Ashley Basile Oeken cites her greatest professional accomplishment as “becoming an executive director of a non-profit, Engage! Cleveland at 26 years old and then raising the profile of other young professionals in the community through the work.” She is also her agency’s first Executive Director!
When asked who inspires her, a YWCA 2018 Distinguished Young Woman, her answer is clearly her parents.
“My mom came to the United States as a 16 year old and spoke no English. She learned the language and provided an amazing life for my siblings and me. My dad started working when he was a child with a very strong work ethic to help provide for his family. This compassion and ethic has never changed. They are both amazing and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.”
“Now, that I have my own little one, I hope to live up to the example they have set.”
What an example she has set. With her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration from Youngstown State University, she started a fellowship at the Fund for Our Economic Future in Cleveland. Thrown into the firing pan during a strategic transition at the Fund, she was promoted twice, ultimately to the Manager of Finance and Administration and Secretary of the Board of Directors.
Ira Kaplan, partner and executive chairman at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff law firm, explained that at the regional grantee and grantmaking powerhouse, she “quickly had to assist in finding office space, creating infrastructure and setting up the entire organization.”
“In addition, Ashley worked with an all-male staff and the majority of the Board members were male. She frequently found herself being the only woman in the room and was almost always the youngest. Despite the challenges ahead of her, primarily created because of her age and gender, she persevered.” It was Ashley who led the founding of the Fund’s independent 501(c)3 status and internal operations while managing an $8 million annual budget.”
Now Ashley consults with employers and nonprofits to attract, engage, and retain the best and brightest talent to the Greater Cleveland area. Kaplan nominated her to win the YWCA’s Distinguished Young Woman Award in the first year it was offered.
Engage! Cleveland was housed under another organization when Ashley achieved the directorship and after a false start testing the organization being associated with a second organization, “for the second time in her career, she once again helped lead an organization through the transition of becoming its own 501c3 nonprofit – a complicated process that she implemented seamlessly,” according to Kaplan.
One of the reasons she won the recognition from the YWCA is her commitment to the YWCA’s values of diversity and community service. Throughout her career, at the job and through volunteerism, she has served as a mentor and promoted mentorship in Greater Cleveland. Among a variety of board and committees that she has been involved with since arriving to Cleveland, “her work at the Saint Luke’s Foundation is likely the best example of how she is working to eliminate racism,” according to Kaplan.
“Ashley ensures that while she is promoting the “cool Cleveland” that you see in media headlines, it is not forgotten that Cleveland has a long way to go to eliminate bias and racism and reach economic prosperity for all.” On St. Luke’s Strong Neighborhood Committee, her work focuses on Cleveland’s Buckeye, Mount Pleasant and Woodland Hills neighborhoods, all comprised of large African-American populations. She is currently chair of St. Luke’s governance committee, as well.
Kaplan is chair of the Engage! Cleveland board of directors and adds in regards to the YWCA’s mission of empowering women as executive director, “Ashley not only maneuvered business and legal decisions, but ethical and moral ones as well.”
“Ashley stood up to a primarily male dominated Board of Directors and demanded maternity/paternity leave for Engage! Cleveland employees. She explained that if Engage! Cleveland wanted to attract the best talent, they would need to offer benefits to its leadership that relate to economic prosperity and empowering women.”
In her free time, she enjoys exploring Cleveland with her young family and when asked what she loves the most about The Land, she replies enthusiastically, “Can I say everything?!”
“What is there not to love about Cleveland? We live on a Great Lake with an amazing arts, culture and culinary scene.”