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Dawn Leaks Ragsdale
Photo by Dan Renzetti

Center for Inclusive Growth Names Dawn Leaks Ragsdale Inaugural Executive Director

The center is a partnership between the City of New Haven and Yale University that will develop and implement strategies to ensure that economic growth in the city benefits all residents.

Yale University and the City of New Haven are pleased to announce that the Center for Inclusive Growth has appointed Dawn Leaks Ragsdale as its inaugural director. An experienced leader in the New Haven entrepreneurial and nonprofit community, she started her new role March 4 and will help launch the center’s initial suite of programming.

The Center for Inclusive Growth is a historic partnership between the City of New Haven and Yale University that will develop and implement strategies to ensure that economic growth in the city benefits all residents. The center’s initiatives will address issues such as urban development, local sourcing and hiring, startup support, small business development, affordable housing, and green energy.

Yale President Peter Salovey congratulated Leaks Ragsdale and noted that the center’s activities will benefit both Yale and the city. “With Dawn’s leadership, the Center for Inclusive Growth will be a source of innovative ideas and programs that can create broad benefits for our community,” he said. “Through this joint effort, New Haven and Yale will set the standard for inclusive growth and strong partnerships.”

Yale School of Management (SOM) Dean Kerwin Charles, the chair of the center’s board, has been closely involved in the planning and development of the center, and Yale SOM is expected to contribute meaningful programming in the years ahead. In keeping with SOM’s commitment to service in the community, the school announced earlier this month the creation of a new fellowship program focused on inclusive growth. Through it, Yale SOM students will work on projects to increase economic growth for New Haven residents.

The center has the potential to greatly impact quality of life across the city, Charles said.

“It’s gratifying to see the Center for Inclusive Growth begin its noble mission of bringing an equity lens to efforts to increase economic growth in New Haven,” he said. “Dawn’s combination of skills, experience, and spirit make her well suited to advancing both economic growth and justice in New Haven, while building important connections among stakeholders throughout the city.”

Leaks Ragsdale was most recently the executive director of Collab, a New Haven-based nonprofit dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build strong businesses, create economic power, and generate community wealth. During her tenure there, she expanded the organization’s programming to address critical needs in the local community, implementing the Collab Women’s Initiative and the Collab Funding Intensive to provide additional support to women entrepreneurs and to prepare its entrepreneurs to access both debt and investment funding. Leaks Ragsdale received the 2022 Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence in Advocacy Award, recognizing her work on behalf of underrepresented entrepreneurs.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker welcomed the next phase in the development of the Center for Inclusive Growth. “New Haven is a growing city with a growing local economy—and, as we grow, we’re committed to growing inclusively. This historic effort and partnership between the City and Yale will help make this vision a reality by connecting New Haven residents and businesses to new opportunities and good paying jobs that will help uplift our entire community,” he said. “Dawn is an ideal person to lead this work and partner with a broad range of groups and individuals across New Haven to help execute this vision of inclusive growth for all.”

As executive director, Leaks Ragsdale will build out the center’s operations, staff, and strategy, and will design and oversee an initial suite of programs, consistent with Yale’s commitment to deploy $5 million in support of the center. Critically, this work will include fostering partnerships with organizations and individuals in the city who aim to increase the scale and inclusivity of the local economy and ensuring that the center’s activities represent all of New Haven.

New Haven Alder President Tyisha Walker-Myers said that Leaks Ragsdale was particularly qualified to breathe life into the new center. “Dawn has a unique background, with experience launching, growing, and selling her own business, as well as a strong record of contributions to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said. “I’m excited to see the impact she will have on the city and people of New Haven as she combines her entrepreneurial energy and commitment to improving lives.”

The selection of Leaks Ragsdale as the Center for Inclusive Growth’s inaugural executive director followed a national search that generated more than 500 applications.

“I am truly honored to be a part of the effort to increase economic growth in New Haven in an inclusive and equitable way,” said Leaks Ragsdale. “The Center for Inclusive Growth has the potential to enhance many facets of the local economy—giving entrepreneurs new resources and confidence, providing new insights and expertise to city government, and bringing together people from across the city to engage in this shared effort.”