Darius Graham Interviews Chike Aguh, Chief Innovation Officer at US Department of Labor

On January 20, 2021, Chike Aguh (Chee-kay Ah-Goo) was sworn in as Chief Innovation Officer (CInO) at the US Department of Labor, appointed by President Joe Biden. Reporting to the Deputy Secretary and also serving as Senior Advisor for Delivery, he leads efforts to use data, emerging technologies, and innovative practice to advance and protect American workers.

Previously, Chike launched the Community College Growth Engine Fund, a national multimillion dollar effort helping community colleges train thousands for careers in high growth fields. He has been a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center focused on the future of work and racial equity, Venture Partner at Maryland-based New Markets Venture Partners focused on workforce technologies, Council on Foreign Relations’ Future of Work Taskforce member, Lecturer at Columbia University and guest speaker at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.

Additionally, Chike has worked as an education policy official, Teach For America corps member, and teacher in America’s largest school system; Fulbright Scholar in Asia; director of corporate strategy and performance technologies at Education Advisory Board (EAB); CEO of a national social enterprise which helped connect 500,000 Americans in 48 states to affordable internet and digital skills; and Senior Principal and Future of Work Lead at the McChrystal Group, a business advisory firm founded by Gen. (ret.) Stanley McChrystal. He has written for or been featured in/at Forbes, Fast Company, Wired Magazine, FORTUNE, Harvard, Wharton, and the White House.

Chike holds degrees from Tufts University (B.A.), Harvard Graduate School of Education (Ed.M), Harvard Kennedy School of Government (MPA), and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (MBA). He is a former Presidential Leadership Scholar; Council on Foreign Relations term member; 40 under 40 honoree from Wharton and Washington Business Journal; and member of the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Board.

Additionally, he is a former advisory board member for Teach For America-DC Region, board chair for Baltimore’s Code in the Schools; Advisory Board Chair of the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund; and appointee of the Prince George’s County Executive to the County Commission on Fathers, Men and Boys. The first member of his family born in America, Chike is the proud son of Nigerian immigrants who modeled service and sacrifice daily. Chike, his wife and their two children proudly call Prince George’s County, MD home and are members of Zion Church.

Darius Graham is a lawyer and leader in the areas of philanthropy, social impact, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Across roles and sectors, Darius innovates within institutions, builds community connections rooted in trust and reciprocity, and leads organizations to growth and sustainability.

At the Weinberg Foundation, Darius guides the distribution of over $30 million in grants annually to nonprofits working across the areas of housing, health, jobs, and education in Baltimore and beyond. He is a Civil Society Fellow with The Aspen Institute and ADL and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. He also serves as a trustee, co-chair of the search committee, and chair of the public engagement committee at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Previously at Johns Hopkins University, Darius served as the founding director of two university-wide innovation and entrepreneurship programs (Social Innovation Lab and the FastForward U student innovation hub) where he helped students, faculty, and community members transform new technologies and novel ideas into viable ventures. To date, Social Innovation Lab has supported 110 ventures that have gone on to raise $80 million, create 280 jobs, and make a meaningful impact on the lives of many both locally and abroad.

Connect with Chike and Darius on LinkedIn

Interview questions:

Q1: Your career path and impact are impressive and includes serving as a 2nd grade teacher, an education policy official under the Mayor of New York, Fulbright Scholar in Thailand, director of corporate strategy, CEO of a national social enterprise, Head of Economic Mobility Pathways, Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Lecturer at Columbia University, and so much more. Is there a common thread or a singular goal you’ve been working to achieve through these various roles?

Q2: In 2021, you were sworn in as the Chief Innovation Officer at the US Department of Labor. The department has a wide range of responsibilities that includes administering federal laws related to occupational safety and health, wage standards, unemployment benefits, employment services, and economic data. Tell us about your priorities as the Chief Innovation Officer.

Q3: Frances Perkins was a workers’ rights advocate who became Secretary of Labor in 1933 and the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet. How does her legacy impact the work of the department and of your role today?

Q4: So much about our country’s (and the world’s) economy and workforce has changed over the past several decades. It used to be the case that someone could easily get a job at a factory, support a family, and move up the economic ladder. This just isn’t the case anymore and it hasn’t been for a while. Add in the pandemic and it’s really precarious for both workers and employers. What are some things you’re working on or that you see happening at the department or around the country to help us deal with these massive shifts?

Q5: In a prior role, you led a social enterprise that helped connect 500,000 low-income Americans in 48 states to affordable internet and digital skills. Now, you’re responsible for leading innovation at a federal agency that touches the lives of really every American. This is not small work. How do you approach this type of massive and hugely impactful work? Are there core skills or tactics that you’ve found helpful to master?

Q6: With all of your work nationally, you have made a point to be involved locally here in Maryland, in Baltimore City and your home of Prince George’s County. How does your work nationally relate back to these local communities?

Q7: You’ve spoken publicly about your family’s immigrant experience, particularly your parents coming from a small village in Nigeria to the US for higher education. And now, their son serves as a presidential appointee. Tell us about that journey and what that means for you now.

Q8: You’re the type of leader that we need more of across all sectors. Many of the people watching today are themselves in leadership positions where they have the opportunity to nurture future leaders. What advice would you give them about how to identify, nurture, and support young leaders?

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