When Ebony Irby interviews an applicant for Vital Strategies, she’s getting to know the candidate, but the candidate is also trying to understand the organization.
“Often, our meeting is the first time they put a face to Vital Strategies,” she said. “We have to be ambassadors.”
Ebony is well-qualified for that role, having started in 2013 as an administrative assistant for The Union North America. Since then, she has watched and supported the creation of Vital Strategies and the exponential growth of our staff.
“I look for people who understand that we’re driven by saving lives; people who aren’t just interested in advancing themselves, but who also want to help others.”
When Ebony first came on board, The Union and World Lung Foundation were separate organizations in separate offices in the same building. But growth and the merger made space a concern. When a new office suite was secured on the 10th floor, Ebony led the development of the space.
“It had walls, but it needed everything else,” she recalled. It was a complex job for someone fresh out of college, but her team was supportive. “Every day there was some new detail to handle. Ordering desks, talking to the electrician, picking a refrigerator.” But eventually it came together. “It was my baby. This was something I never thought I’d be able to do.”
Over the last five years, Ebony’s career has evolved from administrative assistant, to travel and procurement, to Human Resources, which she calls her “forever home.” In college, she had tried psychology and computer science, and she finally earned a degree in business management. When she graduated, though, it still seemed like an uncomfortable fit.
“My unique skillset wasn’t science, tech or business—it was people.”
In human resources, Ebony saw a way to help people advance their goals and feel like they belong, like their concerns will be heard.
“But it’s hard to get into HR without experience,” Ebony said. As a first-generation college student, she had to find an inroad for herself. “My mother instilled in me this belief that you should do what you love, so I was going to figure out how to do it, one way or another.”
Her mother remains a source of inspiration and encouragement. Ebony grew up in public housing in downtown Brooklyn, a neighborhood in New York that has carried a harsh reputation. She now understands that it wasn’t the easiest place to raise a child. Yet, as a kid, she said, most of that was kept out of sight.
“We had slides and swings, and we’d run around until Mom came down and said, ‘Get yourself upstairs.’ We grew up without a care in the world.”
While she wasn’t blind to the issues facing her neighborhood, from high unemployment to gang activity, those factors were always overwhelmed by the sense of community. “I know where I came from, and what my mom and my grandmother went through living in a not-so-good neighborhood, but that’s what made me me. Mom made sure I put education first. She saw my potential.”
As Human Resources Officer, Ebony aims to support her team so that the division reflects the ideals that drew her to the field.
“If you have the right team, it can be one of the best to work on, and it can be a great resource for everyone.”
Ebony also feels responsible for finding people that will fit Vital Strategies’ culture.
She also seeks out applicants who overcame hardship to get where they are. “Maybe a person didn’t come from an elite university, but they built their resumé from hard work and perseverance, and they’re just looking for a chance to prove themselves. I want us to be a place that gives people with real promise a chance.”