CAMBA Inc. President and CEO Joanne Oplustil sat down with ULI NY for the next installment of ‘Five Minutes With’. She talks about her experience with CAMBA Gardens, an affordable housing project nominated as an Awards finalist. Joanne shares the best career advice she’s ever received and what makes CAMBA a strong anchor for the community.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career and what was the best advice he or she gave you?
In the mid-70s I was working in a refugee settlement in Tanzania, and had developed a series of educational workbooks in Swahili for young children. On one of our trips to distribute the books, the men helping with the distribution started tossing the books off the trucks which was both dangerous and disrespectful to the families. I shared my displeasure in a very unfiltered manner, which led to the best advice I ever received. Gibson Mwakambunga, Director of Community Development, called me into the “woodshed” and told me that if I am to be a ‘Leader’, I must act like a ‘Leader’, which means leading by example and behaving how I expect others to behave. It was simple and powerful advice which has served me well throughout my career.
What qualities do you think are essential to be an effective leader?
An effective leader in any business has to be authentic and a model of integrity in the workplace. Leaders also need to be innovative and open-minded to see ambitious projects through to completion. CAMBA Housing Ventures’ achievements are possible because I listened to my team when they reported the need for critical supportive services. As for seeing these projects through, we have more than 1,500 units of affordable, supportive housing built so far and we look forward to meeting our goal of 2,500 units by 2020.
CAMBA Gardens Phase I and II (CGI, II) has become a replicable national model for co-locating housing and health care, and reusing underutilized public hospital property for much needed sustainable, supportive, and affordable housing. Together, CAMBA Gardens Phase I and II provide housing for 502 formerly homeless and low-income households and have brought a total of $167 million in public/private investment into Wingate, Brooklyn. They are an anchor of affordability in the neighborhood, focusing on economic development, job creation, and housing community residents. CGI, II make it possible for individuals and families who were homeless or are low-income to thrive through a healthy and welcoming environment with supportive services on-site. Our residents live healthier lives and experience fewer hospitalizations because they are receiving direct case management services. I’m very proud to say that our model for co-locating supportive and affordable housing with healthcare has dramatically improved the quality of life for New Yorkers who have serious health challenges and economic hardships.