Jennifer Saha’s resume boasts of successes spanning the public, private, and voluntary sectors. Recently honored as one of Sacramento Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” Jennifer has served under two governors, overseen public sector councils for a large tech industry association, and even launched her own government relations firm. With such a wide breadth of experience, what is it about the Human Services IT Advisory Group (HSITAG) that lured Jennifer back into the nonprofit arena? In this interview, she explains that HSITAG isn’t just any nonprofit organization.
You’ve had an extensive and impressive career in the public sector. What spurred you to become executive director of a non-profit organization?
I don’t think I would have made the jump for just any association. I value and align closely with the mission and goals of HSITAG, and the work we do is still very aligned to improving the public sector and service delivery to citizens. As with every job or career endeavor, you have to be passionate about the mission of the organization and the work you do. HSITAG definitely checked those boxes for me and allowed me to apply my public sector experience in a way that is really helping the organization connect with government.
How did you first get interested in government policy and health and human services?
Both of my parents are public servants. My mom worked for the state for 25 years, and my dad was a police officer. I wanted to make a real difference after graduating from college and, to this day, I still think that working in government is the best way to impact our own lives, as well as that of our families and all citizens.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) side of it actually happened by chance. At the time, I was running a group of companies within a tech association looking at state government business and, honestly, HHS is the best-funded vertical in government. It’s difficult to look at improving government without touching HHS, as it directly impacts the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities. The incredible impact that governments have on citizens truly brings out my passion for improving government service delivery.
IT industry leaders like Amazon and CGI are HSITAG members. What does the organization provide to its members that sets it apart from other IT professional organizations?
HSITAG has a legacy that predates my involvement with the organization. It was founded almost 30 years ago and the name itself, while I often poke fun at the silly acronym, is well respected and known within the HHS government IT industry. Companies know it’s the place to be, and government leaders know it’s the place to find these companies. I’m just thankful to be a part of it and hope to carry on the legacy that all of these members have built over the years.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way HSITAG supports its membership and advocates for HHS technology in government?
HSITAG used to meet IN PERSON ten times a year, mostly in Washington, D.C., but also around the country, typically in state capitals. The membership really valued this in-person interaction and the opportunity to network with colleagues at and around the meetings. That has obviously shifted, and the group hadn’t met in person until just recently at industry conferences. Moving forward, membership will meet more frequently in person but the days of traveling to D.C. once a month for a meeting are over. We’ll have a hybrid model and do a lot more meetings virtually. It’s allowed the group to reach even further and recruit a more diverse pool of speakers, as it’s much easier to invite someone when they can just dial in.
In addition to a focus on improving the delivery of human services, HSITAG has also committed itself to giving back to the community. What are some of the most recent ways the organization has done that?
HSITAG members are passionate about charitable giving, with an entire committee of members focused on running several charitable giving initiatives throughout the year. The association used to do a lot of hands-on activities, but we’ve had to get creative through the pandemic.
In the past, HSITAG donated time and resources to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as provided care packages for children escaping violence or human trafficking. Members have also slept outdoors to raise awareness about homelessness and even volunteered for some hands-on time with foster children. Due to the pandemic, however, we’ve had to get creative with how we give back.
Over the holidays, HSITAG sponsored a nursing home that had been on lockdown and wasn’t allowing any visitors. We bought every single resident a Christmas gift to help lift their spirits during that time. We also ran a campaign in support of the National Association for Mental Illness. Our members always look for HHS-related causes and, throughout this pandemic, mental illness has been at the forefront of our focus.
How has Duran Kinst Strategies been able to participate in the work that HSITAG is doing?
DKS has been the machine behind everything HSITAG does, whether it’s supporting our website, invoicing members, onboarding and managing member relationships, or even updating social media. As an Executive Director, I could not have had the level of focus on the policies of the organization without the amazing team at DKS backing up everything I’m working on.
Thank you, Jen, for your kind words and for taking the time to chat with us about the important work HSITAG is doing.