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Member Spotlight: Michelle Rankin Co-Chair, Social Innovation Grant

Talk about the right timing! Just as Michelle Rankin was retiring from IBM last June hoping to get involved in nonprofit work in Austin, she reached out to Becky Austen. “I met with Becky for coffee because I know how active she is in the community and thought she could give me some pointers on where to get started. She mentioned that Impact Austin was looking for a new Leadership Austin Fellow and I was immediately interested. I had been a member of Impact Austin in the past and was on a couple Grant Review Committees (GRCs). I have fond memories of my previous involvement and really respect the organization and its impact in Central Texas.”

Michelle was thrilled to sign on as a co-chair for the new Social Innovation Grant (SIG) in July and shepherd it through its first grant cycle. And she raves about her co-chair, Katie Simoes, and the SIG “shadow” member, Monica Deal. “Katie is a previous chair so her experience and confidence in leading discussions is awesome. Monica is always willing to jump in and help with preparations, notes, review of materials. She has great insight and will be an excellent chair in the future. Becky Austen has been an amazing advisor. She has so many years with Impact Austin and really knows how to get things done and who to contact for various skills."

“And of course Becky Austen has guided us on where we can tailor and streamline processes and what we need to maintain for integrity. Finally, Christina Gorczynski has been so supportive as an Executive Director. She is juggling a lot for the organization as a whole, but is always available for questions and support.”

Why do you think the new SIG is important and what has it been like working on the inaugural grant?

“The Social Innovation Grant is important because of its goal to advance equity for women and girls of color. It is such an important mission and there is a definite need in the community. We solicited input from thought leaders in the community to help us identify potential applicants and we had a wonderful response, with 60 people attending the information session and 18 applicants. This grant is also great because the applicants had to be collaboratives of multiple organizations working together for a collective outcome. This magnifies the impact and the commitment to this worthy cause. I feel very blessed to be able to work on this grant. Our committee is a mixture of experienced members and some new ones, who are all committed and engaged. Impact Austin leadership has been very supportive in providing mentorship, guidance and assistance whenever needed. We are innovating on the process given the shorter timelines, so we can leverage the toolkits and materials which have been vetted over the years and streamline processes where needed. For instance, we held pitch presentations with our 5 semifinalists, all in one day at a single location. This simplified logistics and time commitment while allowing us to have more semifinalists than in the past.”

"We are so excited for the membership to hear from our two finalists. I encourage all Impact Austin members to get your tickets now to vote on the first SIG grant at the Town Hall Meeting from 5:30- 9 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6 at AFS Cinema."

What is your career story?

“I have been in Austin since my family moved here in the 80s. I graduated from UT Austin with a degree in computer science and worked in the tech industry for over 27 years, the last 23 of which have been at IBM. At IBM, I held a variety of leadership positions in development and personnel management, as well as executive roles with a focus on delivering new products and technologies to market. My background is primarily in software development including open source technologies, middleware, and developer solutions, and in more recent years, cloud infrastructure and systems. I also served as president of the OpenPOWER Foundation Board and am currently a director on the IEEE-ISTO board.

I believe in the importance of giving back. I have had a focus on mentorship and supporting inclusive career growth throughout my career. I have been actively involved in programs which mentor/sponsor employees and students on achieving their career goals. It is so rewarding to see others achieve their goals. I am also currently a volunteer with CASA of Williamson County.”

Tell us about your experience in Leadership Austin.

“I first heard about Leadership Austin this summer as I started to do more research on nonprofits in Austin. When Becky told me about the Fellowship program and the opportunity to work with Impact Austin, I was immediately interested. I met with Debbie Johnson, Director of the Fellows Program at Leadership Austin, and was impressed with her and the program. They have been very supportive and professional. The Fellowship program is such a great way to use the skills and experience one has from previous corporate work and apply it in the nonprofit community. It is also awesome to meet the other Fellows. They are all so impressive and are working on important programs as well.”

Why would you encourage other women to join Impact Austin?

“Impact Austin is an amazing organization and the work it does is so important. I love so many things about it. I love that it allows women to become philanthropists and give away very meaningful grants with a reasonable investment from the individual. The vast majority of the money collected goes directly to the community. I love that every member has an equal voice and you can get very engaged on a committee or other program if interested, or you can simply vote on the finalists. I love that you get to learn about the needs of the community and learn from all the women you work with. It is a tremendously supportive and collaborative group of ladies. Impact Austin has grown and evolved over the years while maintaining its core values and its commitment to the community.”


As this blog went online, the Grant Review Committee had identified the two finalists for the $110,000 Social Innovation Grant. The finalists are scheduled to present their innovative programs to Impact Austin members at the Town Hall on November 6, 2019.

Michelle reported, “I am so excited about the two finalists and introducing them to the membership at the Town Hall Meeting. We have had a wonderful response from the community to this pilot program, We were able to try new things with the process to streamline it while retaining the integrity of Impact Austin’s standards. Leading this new grant has been an awesome experience.”

Social Innovation Grant Finalists: (the organization in bold is the submitting agency)

Collaborative: Measure Austin , Girl Scouts of Central Texas, Hearts2Heal, Lone Star Justice Alliance and Community Advocacy and Healing Project

Project: The Innocence Initiative

Collaborative: AVANCE-Austin, Economic Growth Business Incubator and the Thinkery

Project: AVANCE Innovative Moms Program (AIM)


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