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Q&A with Matthew Okebiyi, Founder & CEO of African American Planning Commission

March 10, 2014
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Matthew Okebiyi is the Founder & CEO of African American Planning Commission, a New York City-based 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, committed to addressing homelessness and the related issues of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, shortage of affordable housing, and unemployment in the communities in which we live and serve. Matt’s first foray into social service came during his tenure with various small, mid-size, and large New York City-based not-for-profit organizations. Determined to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate, he founded and launched African American Planning Commission in February 1996. As the Founder & CEO, Matt formulated the organization’s vision and goals, leads business development strategies to achieve them and effectively manages the organization’s financial resources while continually promoting a positive organization culture. A self-described over-achiever, Matt earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts, simultaneously earned two Master’s degrees: one in Urban Planning and the other in Political Science. Matt completed his Master’s level training in Mental Health at Hunter College School of Social Work in New York City. He pursued advanced studies earning two doctorates, one in International Relations and the other in African American Studies.

Q: What keeps you going when you feel like giving up?

A: When I am completely overwhelmed by personal events beyond my control or events that shape our world and I need to reaffirm that my living is not in vain (to paraphrase Dr. King) and to reaffirm that what I’m doing as a professional is not a waste of time, I often revisit and meditate on “The Walk.”

Q: Working to help others is a pressure intensive undertaking that can be extremely overwhelming. What do you do for fun and relaxation?

A: To be very candid in response to that question, I must say that I’m a workaholic, but a work in progress. There is nothing cute about being a workaholic! I have found myself on the verge of many breakdowns due to physical and mental exhaustion. Having said that, I have been very blessed and fortunate to have lived on many continents and I consider myself a traveler without borders. For fun and relaxation, (again, when I’m able to force myself to actually take a break) I love visiting foreign countries. I have a deep affinity for developing nations, studying various cultures and customs, and trying as many exotic dishes as possible – a sautéed grub or two is not out of the ordinary.

I have many other passions, including: writing screenplays, having lengthy discussions with thought-provoking people from all walks of life (in a relaxed atmosphere) who have a vastly different perspective about the issues that shape our world than I do. I also strongly believe that it’s okay for us to agree to disagree, as long as we still respect one another. I love listening to jazz and other types of World music (sometimes referred to as ethnic music) from various artists. Besides those, I have a tremendous fascination for all kinds of insects (yes, I must confess. I enjoy studying unusual bugs!) and exotic animals — birds, reptiles, and big cats. My New York apartment has often been described as the new Wild Kingdom by some very close friends and nervous neighbors.

Q: What are your pet-peeves?

A: Micro-management. Just hire the best employees possible and give them free reins to do their jobs while holding them accountable.

Q: Your favorite meal?

A: One of my favorite meals is rice and plantains with oxtails and vegetables washed down with a very cold beverage. Ahhh, life is good, my friend.

Q: Your favorite sporting events?

A: Professional boxing, Olympic track & field events, and world cup football (soccer to those of you in North America). Hey, 6 billion fans around the planet can’t be wrong!

Q: What do you love the most about AAPCI?

A: The potential it has. Working with an eclectic and culturally diverse staff who are truly passionate about the organization’s mission often makes my work day sail very smoothly. One is always humbled and grateful when surrounded by caring, devoted, and resourceful employees who continuously go the extra mile to help you realize your dream, vision and aspiration.

Q: What do you dislike most about working for a not-for-profit organization?

A: As an administrator, you wear many hats and face many challenges. I find that I never have enough money to accomplish the things I truly envision. 70% of my time is shared between planning new projects and fundraising (responding to RFPs, preparing grant applications, soliciting donations); 20% is spent between administrative responsibilities and balancing the budget, and another 10% is spent worrying about a spiraling down economy and how I am going to meet next year’s expenses if I’m unable to raise sufficient funds during this fiscal year. I have often prayed for a wealthy benefactor who would permit me to fulfill my goals for AAPCI.

Q: How can anyone get involved with AAPCI?

A: With all the cutbacks in government funding and private donations, we are asking for individual donations, particularly in this economic climate. Many philanthropic institutions have either minimized their investments in community development programs or completely overhauled their funding priorities for one reason or another. As I stated before, one of my daily prayers is for a benefactor with deep pockets who shares our vision and will afford us the opportunity to develop the programs needed in the communities we serve. Click here for some ideas of how you can get involved with our organization.

Q: What other profession would you like to try if you were not doing this?

A: Too many to mention, but serving humanity in one form or another would be at the top of my list.

Q: Last question. What advice would you give anyone trying to start a new not-for-profit organization or NGO?

A: Have a very well thought out and written plan of action… run it by your board of directors. Know your personal strengths and weaknesses. Know your organization’s strengths and weaknesses and find ways to build your capacity. Know your funders intimately. Develop solid relationships with those who know more than you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s the only way you will learn, even if others think your questions are dumb or that you should already know the answers to certain things… Develop a solid professional support system, and perhaps most important of all, have lots of patience. The not-for-profit world is not an easy cake walk.

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