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.
Subscribe to "In The Arena" on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Stitcher.
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.
- Jabari Simama, Former President of Georgia Piedmont Technical College
- Sheila Oliver, Lieutenant Governor of N.J.
- Bruce Bond, Co-Founder of Common Ground Committee
- Heather Repenning, Executive Officer of Sustainability Policy for Los Angeles Metro
- Cathilea Robinett, President of e.Republic: Special Episode
- Miles K. Davis, President of Linfield College
- Sharon Greenberger, President and CEO of N.Y. YMCA
- Toni Carter, County Commissioner for Ramsey County, Minn.
- Harry Black, City Manager of Stockton, Calif.
- John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections for Pa.
- Alisha Bell, Commission Chair of Wayne County, Mich.
- Mary Ann Borgeson, County Commissioner of Douglas County, Neb.
- Betty Yee, State Controller of Calif.
- Serena DiMaso, New Jersey Assembly Member
- Clay Jenkinson, Governing's Editor-at-Large and Humanities Scholar
- Bryan Barnett, Mayor of Rochester Hills, Mich. and President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors
- Ryan Coonerty, County Supervisor of Santa Cruz, Calif.
- Lydia Mihalik, Director of Ohio's Development Services Agency
- Chris Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, Calif.
- Affie Ellis, State Senator, Wyo.
- Beth Niblock, CIO of Detroit, Mich.
- Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, Calif.
- Ed O’Keefe, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation
- Blair Milo, Ind.'s first Secretary of Career Connections and Talent
- Phil Bertolini, Co-Director, Center for Digital Government
- Jo Ann Davidson, Ohio State Representative
- Dow Constantine, Executive of King County, Wash.
- Harry LaRosiliere, Mayor of Plano, Texas
- Rebecca Rhynhart, City Controller of Philadelphia
- Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University
- Mayors Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minn.; Jenn Daniels of Gilbert, Ariz.; Jacob Frey of Minneapolis; and Francis Suarez of Miami, Fla.
- Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability for Orlando, Fla.
- Kim Foxx, State's Attorney for Cook County, Ill.
- Doug Burgum, Governor of N.D.
- Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, Ohio
- Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, S.C.
- Kristen Cox, Executive Director of Utah Office of Management and Budget
- Acquanetta Warren, Mayor of Fontana, Calif.
- Greg Fischer, Mayor of Louisville, Ky.
- Themis Klarides, Minority Leader of the Conn. House