When Tahra Goraya joined the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) early this year as its president and CEO, she brought her wealth of lived experience — from growing up as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants in Bakersfield to being nationally recognized for her public policy leadership.
In our latest Fwd Thinkers profile, Goraya spoke with CA FWD CEO Micah Weinberg about leading the nonprofit organization cultivating a thriving region across Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties.
A true product of California, Goraya was born in Sacramento, raised in the Central Valley, attended University of California, Irvine, and worked for community-based organizations and elected officials in the Los Angeles area.
Her work and passion for public policy also took her to the East Coast twice. In her first stint, Goraya served as the first female national director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national American Muslim civil rights organization in Washington, DC. Goraya returned to the east coast in 2016 to join Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (HKS) where she received a master’s degree in Public Administration and was recognized with the Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership by the HKS Women and Public Policy Program. Goraya ran and won her first election to became the first American Muslim woman to be elected in the town of Milton, Massachusetts; she consulted and coached several first-time female candidates running for public office; and consulted in the diversity, equity and inclusion and organizational management spaces.
It’s no surprise that she knows the importance of creating an inclusive and equitable environment for those who work within the organization and those who are served by it.
“As somebody who’s always sort of been on the outside kind of looking in as a minority woman, growing up in the Central Valley, I learned a long ago how you bring different viewpoints, different stakeholders, how to bring different people together to accomplish what you want to collectively accomplish,” said Goraya. “Connecting strategy in a tactical manner is what I bring and what I hope to continue to do in a collaborative approach.”
Her priorities in leading MBEP address the main challenges facing the Central Coast:
- Housing availability and affordability
- Broadband access for all
- Workforce development
- Inclusive economic development
“We weave the triple bottom line in all that we do,” added Goraya as she discusses the importance of creating jobs, increasing opportunity for all and improving environmental quality in MBEP’s work. “It’s like the air you breathe. Until you do that cultural shift of looking at your work through the triple bottom line, it’s not going to get there.”
In tackling the region’s priorities, Goraya is working toward creating a larger space for the conversations. “It means looking at all of our work from our initiatives to our workforce, and, for our partners and stakeholders, making sure that the table is large and inclusive in terms of gender, race, lived experience, sexual orientation. Everybody should have a place.”
Goraya shared how her management style reflects her priorities on inclusivity and how to build a successful, collaborative workplace. “I am a student of people. I like to listen and observe and study what’s working and what’s not working,” said Goraya. “What has largely made me successful in the organizations that I’ve joined is knowing my own limitations, and when to ask for help from staff, or the board and trying to create a supportive professional village at the same time. That’s why I’m here.”