Ebony Frelix, SVP of Philanthropy and Engagement at Salesforce, is a true Fairygodboss who’s all about strengthening communities within and outside of her own office. In addition to leading a 30-person team at Salesforce, Ebony has led partnerships with San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts with the goal of improving computer science education, especially for those in underrepresented communities. Her #1 career tip? Find a mentor. She says she wouldn’t be where she is today without those who’ve mentored her!
Fairygodboss of the Week: Ebony Frelix
Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Engagement - Salesforce
San Francisco Bay Area, CA
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
EF: I originally joined Salesforce in 2008 to work in IT and became immediately inspired by Salesforce’s philanthropic mission.
As someone who has been volunteering since an early age, I was excited when one of my first projects was to manage interns from Year Up. Year Up is an amazing organization that provides young adults in underrepresented communities with the skills, experience and support needed to excel in their education and professional endeavors. Salesforce has worked with this organization for many years and to this day working with the students is one of my favorite parts of the work I do.
When a position opened up at Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce, the president at the time encouraged me to take the role and it felt like a natural fit. Now, as senior vice president of philanthropy and engagement at Salesforce.org, I lead a 30-person team globally and am responsible for all employee engagement, grantmaking and philanthropy for Salesforce. I manage programs and strategic grants focused on education and workforce development and as a result, have been responsible for administering millions of dollars in grants to improve communities around the world, as well as engaging our more than 24,000 employees in community service opportunities.
It’s amazing to have a career that is not only challenging and interesting, but also rewarding and makes a real impact on our communities.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
EF: I am especially proud of the work we’ve done to improve education around the world.
Since I’ve worked for Salesforce.org, I’ve led partnerships with San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts with the goal of improving computer science education, especially for those in underrepresented communities. To date, Salesforce.org has donated $22.5 million to both school districts, adopted 45 schools around the world, and provided teacher training, technology and infrastructure to schools in need.
Since launching the partnership with SFUSD in 2013, the school district has become the first in the nation to require computer science curriculum for all grades, and has also seen improvements in math test scores and overall grade point averages. Salesforce employees have also volunteered 20,000 hours in the districts, giving us the opportunity to provide more students with positive role models as they continue to grow and learn.
Year Up is another initiative I’m really proud of. Not only was Salesforce a founding corporate partner of Year Up, but it’s also an organization I’m personally very passionate about. I had the privilege of managing the first class of interns to ever come on the Salesforce campus. Now, seven years later, we’ve had more than 200 interns on campus, and nearly half of those students have been placed in jobs at Salesforce.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
EF: One of the more humbling experiences I have had in my career was putting my hat in the ring for a job that I felt confident I was ready for. Initially, I was slightly shattered when the job went to someone else, but I quickly turned my focus toward growing my skillset, closing any gaps and continuing to build relationships.
It turned out that not getting that job was one of the best things that could have happened to me. My existing role, at that time, grew in scope, and I learned to work differently while I gained exposure to new areas and new people that led to even better opportunities. It taught me that opportunity can come out of disappointment when you choose to channel it in a productive way.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? And why?
EF: Suzanne DiBianca, the Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce. She changed the trajectory of my career. Throughout my time at Salesforce she has been an incredible mentor—coaching, guiding, and advocating for me every step of the way. It was Suzanne who first suggested that I consider a role at Salesforce.org to combine my work with my personal passion for philanthropy. She gave me the push I needed to realize my full potential, and it changed my life! It shows the importance of mentorship, and the benefit of surrounding yourself with people who inspire and encourage you, both professionally and personally. I’ve benefitted greatly from mentors throughout my life, and it’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about mentoring others.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
EF: Volunteer in my community. And watch cartoons. :)
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
EF: My personal rockstar, my grandfather.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
EF: “Tell Me” by Groove Theory.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
EF: The Long Kiss Goodnight (it's not a chick flick as the title would suggest. Geena Davis is a strong female lead in this movie.)
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
EF: Memoirs of A Geisha.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
EF: Shoes. Property...and shoes.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
EF: Find a mentor. I have benefited greatly from mentors throughout my career and understand the importance of these relationships. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the guidance and conversations I’ve had with my mentors.
My dad has been one of the most influential mentors in my life. There’s a story about my dad I tell all my interns. He told me, work hard now and focus while you’re young. If you get behind early in your career, it’ll be harder for you to catch up to your peers later in life. That conversation changed the trajectory of my career because it was then that I set my sights on loftier goals.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
EF: Where do I begin!? I love that every day when I go to work, I’m helping make a difference. I’ve always been passionate about giving back to my community and this is something that is deeply ingrained in Salesforce’s culture.
Through my work, I get to see first hand how we are helping local communities - whether it’s increased grade point averages in a local school district or watching a student excel after connecting with a mentor who has volunteered their time.
To date, Salesforce employees have volunteered more than 1.8 million hours, we’ve given more than $137 million in grants, and more than 30,000 nonprofits and education institutions run on Salesforce with free or discounted rates. I am so excited for our future and to help even more communities around the world.
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