Gabriella Morris has recently formed Connective Advisors, LLC, focusing three decades of leadership, experience and service in the nonprofit and corporate sectors into an integrated, comprehensive consulting practice. Connective offers a broad range of expertise to the public, private and independent sectors, including strategic planning, governance, fund development, philanthropy, networking and inclusion. Gabriella most recently completed over 26 years of service in senior legal, philanthropic and community relations positions at Prudential Financial, while volunteering on many national, state and local non-profit boards.
For more than seventeen years, she served as President of The Prudential Foundation and Corporate Vice President of Community Resources. In these positions, she directed all aspects of Prudential’s interface with communities, national and global philanthropies, non-profit organizations in addition to government, business, academic and community thought leadership. This included oversight of philanthropy, contributions, social investments, employee volunteerism, community relations and business diversity outreach.
Under Gabriella’s leadership, Prudential made significant contributions in policy and funding for education reform, youth leadership and economic development in local, national and global arenas. A champion of excellent educational opportunities for all children, she has demonstrated leadership on a wide variety of policy issues, including standards and accountability, school funding fairness, quality child care, adequate school facilities and universal pre-school access and curricula, reflecting the best research on brain development and learning. She has led the establishment of public education foundations and school advocacy organizations, supported alternate teaching and learning models and after school programs. She has been tapped to lead school superintendent searches and to serve on the state board overseeing the deployment of state school construction funds.
Gabriella and her team established one of the first charter school lending programs in the nation, supporting “education entrepreneurs” in their quest to improve educational outcomes for children in need. The program has supported more than half of all charter schools in New Jersey, and the nation’s largest and most successful charter school developers and intermediaries including LISC, the California Charter School Fund and KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program). She supported the development of environments and programs that support high achievers, particularly the expansion of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gifted and Talented students, in response to the Dodge Foundation’s expose’ “No Place to be Smart.”
She built Prudential’s reputation on the national education reform stage following leadership in establishing New Jersey’s first Statewide Education Summit, which resulted in the development of new state standards and broad, community-based dissemination. It also led to leadership by Prudential’s CEO on the National Governors Association and Business Roundtable in education efforts around standards and STEM education.
Her belief that children thrive best in functioning families led her to expand Prudential’s grant making strategies to include work opportunities for young adults, parents and improving living environments. Her policy involvements have been as varied as welfare to work issues, establishment of workforce investment one-stops and community economic development and revitalization. She honed her knowledge and involvement in the field of community economic development as a board member of the National Community Development Initiative, now Living Cities, an historic collaboration of private foundations and financial institutions now more than 20 years old. As Chair of the group, she led Capital Hill and thought-leader meetings and convenings to advocate for funding for comprehensive community development. These efforts were precursors to the development of Hope VI and Promise Neighborhood initiatives. She and her team demonstrated leadership in the field by investing with the Enterprise Foundation in the redevelopment of the Eastlake neighborhood of Atlanta, which became one of the first actual Hope VI projects. They further applied developing theories around placed-based strategies to create the Prudential Neighborhood Partnership, which for nearly a decade focused on improving neighborhood-designed outcomes rooted in community-based and community-led planning. It is now a well-established programming approach by noted philanthropists.
She has supported the further development of neighborhood empowerment programs globally in partnership with the United States Fund for UNICEF. Using the principals of community-led partnerships, she helped bring planning techniques to major favelas in Rio de Janeiro. These techniques were also used in Mexico City to help young people plan their futures through new education opportunities. She also worked with UNICEF to conduct research leading to new policy directives supporting universal education as a means of improving economic outcomes.
Gabriella and her teams also developed the Prudential Young Entrepreneurs program to train young people to be self-reliant and proactive participants in our economy. She built on this work by initiating a national entrepreneurship training pilot program with the National Urban League. She helped support and establish Youthbuild organizations in New Jersey, Brazil and Mexico, as well as local construction training programs. Building on the success of other collaboratives, Prudential was a founding funder of the National Workforce Collaborative, bringing best in class workforce training programs to light and to scale. Other support programs, including the development of Prudential Positive Parenting in partnership with the Child Welfare League of America, EITC support programs with The Children’s Defense Fund, and several “parents as first teachers” programs with Sesame Workshop complemented these efforts.
In addition to focusing on the “drivers of change,” Gabriella included other quality of life funding in the portfolio, including the development of programs supporting arts and arts education, child advocacy around Kid’s Count research and data, community health and HIV/AIDS. She pioneered many technical assistance and capacity building programs and opportunities for non-profit organizations, mission critical for the health of the sector. This included introduction of competitive social entrepreneurship opportunities with Community Wealth Ventures and a branded “Breaking the Gala Addiction” program. She evolved Prudential’s philanthropic mission and strategy to align with its expanding global footprint. She was instrumental in establishing community involvement as an essential part of Prudential’s employee value proposition, with signature programs like Global Volunteer Day, Community Stewardship and Volunteer Match.
Gabriella joined Prudential as an associate regional counsel in the company’s Newark Realty Group Office, which managed all real estate investment activity in the eastern region of the country. She assumed various management positions in the legal department before assuming her role in Community Resources. Prior to joining Prudential, she served as counsel to The Southland Corporation in Dallas, Texas and Associate Counsel with the law firm of Baker & Botts in Houston, Texas.
Long involved in the non-profit sector, she assumed her first volunteer position at the age of nine, supporting her mother in launching a local Head Start program in Houston, Texas. She joined her first non-profit board, a mental health agency, as soon as she finished law school, and has continued to serve on numerous boards, agencies and public sector committees. She currently serves on the boards that reflect her interests and passions, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Women’s Association, the Newark Trust for Education, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. She has been a founding board member of many organizations, including New Jersey Performing Arts Center Women’s Association, United States Artists, the Newark Trust for Education and Brick City Development Corporation.
Gabriella received an AB in Architecture and Urban Planning, as well as a Certification in African-American Studies, from Princeton University, and a JD from The University of Texas School of Law. She has received professional certifications from Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program in Corporate Social Responsibility and from Stanford University’s Center for Social Innovation.