Latanya Mapp Frett B.A.’91, MPM ’95

Photo of Latanya Mapp Frett by Bethanie Hines, Oakland, CA

Latanya Mapp Frett ’91, MPM ’95 is on a mission to create positive global impact. With a career that has traversed multiple continents, Frett’s advocacy has made a significant impact across various sectors including health, poverty reduction and child welfare. As she embarks on a new journey with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) as their next president and chief executive officer, her passion and purpose are palpable. 

Frett isn’t just a champion of human rights, social equity and gender justice professionally – it’s in her DNA, firmly rooted in her upbringing. Her childhood was filled with Jim Crow era stories shared by her grandparents. These were not just historical narratives to Frett, but windows into a not-so-distant past where discrimination and inequality were rampant. This shaped her world view and fueled her passion for creating a more just and inclusive society.

Frett credits her parents as her inspiration, as well as the indelible mark left by Justice Thurgood Marshall as the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court. “As long as I can get up and say that I somehow helped move an agenda, put more resources in, changed a policy, amplified a voice – all those things are what keep me motivated to do this work.”

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in government and politics and an African American Studies certificate from the University of Maryland, Frett sharpened her Maryland roots by obtaining a master's degree in public management and a law degree, a decision she attributes to a pivotal internship she held with the NAACP.

“I did the MPM and law degrees at the same time. By doing them together I got the best of both worlds – looking at it from both the legal and the policy side and how they intersect in ways that are incredibly important.”

After spending a summer as a Woodrow Wilson fellow studying public policy at Berkeley, Frett interned with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. This experience became a life-changing moment, granting her the opportunity to work alongside attorneys who were deeply engaged in the realm of public policy. “It was no longer just an idea," shared Frett. "Working with people who were doing it every day – whether they had a law degree or a public policy degree – they were all working together on the Hill toward one goal and that made it real for me.”

The NAACP internship allowed Frett to gain practical insights into public policy, laying the foundation for her future work. Her dedication to practical application remains evident today in her role as adjunct assistant professor of population and family health at Columbia University, where she places great significance on learning through real-world experiences. “Having real opportunities for practical application are things I strive to do in my class and are the things I remember the most,” shared Frett.

Reflecting on her educational journey, Frett emphasized her focus on public sector financial management. She highlighted the invaluable nature of acquiring skills in managing large budgets, navigating audits and fostering accountability within the public sector through her coursework. These skills proved advantageous right from the outset of her career, setting her apart from peers who traditionally lacked such knowledge when entering the workforce.

Frett's recent book, The Everyday Feminist, explores sustainable social impact. She emphasizes the vital role of philanthropy in driving movements for social change, particularly in supporting those on the front lines, and calls for a recognition of the need to allow movement leaders to set their own agendas. “Seeing ourselves as a part of the movement that follows the crowd in the march is just as important as whoever is leading that march,” explains Frett.

As she takes on this new leadership role, Frett is poised to leverage her diverse academic background and social policy expertise to further RPA’s mission of fostering a worldwide culture of giving. Drawing from her experiences in various social movements worldwide, she hopes to bring a unique perspective to drive change. 

Emphasizing the value of her education in law and public management and her interest in African American studies, Frett underscored the importance of uplifting these disciplines in pursuit of social justice. She emphasized, “Unlocking resources can push us closer and faster to a just society. I’ve seen it happen where resources are concentrated, where movements are supported and trusted. You see change happen overnight.” 

With her unwavering commitment and practical expertise, Frett continues to be a driving force in shaping a brighter, more inclusive future.

This article by Gina Driscoll originally appeared on the School of Public Policy's website. The photo of Latanya Mapp Frett is by Bethanie Hines, Oakland, CA.