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Service Before Self: Karen Baker’s Career in Public Service

The career public servant has served a president and in the cabinets of three governors, and is not afraid of tackling big, complicated jobs that help the disenfranchised while building better communities.

Karen Baker In the Arena

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Karen Baker was raised in Ohio with seven siblings where there was not much opportunity to be selfish. Her upbringing taught her the value of selflessness and service, which has helped shape her decades-long career in public service.

Whether it was volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps while attending UCLA, working for a congressmember in Washington, D.C. or being appointed by President Clinton to help create AmeriCorps, Karen Baker has always been inspired by creativity and problem solving within communities.

“I'm particularly interested in that because I feel like one of the biggest things that people miss as a leader is just the ability to really listen very hard and then create,” Baker explains. “And part of how community is created by being there for each other and serving, and I think that's the glue of our culture.”

Karen Baker has held cabinet positions under three California governors, and currently leads Gov. Newsom’s Listos California, a multi-million-dollar initiative to educate disabled, non-English speaking, and other vulnerable populations across the state about disaster preparedness, including COVID-19. Its mission is guided by the principle of letting the community decide how best to reach its members. Baker admits it is a big and complicated job, but it is the kind of problem-solving that she knows will have a significant impact on the lives of others.

“I think the only thing that you have to be aware of when you need to be inspired is: What are you giving?” she asks. “You have to keep doing those acts of service. Cause that's what makes you feel connected in my view. And that's where the joy comes.”

Listen to the full interview with Karen Baker to hear more about her tremendous career of helping others, an inspiring drive-thru event in Mendota, Calif., and a special bond created over a shared favorite book. 

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