Shamim Okolloh, a 2012 graduate of the Clinton School of Public Service, joined Encore Bank in October 2021 as its Vice President, Community Outreach Officer.
A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Okolloh oversees Encore Bank’s outreach program in Central Arkansas with a focus on financial inclusion for the underserved minority community that is often unbanked and underbanked.
Before joining Encore, Okolloh spent nearly a decade working in Central Arkansas’ nonprofit sector. She spent seven years with Arkansas Foodbank as the organization’s Member Services Coordinator. Additionally, she worked with Heifer International as the nonprofit’s East Africa Program Coordinator.
Now, Okolloh is working alongside fellow Clinton School graduate Burt Hicks (’13), Encore’s Co-Founder, President, and Chief Strategy and Growth Officer. She said that her work with Encore is extremely rewarding and has helped her realize the potential impacts public servants can create in the private sector.
“Graduates can be passionate about public service and still bring change and thrive in a corporate environment,” Okolloh said. “I know a lot of graduates go into the nonprofit world, and that’s where I initially started, but since I made that change to the corporate world I feel like I am able to be even more effective as a public service leader. In this role, the results are tangible – I can say I helped a family navigate the intimidating financial home buying process and a few months later we are at the closing table celebrating. They walk away with keys to a their home. I get to witness social change with underserved communities.”
What do you most enjoy about your role at Encore Bank?
I think what I enjoy the most is the ability to interact with individuals in Central Arkansas and play a role moving them up the economic mobility ladder. A lot of the families and individuals I meet with want to achieve financial freedom or have dreams to be a first-time home buyer or to grow their business and don’t know where to start or who to trust. Historically, the financial system has, for centuries, been designed to lock out minorities and low-income families. There is a generational wealth gap and our team at Encore and I get to play to role in disseminating financial education and providing boutique style banking services to our families. For every minority or low-income individual I work with that is able to access capital for their starter home, dream home or business, I shrink the racial wealth gap and hopefully they keep it going for generations in their family.
I also enjoy working with and learning from my Encore Bank family, the workplace culture is unmatched.
What does public service mean to you?
Public service to me is being able to tap into a cause one is passionate about and express it authentically from the heart and into service. Goals, skills and careers can shift over time, if at the center of it all is passion mixed in with alignment and elevation for collective human good – public service is magical.
What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Most people don’t know that my comfort food is goat biryani. I was born and raised in Kenya, so a lot of the seasoning and spices in Indian cuisine remind me of my childhood. Goat meat isn’t very common in everyday American cuisine. When I dive into my goat biriyani, the world is at peace.
What was your favorite class in your time as a Clinton School student?
My favorite class was Social Change by Dr. Arvind Singhal. He made a different learning environment cool. He was effective and the sessions were impactful and memorable.
He once told us a story about visiting Ethiopia and seating at the feet of the elders and listening to them. I use that concept to this day. Everyone is a subject matter expert of their life or lived experience. So let’s grab coffee and talk, I want to hear your story before we start talking banking and crunching numbers. What I think is irrelevant if the plan for success is not curated by and with my client. I start by listening. That class was a gem.
What skills did you learn at the Clinton School that you still put to use in your job or life today?
I still use skills from project planning. In my job at Encore Bank, my particular role in outreach. I have three pillars I focus on – home ownership, small business development and financial literacy. Planning around these takes time – research, training, building strategic relationships, developing goals and action steps, executing, and circling back with evaluation. It’s constant and happens weekly and daily on both a macro and micro level. I am very fortunate to have a banking career that is rewarding. I enjoy my work every single day.
I use the same project planning formula as a parent, I am always shifting and enhancing but it’s such a joy parenting my two sweet children.