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Alumna Heather Foster: Making the World a Better Place

January 21, 2021
Heather Foster
Alumna Heather Foster, senior director of policy engagement and strategic partnerships Lyft.

School of Education and Social Policy alumna Heather Foster (BS03), a political strategist and expert on race and public policy issues, was among three alumni honored by the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association during its annual meeting.

 The award, given in conjunction with Northwestern’s 150 Years of Women celebration, highlighted women like Foster who have been “catalysts that took risks, charted their own course, and inspired change,” said Northwestern University alumna Maudlyne Ihejirika, who hosted the virtual event.

Foster, senior director of policy engagement and strategic partnerships Lyft, also was recently recognized by InStyle Magazine as one of “50 Women Making the World a Better Place in 2021."

These are the women who “are not easily daunted,” InStyle wrote. “Even in the darkest of hours, they forged ahead with courage and conviction to provide hope, solace, and even a few laughs. What is that strange feeling? It might just be the tiniest bit of hope.”

After graduating from Northwestern, Foster served in the Obama administration overseeing President Barack Obama’s engagement efforts with the civil rights community, including key speeches and public policy meetings with both elected and community leaders.

She also served as Obama’s direct liaison to African American leaders navigating complex issues on race and policy including the Charleston 9, introduction of the Affordable Care Act and racial bias within the education and criminal justice systems.

Before coming to the White House, Foster was a policy and outreach adviser at the U.S. Department of Education and worked on several local and national political campaigns in Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami.

“My time at Northwestern truly shaped how I looked at the world, and how I look at social policy and public policy,” Foster said in the NUBAA awards video.

In addition to her senior year practicum, which allowed her to meet–and ultimately work for–Obama, Foster credited her advisor at the time, Mark Hoffman, now senior academic adviser and program manager for the Master’s of Higher Education Administration and Policy Program.

“Mark really allowed me to see that I had a role in society, and particularly when it came to the importance of working in public policy,” she said.

Once Foster left the White House, she joined Finn Partners, where as a vice president she developed communications and public engagement strategies for corporate and nonprofit clients.

At Lyft, Foster has worked with organizations such as the NAACP and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to provide thousands of free rides to those most in need, especially during the pandemic. She passionately believes in fostering female leaders, and recently shared a note with Lyft team members about her personal experience navigating equal pay as a Black woman.

Foster has also been featured on the Northwestern Intersections podcast, and gave a TEDx MidAtlantic talk titled “It’s time we change our perceptions of strong leaders.”

“These are very critical times,” she said. “And we've seen too much how black women haven't been treated well. Women aren't always praised for our leadership.

“But it's been amazing to me to see across the country, how so many people have come together to push justice forward. And so even now, as I've transitioned to the corporate sector, I really enjoy the opportunity to continue to push on policy and make changes that will help people across the country.”

Foster has been recognized by National Journal as one of its 25 most influential women in politics and by Ebony Magazine as one of its political women on the rise. Foster also serves on the board of Step Up a nonprofit which provides mentorship opportunities to girls living in under resourced communities and is an equity advisor to Sephora Global, guiding them on diversity and inclusion. 

In addition to Foster, Cheryle Jackson ’88, and Dorothy Tucker ’78 were recognized in the event. Jackson is CEO and Founder of Grit and Grace, The Movement, a women’s empowerment, coaching and media company she founded in 2018. Until 2019, she served as senior vice president of global business development and president of AAR Africa, a global aviation services company.

Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, has been a reporter for CBS 2 Chicago since 1984. She is currently, a reporter on the station’s 2 Investigator team.