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Jacquelyn Martell, MSSW, Director of Advocacy at Achievement First

Jacquelyn Martell serves as Director of Advocacy at Achievement First, where she leads advocacy, community engagement and partnerships work. Prior to Achievement First, Jacquelyn served as the Deputy Director of Program Management and Fundraising for the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce in which she oversaw all fundraising, advocacy and external relations efforts. Previously, she managed two large scale programs for Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC), the first major municipal initiative to address the entrepreneurship gender gap, serving over 5,000 businesses. Jacquelyn graduated from the City University of New York with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and earned her master’s in social enterprise administration from the Columbia University School of Social Work. In her spare time, Jacquelyn volunteers as a Co-Director for the NY Chapter of Changemaker Chats, a salon series for women looking to advance in their professional and entrepreneurial endeavors. She is also an avid runner and since starting the hobby in 2018, has run over 18 races and 1 full marathon!

Number of years in management: 


Tell us about your path to management:

During graduate school at Columbia School of Social Work, I advocated for my field placement to be “non-traditional.” This allowed me to develop specific skill sets and competencies that I knew would be advantageous later down the line. I served as a Programs Associate for the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce (NYWCC) which was a small non-profit with a far reach. During my time there, I was able to successfully raise close to $350K and work with some political advocates and influencers. I, then, successfully transitioned into government managing a 2-new large scale programs for women entrepreneurs. While I loved the work I was doing and the thousands of women I was serving, I knew I wanted to work in policy and programming. I took a major risk by then leaving the city, and going back to NYWCC to oversee all programs, advocacy and fundraising. Although I worked grueling hours, I was able to wear many different hats. Many people thought I was crazy for leaving such a “stable” role in government but I knew that I wanted the opportunity to hone and develop very particular skill sets. For many women of color, the trajectory to director-level roles can be a bit more difficult to ascertain. I decided the risk would be worth it given the scope of work I was given. With this risk, I took a drastic cut in benefits. However, this role helped me to transition into the Broad Residency, a 2-year education management program geared to take management professionals from outside the education sector and place them in roles throughout the country within the urban education landscape. I interviewed with Achievement First, a CMO and was offered the role as Director of Advocacy overseeing community, parent and elected official engagement for 23 schools throughout New York.

What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?

I am really good at relating to all types of individuals. A large part in helping to reach my goals has been relationship building and cultivation. I have been offered roles at various organizations based on my ability to make connections and network with individuals in an authentic and professional manner. I also have a “roll-up-your-sleeves” and “get it done” attitude. While I do believe that self care is important in being able to have career sustainability, I am also willing to put in the work. I am always interested in learning about how others approach their work and staunchly believe in exchanging resources and best practices. I try to approach my work with a positive attitude which is why it is important for me to feel a sense of purpose in anything that I am aligned with.

How do you motivate your team members?

I am an avid believer that everyone brings something unique to the table. I try to identify that in team members at the onset and work with them accordingly. I believe everyone deserves a level of autonomy and ownership over their work and I always have an open-door policy. Leaders who have stood out to me are those that do not think they are better than anyone and are willing to do what it takes to achieve a desired outcome.Also, I subscribe to the age-old adage in treating others the way that you would want to be treated. Empathy and vulnerability are key assets in being a great leader!

Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey? 

Professor Matthea Marquart at Columbia School of Social Work who serves as the Director of Administration for the Online Campus has helped me immensely along my professional journey. Early on, she provided me with support and taught me the importance of knowing my worth in the workplace and negotiating for what I deserve. I can always count on her to provide sage advice and serve as a reference. I am awe-inspired by her work ethic and the way that she always put 110% into everything that she does.

How has networking impacted your career? 

Networking is crucial to career advancement! Being relational and personable are such key skill sets that will take you far in any personal and professional endeavor. I have literally gotten interviews with organizations based on networking. It is important to be authentic and find a commonality with individuals. I have found that people almost always want to help and are willing to take a coffee with you. All you have to do is ask and be consistent with follow-up. I am such a staunch believer in the power of networking which is one of the main reasons I volunteer as the Co-Director for the NYC Chapter of Changemaker Chats which seeks to connect women in hearing from other leaders and building connections to advance personal and professional dreams and goals.

What are you reading and/or following now (books, blogs, social media groups, etc.)?

How to be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. I also listen to a plethora of podcasts including “The Daily,” “Thrive by Arianna Huffington,” and “NPR Politics.” I love running and I am a big fan of New York Road Runners!

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?

Be strategic about your career moves but also be willing to be flexible. Never stay at a job that does not align with your purpose and if you do not know your purpose, then try different things until you find it. You will regret not taking risks early on. Never be afraid of change or making mistakes, it is inevitable. Also, ask for informational coffee(s) with thought leaders within your field.

Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?

I am currently working on building out a comprehensive parent advocacy program across 23 schools throughout NYC. This includes creating comprehensive infrastructure to best support parents and school staff with regard to civic engagement endeavors, community engagement and partnerships.

What do you wish you had known before you started your career?

Never doubt yourself and ask for help when you need it. Also, do not sacrifice your physical or emotional health for anything or anyone. You can’t be your best self if you are not taking care of you.

Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.

Learning the art of patience in my career has been a gradual process. So often we are thinking of our next step that we do not take the time to appreciate where we are and we can often miss crucial learning opportunities. Do not be driven by title or money; if you do quality work, it will speak for itself.

Where can people reach you for questions (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail address)?

LinkedIn: Jacquelyn Martell

Twitter: @Martell_Jackie

Instagram: dama_martell_


The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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