February 26, 2020 – Following a five-month search, Chris Cohen of Minneapolis-based CohenTaylor Executive Search has placed Abdi Warsame as the new CEO and executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. He replaces Greg Russ, who left the role last year.
Mr. Warsame will become the first Somali to lead a public housing agency in the nation, said Sharmarke Issa, the Minneapolis housing authority’s chair. A formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority serves about 26,000 people. About one-third of the city’s public housing tenants are Somali. In his application for the Minneapolis housing job, Mr. Warsame cited his own life as a child refugee growing up in public housing in London.
“Affordable housing played a fundamental role in my family’s ability to forge a path out of poverty,” Mr. Warsame said. “It provided us with financial freedom, independence, stability and security that far too many families simply cannot achieve without assistance. Simply stated, our public housing was our refuge.”
According to the Sahan Journal, Mr. Warsame also cited his experience in finance, management of non-profit organizations and governmental experience. He said that he worked to alleviate the fears and anxiety around the conversion of public housing properties into Section 8 housing.
Mr. Warsame made history in 2013 when he became the first Somali in Minnesota elected to the Minneapolis City Council. He will step down from this role upon taking his new position with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
Mr. Warsame formerly served as executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, an advocacy organization for over 5,000 tenants, mostly low-income who lived in public housing. In 2012, he founded the Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting where he helped redraw City Council ward boundaries including Ward 6, which has a sizable number of East African residents.
“Given that he comes from a background of an individual who grew up in public housing, he’s more relatable to most of our residents,” said Ms. Issa. “He understands their needs and concerns better. This is a great opportunity for the agency.”
The mission of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is to promote and deliver quality, well-managed homes to a diverse low-income population and, with partners, contribute to the well-being of the individuals, families and community.
CohenTaylor Executive Search is a boutique executive search firm dedicated to non-profit and public sector organizations. Founded by Chris Cohen and Don Taylor, the firm has conducted hundreds of leadership searches, locally and nationally, in multiple sectors. Its clients include Second Harvest Heartland, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, First Avenue Productions, Healthy Building Network, Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota and Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties, among others.
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Ms. Cohen has worked in the executive search industry since 1996. In that time, she has built a practice focused on non-profit leadership and fundraising, marketing, sales, management, finance and operations search assignments. Ms. Cohen’s 30-year history as a non-profit executive has included primary roles in resource development, leadership and strategic direction for organizations in healthcare, education, human services and organized philanthropy.
Mr. Taylor’s leadership roles over the last 35 years have focused on non-profit fund development, including strategy, planning, execution and evaluation of comprehensive programs in human services, education and healthcare. He has served on executive management teams or as an executive director at the Minneapolis Foundation, Courage Center, the Carlson School of Management (University of Minnesota), the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas, and the Laura Baker School. Currently, Mr. Taylor is in a special counsel role with CohenTaylor, providing limited consultation to the firm in new business development while acting as the firm’s representative in efforts with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP/Minnesota chapter) and Minnesota Private College Fund (MPCF).
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media