Re-Imagineer #1: Donna Emma, Co-Chair of The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Leadership Council for Psychiatry

You spent 35 years as a highly successful Wall Street executive focusing on institutional equity capital markets and female-led early-stage angel investing and much more. What led you to the decision that you wanted to ROAR in a new direction?

Throughout my investment career, I have continuously volunteered with non-profit organizations whose mission and values are aligned with my own. I have always felt a deep commitment to giving both my time and treasure to worthy philanthropic causes. My Wall Street success has allowed me to fulfill that desire. The decision to devote myself exclusively to these efforts isn’t a new direction but rather one motivated by ailments that have impacted close friends and family members. I am combining my business acumen and nonprofit knowledge to reimagine myself as an advocate focusing on the education, research, and de-stigmatization of mental health issues.

For full disclosure, you and I met during the first course of what would be our 12-course Masters program in NonProfit Management at Columbia University. Why did you decide to go back to school in your late 50’s? 

I decided to return to school after 37 years to challenge my mind and my perspective knowing that to be a re-imagineer often requires some retooling.  I enrolled in the program to expand my knowledge of the new ways in which non-profit organizations are structurally and financially innovating. As expected, I learned a great deal from the curriculum and my fellow classmates by engaging with a much younger cohort of people who had different and broader nonprofit expertise and outlooks. Not only did the program provide me with a degree but the gift of kinship. In fact, I got to become classmates and dear friends with you, Michael! 

ROARing isn’t just about career focus but should include challenging ourselves personally as well. Going back to school later in life was incredibly rewarding. I would encourage everyone who has the time and the means to consider doing so and to try entirely new activities. I am currently enjoying my first foray into community theater with a part in a musical comedy!

You have a CV that includes many NonProfit experiences, including a current role as the Co-Chair of The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Leadership Council for Psychiatry. Tell us about that role and your thoughts on this and other nonprofit engagements. Will this be your new life work moving forward?

Once an investment professional, I have reimagined myself as a mental health advocate. My life’s work and my work life going forward will be singularly focused on helping families in need to access available mental health resources, which are currently limited. Demand for competent mental health practitioners far outstrips supply. Mental health issues have become their own pandemic within the Covid pandemic and yet there is not enough support for those people who suffer from them, especially in lower-income communities. By encouraging a more open mental health dialogue we can begin to combat stigma so that those afflicted seek and find the help they need.  MGH has one of the largest psychiatric departments in the world, with 600 MD-and PhD-level faculty and includes more than 60 specialty clinical and research programs that address virtually every type of psychiatric disorder. Our Leadership Council’s motto is that “no family goes untouched.” Everyone has a friend or relative who suffers from some type of mental health issue which isn’t discussed. Our mission is to elevate awareness, raise research dollars and to educate and remove the stigma associated with mental health.