Ep 162: Inside the Heart & Mind of a Program Officer (with Rebecca Cokley)

by Joan Garry

What does an ideal relationship between a program officer and a grantee actually look like? Experienced program officer, Rebecca Cokley, joins me in this episode to answer this frequently asked question.


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What does an ideal relationship between a program officer and a grantee actually look like? Rebecca Cokley, the program officer for the Ford Foundation‘s first-ever U.S. Disability Rights Program joins me in this episode to help us answer this very frequently asked question.

Maintaining strong and healthy relationships between program officers and grantees is vital when it comes to achieving a shared vision and positively impacting the communities you seek to serve.

Rebecca’s insights and expertise in the disability space are vast and her suggestions on how to support grantees are invaluable.

Tune in for her observations on how we can reshape the disability rights and justice space to be welcoming and inclusive to 20 million people who are suffering from the added repercussions of the ongoing crisis that is COVID.

Click play to learn:

  • How do you build your strategy as a program officer? (8:56)
  • What do program officers look for when choosing a grantee to advocate for? (14:08)
  • Should program officers meet with board chairs and executive officers? (20:55)
  • How does scaling a community compare to scaling an organization? (27:00)
  • What is the relationship like between a program officer and a grantee? (28:43)
  • What is the current state of disability rights? (39:27)


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About Rebecca Cokley:

Rebecca Cokley is a program officer in the President’s Office, developing the U.S. disability rights program strategy, the first of its kind at the Ford Foundation.

Prior to joining Ford, Rebecca was the co-founder and director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where she built out a progressive disability policy platform that both protected rights and services disabled people and their families depend on for survival, but also developed innovative solutions for the future including a proposed disabled worker tax credit and increasing access to capital for disabled-owned small businesses.

She was responsible for organizing a campaign that resulted in an unprecedented 12 Presidential candidates developing disability policy platforms. Prior to her work at CAP, she served as the executive director for the National Council on Disability where she worked on sexual violence on college campuses, policing reform, and the civil rights of disabled parents. A three-time Presidential Appointee, Rebecca served in key policy roles at the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a successful stint at the White House where she oversaw diversity and inclusion efforts for the Obama Administration.

Rebecca is a frequent speaker and contributor on issues of public policy and disability inclusion in the media and at major national conferences. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Contact Rebecca Cokley