Q & A with Nicole Licata Grant, director of the Avangrid Foundation
New Haven Biz talks with Nicole Licata Grant, director of the Avangrid Foundation, the charitable arm of Orange-based energy firm Avangrid, the parent company of United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas, Connecticut Natural Gas and others. Grant discusses how she made her way from New Haven to the global market and back again.
Q: What is the goal of the foundation and how has it impacted the New Haven area?
A: The foundation invests in four main areas that include education, art and culture, environment, and programs that benefit the underserved. The foundation is more than corporate sponsorships. It is mission-driven for impact aligned with Avangrid values– like a commitment to clean and sustainable energy – but applied to social investments and action broadly.
We are inspired through partnership with our local companies, many with more than a century-long history of giving back to their communities.
As a global company (majority-owned by Spain-based Iberdrola), they could have looked anywhere in the world to lead the foundation, but they hired in their backyard, which says something about intention.
Q: You were born in New Haven. What did you learn living here that assists your work at the foundation? What does it mean to be a dedicated New Haven community member?
A: New Haven is more than home. It was my education. I went to public school, graduated Yale, left and came back. It took leaving to understand what this community means to me and how lucky I am to be part of it. New Haven has always been a center for artists, inventors, entrepreneurs and agitators alike. You can be anything -- and everything -- here. It is also complex and fractured and unequal for many residents. I felt all of that and I wanted to do something about it.
I wasn't born into New Haven royalty – not the blue-blood kind or any other clan - but I realized that New Haven offers a lot to draw from, to be inspired by, and that being a 'townie gownie' comes with some street cred that's worth doing something with. Most recently, I have deepened this understanding on the boards of organizations like Capital for Change and Christian Community Action. Now, being "dedicated" means being a steward of resources - time, treasure and talent - personally and professionally for the benefit of the community I love.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your travels and how they led you to this path?
A: I have always had a foot in two worlds – the traditional and something not that. I got the adventure bug early and started taking every opportunity to live, study and work abroad as soon as I could find the supports to do so.
Yale further set me down a globally-oriented and socially-engaged path. I later earned a master's in international relations with a focus on energy/environmental policy and development economics, solidifying my love all of things international, economic, service and science. I went on to become an energy economist for the U.S. government on diplomatic assignment to the Middle East during a time of active conflict.
I made the jump to humanitarian work soon after and spent years in and out of the Middle East, Eurasia, Africa and Latin America working in international development. Having set up a "home base" in New Haven to sort through my many selves after a divorce, when I got the opportunity to "do good" at home, I jumped at the chance.
A few years and a merger later, I find myself working locally and globally, focused full time on philanthropy and not-for-profit operations in the energy industry. I'd like to say I had a plan all along, but it was far more organic, authentic and bumpy than that.
Q: How can foundations play a part in the success of an energy company?
A: The Avangrid Foundation was established in late 2015. Internally, the foundation is culture-shaping and unifying. Externally, we are independent from the company, which means that we can take some risks around hard issues that impact us locally and beyond, like disaster preparedness, climate action and human rights. We help leverage the innovation, the human capacity and the reach of the company to be a collective force for good. But this is not just goodwill. It is good business. As a nation our social safety net is increasingly weakened, and the barriers for people to achieve full productivity remain high.
So in addition to connecting people by poles, wires and pipes, we also create the sustainable communities in which we live, work, provide and importantly, receive benefits and services. We strengthen the company globally by stewarding some of the organizational and individual commitment as part of this unique social contract that makes U.S. persons and companies collectively among the most generous in the world (wherever you give your time, treasure and talent).
Q: What are some of your favorite places in New Haven? Where do you hang out on a sunny day?
A: You'll find me in Fair Haven, one of the most underrated and underappreciated neighborhoods of New Haven. My partner and I recently bought a historic home and are trying to figure out how to be stewards of it. I often find myself outside getting a history lesson from one of the neighbors. I like to procure and prepare food from a local eatery and share it with neighbors and friends who come by for coffee. Our home is always open and always busy.
Fair Haven is diverse in geography, culture, demographics and economics. It is old New Haven personified. Yet, it is new too, still being the first point of arrival for many of our newest citizens. Mostly, Fair Haven has grit and it has charm, which are two highly valuable qualities in any living breathing thing. Especially a city.