Editor’s note: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a financial supporter of Startland News.
Work within Kansas City to inspire education and entrepreneurship has a ripple effect across the region, said Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace; and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is doubling down on its commitment to the Kansas City community under her new leadership.
“As we are thinking and talking through our strategies, a big part of that is making sure the work we do here in the region is key and critical,” said Burns-Wallace, who officially stepped into her role Monday as president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “We still are a player on the national level; we still have key and critical commitments there that we will continue to work with. But we’re at a moment right now where we are making sure that we have the right balance of engaging both locally and nationally, so we’re able to work as one ecosystem.”
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The Kauffman Foundation announced in July that Burns-Wallace had been selected to succeed Susan Chambers, who has served as interim president since September 2022 following the departure of Wendy Guillies. Burns-Wallace is a Kansas City-native who has worked to create equitable and broader access to opportunities, shaped policies that expand resources, and better positioned communities to thrive throughout her vast professional journey.
Burns-Wallace considers two places home: Kansas City and Stanford University.
After graduating high school, Burns-Wallace headed west to Stanford to earn her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and African/African-American Studies. From there, she began her career as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, serving tours in China, South Africa and Washington D.C.
“I would do that for 10 years, and then I would transition to higher ed,” Burns-Wallace shared. “I went back to Stanford, a place that I loved, because they were working to expand access. I really believe that education was a game changer for me, my family and my community in so many ways. Higher ed became this place where I realized that I could unlock a lot of doors for access.”
While serving in higher education for 15 years, Burns-Wallace expanded her network beyond the academic space, she said.
“What became so fun about my career in higher ed, was that it wasn’t just about higher ed,” she explained. “… When I came back to work at [University of Kansas] and [University of Missouri], I would work with entities like the Kauffman Foundation because of the work they were doing. I was trying to leverage the universities into that work — both on the education and entrepreneurship side.”
Prior to accepting her role at Kauffman, Burns-Wallace was the secretary of administration and the chief information technology officer for the State of Kansas under Gov. Laura Kelly. She is the first African American to hold either cabinet seat in the state’s history.
“That was the best training ground for stepping into this space because it really pushed me back into my roots of understanding and connecting deeply with the needs of the community,” Burns-Wallace recalled. “I stepped into the state role in 2019. The pandemic hit in 2020, and we would spend most of our term trying to support communities — not just at the state level — but at the county and city level too.”
Engaging with entrepreneurs
As Burns-Wallace begins her journey at the Kauffman Foundation, she is looking for engagement opportunities within the community, she said.
“Invite me to things that are going on in the community where I can see how and where the work is being done,” Burns-Wallace asked. “Invite me to collaboration when voices are coming together and are talking about or doing pieces of the work. I want an engagement tour where I’m engaging and listening and learning as I am coming through.”
Burns-Wallace acknowledged that a majority of her professional background is in the education sector, but she ensured that the entrepreneurship side of Kauffman will be just as prioritized.
“In that [entrepreneurship] space, I’m going to need more partners,” she continued. “I’m going to need more conversations to make sure that I’m understanding to make sure that I’m aligning. So as we engage, the other thing that I ask of the community is be ready. When we ask questions, give honest answers. Let us know what we may not have been doing.”
With Stanford’s reputation for being a place that cultivates innovation and business excellence, Burns-Wallace has her national network to also tap into, she noted.
“I have a network of those who are now leading, particularly in Black and Brown circles, when it comes to funding, capital and what an ecosystem looks like,” Burns-Wallace said. “I want to leverage them, as well as leverage our local partners and voices.”
People have been at the forefront of Burns-Wallace’s prior work and will continue to be the main focus during her time at Kauffman, she shared.
“When we get it right, we impact lives,” Burns-Wallace said. “We change lives; we change communities and we change trajectories. A big reason why a part of my career has been in education: what a person can do when you give them an education is boundless. The same goes for entrepreneurship. When we invest in being bold and innovative, we can change the trajectory for not just that individual, but the communities from which they live.”
Beyond being a CEO, earning a doctorate degree and all other honors, Burns-Wallace is most proud of her title of mother, she said.
“I have a 14-year-old son, and I know the world that I want him to have,” Burns-Wallace said. “I know that I want it to be so much more than mine was. He is a piece. He is one of the people who I want to serve.”
When Burns-Wallace was her son’s age, she saw the work of Ewing Marion Kauffman impact others. She saw other children who looked like her get to earn an education for free through Kauffman’s Project Choice. Stepping into the role as CEO and president feels like a full-circle moment, she shared.
“I’ve always tried to pick roles in organizations where I knew my work would impact lives in one way or another,” Burns-Wallace said, “and this is a beautiful place to be in on that journey of impact.”