive after that first time.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
I have an awful sense of direction and get lost everywhere. My favorite place to get lost is Paris because there is always something beautiful to uncover.