Kayla alum photo

Making the Corporate Switch: Insights from a Uniting Voices Alum

After graduating from Uniting Voices programs, Kayla DeSouza followed a similar path to many alumni: attending college and working for arts nonprofits. But she put her own unique twist on this path, getting an M.S. in Leadership for Creative Enterprises from Northwestern University to broaden the opportunities she would have as a member of the workforce. After working at many Chicago nonprofits including The People’s Music School and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, she switched over to the corporate world at Salesforce, where she is currently an Account Executive for Small Business Nonprofits.

She recently returned to join the Uniting Voices Ambassadors Board, a group of Chicago’s next generation of philanthropic leaders who collaborate on a range of events and initiatives to develop their skills as advocates for cultural diversity. Find out why she wanted to become a part of the Ambassadors Board, how she made the switch from nonprofits to a corporate environment and her advice for current singers who might want to follow her path.

Uniting Voices: You began your career working in Chicago nonprofits but now work as an Account Executive at Salesforce, specializing in nonprofits. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from this switch?

Kayla DeSouza: How to sell yourself and frame transferable skills. Some find themselves feeling stuck in the role or industry they start out in, but most skills are transferable and can lead to exploring new paths. I got into sales at Salesforce by using my nonprofit development work as my selling point. Yes, they are very different, but, at the end of the day, a development manager is there to “sell” the organization to a donor and learn their priorities and needs, and the same can be said in sales.

UV: What’s one piece of advice you would give to a singer or alum who wants to pursue a master's degree in leadership?

KD: Be open-minded about where your career could take you.Everyone’s path looks different, and it’s important to broaden your horizons because you may end up loving something you never thought you would pursue. I was initially looking at Arts Administration programs for my master’s, but I decided to pursue the Leadership in Creative Enterprises degree to provide a wider range of opportunities in case I ever decided to pursue something outside of the nonprofit industry.

UV: At Salesforce, you have a leadership role in BOLDforce, one of the equality groups at the company. How did your experience in Uniting Voices guide your decision to take this on?

KD: We were taught to be ambassadors for what you believe in. I was part of my high school’s Black Student Association and decided to join BOLDforce as well to help empower Black employees at Salesforce. I believe having a strong sense of community is very important, especially in an industry that lacks representation.

In BOLDforce we hold events for employees to build relationships and connections; we sometimes host Black high school and college students to teach them about the tech industry and show representation; and, we volunteer throughout the Black community in Chicago. Through these different spaces we are able to support our community as whole.

UV: How do you stay connected with the arts beyond your occupation?

KD: I still perform regularly and play at shows across the city. You can find me playing a solo show sometimes accompanied by my husband on piano, or playing a show with my band. I also record music that I share on Spotify. Performing is still a big part of what I do, and I love being able to experience the magical musical moments.

UV: What’s your favorite arts performance or concert you've seen in the past few years?

KD: This past September, I saw Corrine Bailey Rae in Chicago. Before the concert, I was able to meet her at her album signing, and then I attended her concert that evening. This was an absolutely amazing experience for me because she was someone I looked up to as a singer songwriter and guitarist. When I was a kid there were not many black women who played guitar and sang in the mainstream, so she was a huge idol for me. The icing on the cake was that her album was inspired by stories she learned about at the Stony Island Arts Bank, a place I visited during a grad school onsite, also on the South Side of Chicago, where I was raised. And her concert was held at Rockefeller Chapel, where my school held many assemblies and the very place my high school graduation took place. She even invited the audience to form a choir in front of the stage to sing with her. It was a full circle moment where my formative years had come together to make one incredible experience that’ll I'll never forget.