Roque Barros, new director for the Ford Institute, brings national experience to job
Two weeks after starting his job, the new director of the Ford Institute for Community Building is a busy man. Roque Barros, a nonprofit executive with nearly 30 years experience in civic engagement, has been attending Foundation functions, learning the ropes in the office, and — most importantly — meeting people in the organization and out in the community.
an adviser to communities nationwide
People are at the crux of his philosophy. “The exciting part of my job is building relationships,” Barros says. “Once we have those, we can really get into finding what kind of capacity is needed, to create the change that communities and residents are identifying that they want to make.
“I always tell people that my job is really to bring out the best in them. Sometimes there are folks that have been waiting for someone to come knocking on their door, and eventually they realize they were really waiting for themselves.”
Barros came to the Foundation in mid-January from Austin, Texas, where he served as vice president of community impact at Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit that provides education, shelter and alternatives to incarceration for more than 200,000 youth and their families annually.
“There aren’t many places that I know of that actually have an institute that focuses on community building,” Barros says of his decision to come to the Foundation. “To go to a place that focuses on it, the way that the Foundation does, really interested me a lot.”
As the new director of the Institute, Barros leads the Ford Institute Leadership Program and associated trainings. “Roque [pronounced “Rocky”] has experience in civic engagement and community building that is exactly what we needed to build on the solid foundation in place today,” says Anne Kubisch, president of The Ford Family Foundation. Barros stepped into the position after the retirement of Joyce Akse on March 1.
No cookie cutters
Barros has worked as an adviser to communities nationwide on how to conduct resident-led work. While every town is different, Barros says the process of engaging communities is largely the same. “It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” he says, “but I always start by building relationships, then capacity, then networks and partners, and then creating the change that people have identified as what they want to happen.”
Barros hasn’t seen a lot of Oregon yet, but he says he likes what he’s seen so far. “I grew up in Calipatria, Calif., a small town of 3,000 people, so I really enjoy connecting with that again. Folks are very friendly in small communities, and you get to know a lot of people very quickly. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to finding my bearings in Oregon. I love the landscape, it’s beautiful.”