By Stef Tschida
Shawntera Hardy was just 12 years old when she bet on herself in a big way. She was selected to participate in the Young Scholars program at Ohio State University (OSU), a program that offered candidates a full-ride scholarship to the university with an opportunity to earn a four-year degree. The caveat was that participants had to—among other things—maintain a 3.0 grade point average through high school. Shawntera saw the opportunity as something not everyone around her had: a path out of poverty. It was a way to get beyond the devastation of the collapsing steel industry in the Ohio town where she lived.
She also knew that if she upheld her end of the bargain, she would be free of one of the biggest financial stressors of her lifetime—paying for college. Even so, it wasn’t easy. She worked extremely hard to stay focused while there were distractions all around her. She often felt like she was moving forward while many of her peers were standing still or even going backwards. She developed an understanding that much of what she was able to do was based on her willingness to learn.
What Shawntera was learning at the time was the power of investments. OSU was investing in her as much as she was investing in herself, and she took the obligation to provide the university a significant return on that investment very seriously. In the process, she realized the immense impact that can be made when organizations and institutions are willing to invest to help build stronger communities. That appreciation continued to drive every aspect of Shawntera’s career after she graduated from OSU.
She believes the future is created by those who design the policies that govern their lives—so Shawntera has made a career of helping influence those policies and empowering those who historically haven’t gotten a seat at the policy-making table. That’s taken many forms, from leadership roles in economic development and urban planning with the Ohio and Minnesota state governments to positions in the private sector in health care.
Today, Shawntera is living out her purpose in organizations she’s created herself to meet needs that remained unfulfilled by the efforts of the public sector. There’s Civic Eagle, which she co-founded to help make information about government policies more accessible and transparent. She also founded PolicyGrounds consulting, a strategy firm that works at the intersection of public policy and placemaking. And she also co-founded Fearless Commerce, an organization that elevates black women business owners through the production of books and live events.
She’ll share her unique perspective on women and entrepreneurship as a member of a panel that will explore innovating around equity in entrepreneurship at Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Minnesota (WED MN) at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on November 14.
Shawntera was awarded a Bush Fellowship in 2018, which is helping her make investments in herself as she pursues advanced training in business administration, executive leadership and design thinking. This is enabled by the Bush Foundation, which provides grants and investments to organizations and people throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as the Native nations in the same geography, who are helping solve problems in their communities.
She credits her success to an unfailing willingness to take risks at every step in her career, despite battling imposter syndrome and continually entering new realms where she has wondered whether she had enough of what was needed to fulfill the role. One thing Shawntera is sure of: She always has enough to sit at the table.
Shawntera’s focus now is on making investments to help others learn and grow. She started and seeds two scholarships for OSU students, hoping those young people will provide a return on that investment like she was motivated to do back in sixth grade. And Shawntera is focused on laying a foundation in her companies that will make things a little easier for those who come behind her. “I had to kick down the door so they don’t have to.”
Photo: Shawntera Hardy
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.