Connect the Dots is super excited to welcome Alexandra Zazula as our newest Associate in Philadelphia. We’ve had a lot of fun getting to know her, so here’s a little Q + A so you can get to know her too.
Why did you join Connect the Dots?
Connect the Dots made it clear to me from the very start that they believe in what I believe in: collaboration, co-design, inclusivity, and (most importantly) people. When I started learning about Connect the Dots and their work style, I was particularly impressed with how they innovate the field of engagement itself by trying new tactics and adapting them based on the communities in focus. I’m all about big, bold, wild ideas — here, I’m surrounded by super creative and passionate women who take ideas that seem far-fetched and turn them into reality.
What did you do before Connect the Dots?
I have a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Most of my experience in community engagement comes from working with diverse communities in New York, Philadelphia, and El Salvador.
For the past two years I was living and working in San Salvador at a regional human rights organization called Cristosal. I worked on communications materials, designed infographics, and helped with some community development initiatives to support people who had been forcibly displaced from their homes by violence. Afterwards, I started working as a freelance translator providing editing and Spanish translation services to a network of immigrant-run organizations across Central America and the United States.
Before my time in El Salvador, I managed mapping and data collection for 7 waterfront parks for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation here in Philly, where I directly surveyed and engaged with over 1500 park users to hear what they loved (or didn’t love) about the spaces. In New York City, I worked for a Manhattan business improvement district where I managed large events in public plazas and used those opportunities to get feedback/ideas from visitors and local residents. I also worked at a community board in the Bronx, where I did grassroots organizing for small business owners and initiated a district survey program to collect/compile data about the district’s transit conditions, parks and gardens, vacant properties, and businesses.
What do you value most about your work?
When the pandemic began during my first year in El Salvador, I only made it through one of the strictest quarantines in the world by relying on my small community of local entrepreneurs and human rights advocates. Like so many others, I felt a massive distance from my family and my usual networks of comfort or support. The pandemic threatened to turn meaningful human interaction into a lost art — I believe it’s so important for us to work against that. I love that engagement is an opportunity to support communities and support one another through difficult processes of change and uncertainty. I do my best to be a helping hand and a listener through this work, and am constantly working towards the day when engagement is the first and foremost step instead of an afterthought.
When do you feel most like yourself and why?
I feel most like myself when I’m journaling, walking around open air markets, or reading books in parks and plazas! I like to remind myself that there are lots of beautiful things and people in the world.
I spend a lot of time thinking about…
Border politics (#AbolishICE), beer, and my cat Kimba!