Monika Kalra Varma and Julia Wilson


Listen in as Monika Kalra Varma, the first BIPOC president & CEO of BoardSource, and Julia Wilson, BoardSource’s outgoing board chair, share powerful stories and reflections on their experiences tackling the complexities of race equity work head-on as a united front at BoardSource. 

Together they give us a behind-the-scenes look at the intentional work of designing and cultivating a board culture that supports, sustains and advances race equity leadership: one that creates space for leaders to show up as they are and encourages “talking about the real stuff out loud” – even when it’s hard. A culture that is fueled by authenticity and propelled by trust. 

Along the way, Monika and Julia discuss the realities of leadership transitions - and especially those of historic firsts. They reflect deeply on their personal experiences and share gratitude for a journey that has been both sacred and transformational. 


References and Resources

  • BoardSource Board of Directors and Staff
    Throughout their conversation, Monika and Julia refer to members of the board and staff at BoardSource. You can learn more about the BoardSource staff here and the board here
  • Race Equity Institute
    Julia mentions a two-day racial equity training that the full board committed to facilitated by the Race Equity Institute (REI). You can learn more about REI here.


Individual Reflection Questions 

  1. Think about a time when you turned towards or away from a difficult situation pertaining to racial equity. How did you feel? What factors were at play? Looking back, what advice would you give yourself in that moment?
  2. Monika talks about the power of having a board who brings heart and empathy to this work and shows up “shoulder to shoulder” in the fight for racial justice. In what ways can you practice solidarity with your peers of color in this work?  


Group Exercise

Monika and Julia give us concrete examples of practices they have adopted to help build trust so they can show up authentically, including weekly CEO-Board Chair meetings and a board mantra of “saying the real stuff out loud.” 

Using the 1-2-4-All Liberatory Structure, explore the following prompt

What practices can you put in place that are not in place now, to continue deepening trust and authenticity amongst your board? What conditions are necessary to create a culture rooted in authenticity?

  • 1: Individual journaling and reflection
  • 2: Pair up to exchange reflections with a partner
  • 4: Combine pairing to form groups of four and discuss themes 
  • All: Share in the full group 


Episode Highlight



This episode of Can we talk about…? was produced by Aya Tsuruta (Executive Producer), Emily Daman (Producer) and Jesse McCune of Podfly (Audio Engineer).

Special thanks to Asha Hossain (Graphic Design), Nancy Sanabria (Episode Host), Komiku (Music) and to our Philanthropy Northwest and Giving Practice teams for their thought partnership and support. Thank you to the Ford Foundation for making this project possible.

Monika Kalra Varma Headshot
Monika Kalra Varma
President and CEO, BoardSource

Monika leads BoardSource as the first President and CEO of color where she is actively driving conversations on how nonprofit boards can better support leaders of color in transition. In addition to her leadership at BoardSource, Monika brings her experience working in human rights and civil rights organizations – most recently as the Executive Director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Monika serves on the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Systemic Change. Her leadership tools and strategies are grounded in love and guided by the world she wants to raise her children in. You can read Monika’s full bio here.

Julia Wilson Headshot
Julia Wilson
Chair, BoardSource

Julia has been on BoardSource’s Board of Directors since 2017, serving as Chair from 2020-2023. She brings over 20 years of nonprofit executive leadership experience to the conversation, as well as her experience as a leadership coach and systems change consultant for nonprofits. She also brings her identity as a white woman living with mental health conditions. Today, Julia is the Executive Director of the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Program, investing in summer public interest fellowships for law students who want to build careers in civil rights, legal aid, and public defense, and also provides executive and leadership coaching through Julia Wilson Coaching. You can read Julia’s full bio here

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