Karama Neal, a Little Rock native, was hired as president of Southern Bancorp Community Partners in July 2018, following a nationwide search. She had been COO of the nonprofit development finance organization and loan fund.
Neal previously worked for Shorter College, the Southern Good Faith Fund, Emory University, Garbrook Knowledge Resources, Loyola University Chicago, Incyte Corp., Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers and the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts.
Neal received her bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, her master’s degree in bioethics and health policy from Loyola and her Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology from Emory. She founded and served as editor of “So What Can I Do?,” an award-winning public service blog, from 2004-09.
Southern Bancorp Community Partners has seen a number of successes. Why do you think it has succeeded when others have not?
At least two factors are essential:
1.) SBCP has a critical mix of programs — financial development services, development lending and public policy — and importantly, each program learns from and contributes to the others. For example, our experience with free tax preparation led to a public policy initiative resulting in Act 774 of 2019, which adds a second direct deposit line to state income tax forms starting in the 2020 tax year.
2.) SBCP has mutually beneficial relationships with Southern Bancorp Bank and Southern Bancorp Inc. that help expand SBCP’s geographic reach and impact.
What made Southern Bancorp Community Partners appealing to you?
Three factors are primary:
1.) Southern’s mission of working with people to help them shape the future of their families and communities.
2.) Southern’s culture of learning and striving to use our core competencies in the most meaningful ways possible.
3.) The fact that so much of our work is in my beloved home state, Arkansas.
What are your personal goals there?
Our board recently approved our strategic plan, which has four broad goals:
1.) Use a data-driven, evidence-based approach to understand and increase the impact of our programs and activities.
2.) Use communications technology, staffing and other tools to increase the scale of our programs and activities.
3.) Leverage the unique features of SBCP and its partner organizations to demonstrate innovation, best practices and thought leadership in our various sectors of work.
4.) Use our financial, human and other resources in ways that facilitate sustainability and self-sufficiency through a focus on efficiency, proactive problem-solving and accountability.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career, and what lesson have you learned from it?
Once during an early lab job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, I was asked to come in on a Saturday and finish an experiment. I agreed, but was later double-booked and didn’t go to the lab and, crucially, didn’t tell my boss. While no significant scientific damage was done, I disappointed my boss, my colleagues and myself.
I learned to own my mistakes and correct them whenever possible. It’s not worth it to do otherwise.