The Mentor Effect: An Interview with Tammy Dowley-Blackman of the Proteus Fund

The Proteus Fund, guided by equality, diversity and justice, works through philanthropic partnerships to advance democracy, human rights and peace. We recently spoke with Tammy Dowley-Blackman, Director of the Diversity Fellowship at the Proteus Fund, about her perspective on mentoring.

Tell us about the Diversity Fellowship.

The mission of the Diversity Fellowship is to identify, recruit and cultivate emerging practitioners of color who represent the next generation of philanthropic leaders and offer them training, support and strong community. The year-long program places Fellows in foundations to work on major projects in the areas of community needs, education, affordable housing, global issues, the environment and youth development. Mentoring is certainly a component of the leadership development of the Fellows. Everyone is capable of being a leader but it does take some intentional thought and planning. Leadership isn't just managing a large project at work or joining a nonprofit board. Leadership starts with the intentional design and management of your personal and professional life.

Fellows are guided to look at what is possible in their community and to look at it from the perspective of assets in the community, versus looking at it from the perspective of disadvantages. It’s an opportunity for people to see what is beyond them and to create communities where the opportunities might be.

Tell us a little bit about your experience with other youth programs.

I have been the Executive Director of Girls Inc. of Orange County which provides intentional programming focused on STEM, financial literacy, sound body image, healthy relationships, and college and career readiness.  I was also the Executive Director of Breakthrough Greater Philadelphia, which takes a select group of talented college students from across the country each summer for nine weeks, where they mentor and teach Breakthrough Middle School students while gaining hands on experience and training from master teachers. It was a unique way to bring teaching alive. It’s a great opportunity to both give and take, to hone your skills, rethink the tools you’re using, and at the same time, support the growth and development of students through building relationships. In the case of the fellowship , we asked the Fellows  what type of mentoring they most needed and wanted during the year-long program. They asked for traditional programming that would provide opportunities to meet with colleagues to discuss shared interest. In addition, they saw great value in the more in-depth targeted mentoring we offered through the executive coaching program.

Were there adults that influenced your life?

There were three people that influenced me growing up. The first was when I was 11, I met a doctor who provided community health care who emphasized the importance of college and that it was a choice to make about working in your own community.  When I was 14, I was selected for a three year summer scholarship for the MS(2) program founded and held at Phillips Andover Academy. This competitive math and science program selected 30 minority students from around the country. Here, I learned a great deal about philanthropy and the importance of partnerships, as at that time each students’ scholarship was provided by a foundation in their home state. When I was 22 and at my first job, the President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music was a great visionary. He provided an example of what it means to think about what is possible and his direct and indirect mentoring of colleagues was my first professional example of leadership development. In addition, Miki Shepard, the founder and Executive Director of 651 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, was a wonderful mentor. She pushed for our learning and allowed us to be a part of the creative, community engagement and development process. In all of these instances, I saw the development of young people and young professionals as fundamentally important. I have never lost sight of this lesson.

To learn how your organization can get involved in strengthening youth/adult relationships, contact Vanessa Plant, director of development and partnerships, at or visit us at