In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re featuring female-led organizations and talking to their leaders about their work and the importance of having women in leadership positions. Today we speak to Koube Ngaaje, Executive Director of the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH).
DASH was founded in 2006. At the time, there were fewer than 50 beds in the city dedicated to domestic abuse survivors. In 2020, DASH connected over 3,000 adults and children with safe housing, advocacy services, safety planning, and community resources to live safely away from the threat of violence. A 44 percent increase from 2019.
DASH is now the largest safe housing provider for domestic and sexual violence survivors in the national capital region. DASH believes strongly in self-determination and meeting survivors where they are. They work to eliminate the barriers that prevent people from accessing safe housing. Their individualized approach helps to ensure that survivors have the tools and skills they need to create and maintain safe homes, strictly on their own terms.
About Koube’s background
When asked to describe herself, Koube says her three words are “African, Woman, Child of God.” Originally from Cameroon, Koube’s full name means “Gifted Warrior Born of Wealth.” She sees this name as a manifestation of her lineage and a part of who she is supposed to be.
Koube’s family moved to Texas when she was 13, and she later graduated from Baylor University. Koube began her nonprofit career after moving to Washington DC in 2007 to get a graduate degree in forensic psychology. Before DASH, she was the Chief Operating Officer at the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Koube joined DASH in 2017, taking over from the founding director.
Before taking the job, Koube spent over a year working with an executive coach to truly determine her mission in life. She discovered that her mission was to provide dignified and accessible services to families who needed her help.
About Being a Woman in Nonprofit
Koube’s mother started a women’s empowerment center in Cameroon, leading Koube to feel like she was “born and raised” in the nonprofit world. The “family of matriarchs” who raised her, mentors, and sorority sisters anchor her, reinforcing daily that she is surrounded and lifted by incredible women. DASH’s constituents are primarily women of color, and Koube is proud to be part of a support system for them.
Koube believes that nonprofits are the system the world counts on to take care of social issues. She finds it annoying that nonprofits are not given the credit they deserve for being sophisticated businesses. As she says, “Nonprofits are corporations with a soul.” Koube sees parallels between the ways nonprofits are regarded and how women, particularly women of color, are regarded. As a young woman of color in a leadership position, she uses her voice and power to change some of those views.
When it comes to representation, Koube notes that while many nonprofit leaders are female, the same is not true in philanthropy. Having more women and more women of color, participating in funding decisions is essential to furthering nonprofits’ missions.
Although the issue is serious, Koube has a humorous example of the different expectations people have of men and women. Over email, many people misread her name as Kobe, and assume she is male. They are often surprised when a 4’11” Cameroonian American woman shows up to negotiate instead of a man.