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Reach High is a series brought to you by High Foundation that introduces you to business and nonprofit leaders who are thoughtfully innovating with a spirit of servant leadership.
Vanessa Philbert, CEO of Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County (CAP), is a vibrant example of leadership with her blend of confidence, kindness, wisdom, and style. She communicates her extensive knowledge of corporate psychology and organizational structures in a conversational tone that encourages and develops leadership in others.
As an Afro-Latina, Philbert is the first woman person of color to be in the role of CEO in the organization’s 56 years of operation. The most incredible part of this story is how CAP has been a part of Philbert’s history in Lancaster. When Philbert moved from Brooklyn, New York, 20 years ago, she was a customer of CAP. Her first job in Lancaster was working for CAP, and after completing her Master’s degree in Strategic Leadership and Organizational Development, many years of professional development, and promotions to various leadership roles, Philbert was appointed CEO in 2019.
“We have about 320 employees, a $50 million budget, and we serve thousands of people throughout Lancaster County,” she said. “We’re not just doing good [for individual families], but we’re running a business well, which does good for the community.”
Philbert serves on the Boards of Lancaster City Alliance and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, and she is the President and Chair of Lancaster Equity, a community development program. She also facilitates training and keynote speaking with Work Wisdom, an organizational psychology practice dedicated to transforming mindsets and behaviors for optimal workplace performance. While serving in various roles in the community, Philbert has established several leadership principles.
“I believe that we’re all teachers, and we’re all learners, and a good leader can take on the right posture at the right moment,” Philbert said. “When my team is schooling me on something, I’ve got to be okay with taking on the posture of a learner. And then when I’ve got some things to share, or if I’m doing some coaching, I take on the teacher’s posture, but that can be interchangeable at any moment.”
While there is more work to do, Philbert is encouraged by the changing landscape in Lancaster’s business sector.
“We recognize that leadership needs to be diverse, with intentionality, not with tokenism,” she said. “And that we have to be curious about different experiences and opinions.”
Philbert believes the organizations she partners with can bridge the gap and connect with every Lancaster resident by appealing to the fundamental elements of humanity.
“When I talk about [our work], I talk about it through the lens of economic justice, yes. But more often, I talk about it through the lens of thriving,” she said. “If we agree that we all want to thrive and flourish as parents, neighbors, workers, and business owners as Democrats or Republicans…universally, I think Lancaster is big enough (and small enough) to do something revolutionary.”
Like every great leader, Philbert encourages her community to imagine a brighter future and a better tomorrow.
The Reach High series is brought to you by High Foundation. Find out more about their mission to be a Bridge to Opportunity for the Lancaster community at highfoundation.org.