Akilah Watkins, Ph.D.

President & CEO, Independent Sector

Thank you for your service, Dr. Watkins!

Dr. Akilah Watkins joined the Johnson Center’s Leadership Council in 2023. A 25-year national thought leader, convener, and nonprofit executive, Dr. Watkins’ work began at the age of 14 when she led efforts to convert a vacant lot and abandoned home into a community center in Roosevelt, New York. Since then, she’s served as an executive leader for nonprofits and community development initiatives which includes work with the Obama administration, NeighborWorks America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Her career’s work has focused on helping people, communities, and local and federal government drive impactful reform for key community health and economic development issues.

Before joining Independent Sector, Dr. Watkins led the Center for Community Progress, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending systemic cycles of vacancy and abandonment. Under her leadership, the Center launched the National Land Bank Network, spearheaded federal and state legislative work, and collaborated with over 300 communities across the country in deep technical assistance work to advance equitable outcomes.

Dr. Watkins is an alumna of the University of Illinois at Chicago where she received her Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Sociology. She graduated from Southern New Hampshire University where she received two Master of Science degrees in Education and Community Economic Development. Dr. Watkins received her Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services from the State University of New York, Empire State College.