Emily Ball Cicchini

  • Name
    Emily Ball Cicchini
  • Title
    Executive Director
  • Organization
    BookSpring
  • Number of Years as Executive Director
    2.5 years

What does your organization do?
BookSpring builds early literacy in children and families through healthcare, education, and the community.

How did you become interested in this work?
I have always been interested in children's literature, and have a deep belief in the importance of early childhood reading aloud and family engagement for optimal brain development. In my work in the community, I've seen so many families and children who do not have access to books and play at home, and who are hungry for stories and words and good things to do together. It's not fair, they deserve to opportunity to let their imaginations soar. BookSpring provides all this things in a unique, collective, community-driven way.

What drives your passion?
The ongoing need for children to continue to engage with words, ideas, and stories, and to know that books are a key to getting access to knowledge about anything they want to know. Digital devices can be books, too, and are great as long as they are used to engage with words and stories and spark conversations with others, and not isolate or babysit.

Did you have a mentor or a role model?
Right now, I'm totally in awe of Peggy Whitson, NASA Astronaut, who at 57, just broke the record for any astronaut of most days in space. She's also the first woman to command the International Space Station. Big accomplishments in anyones book, and she just dashes away those age stereotypes that often plague women specifically.

What's the biggest challenge in your work?
Balancing all the competing priorities and putting effort and attention on what is needed most when it is needed most.

What's the best advice that you have ever received?
I am very deep into an organizational scholar named Karl Weick right now, who developed a framework for High Reliability Organizations. I think this is a great model for health and human service agencies, like the ones that participate in One Voice -- that we need to aim not for growth or sustainability, but reliability, which is different. There are five qualities that HRO's exhibit: Preoccupation with examining failures; reluctance to simplify interpretations; sensitivity to operations over strategy; commitment to resilience and mindfulness; and deference to expertise wherever it is found within the organization, from top to bottom. I think of these things as work now, and it seems to be making BookSpring stronger.

What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
Listen first, then act; Be as confident as you can be, even when you don't know the answers; Be open but also develop and keep hold of your vision: your organization depends on it.