Announcing our 2021 Academy of Women Achievers Awardees

Initial honoree announcement blog post

YW Boston is pleased to announce our 2021 Academy of Women Achievers awardees. On May 25th we will once again come together to celebrate the achievements of five unstoppable women in Boston. We hope you will celebrate our Academy’s 26th anniversary and join us in honoring this year’s awardees: Betty Francisco, Karen Holmes Ward, Representative Liz Miranda, Altaf Saadi (Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Awardee), and Deb Taft.

Similar to last year, this year’s Academy of Women Achievers Celebration will be held remotely. There will be networking opportunities, and our awardees will speak in the form of a panel discussion. Latoyia Edwards, Emmy Award-winning anchor on NBC 10 Boston and necn, will join us as host. Tickets are free, with a suggested donation supporting our mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

Meet our 2021 Awardees

Betty Francisco

General Counsel, Compass Working Capital
Co-Founder, Amplify Latinx

Betty Francisco is a seasoned business executive, board director, investor and community leader. She has over 22 years of experience advising high growth start-ups, non-profits, life sciences, technology and health and wellness companies in the areas of legal, compliance, risk management, operations and human resources. The Boston Business Journal named Betty as one of the 2020 Power 50 – Extraordinary Year Extraordinary People, and in 2018, Boston Magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Boston.

Betty is currently the General Counsel at Compass Working Capital, a financial services non-profit that provides financial coaching and asset building programs for families with low incomes. She oversees the organization’s legal affairs and supports board development, human resources and strategic initiatives. She founded Reimagine Play, a startup that offers fitness programming for children and families in Greater Boston. Previously, she served as EVP, General Counsel for Sports Club/LA and Reebok Sports Club/NY, a national, luxury fitness brand acquired by Equinox Fitness. There, Betty built the company’s legal department and advised the C-suite and Board on all major business initiatives, development, and acquisitions, including the opening of a new club location and sale to Equinox. Betty began her legal career as a Senior Business Law Associate at Palmer & Dodge (now Locke Lord), representing start-ups, corporations and investors in financing transactions, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and general corporate matters.

As a corporate attorney, she has extensive business and legal experience negotiating and advising companies on mergers and acquisitions, debt and equity financings, licensing transactions and strategic partnerships. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Beth Israel Lahey Health, the second largest health care system in Massachusetts, and serves on the Nominating and Governance, Patient Quality and Community Benefits Committees. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest philanthropy in New England dedicated exclusively to education; the Board of Directors of the Boston Foundation, one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation; and the Investment Committee of Boston Impact Initiative Fund, which invests integrated capital in regenerative local enterprises. She is also a co-founder of the Investors of Color Network (ICN), which is building an ecosystem of Black and Latinx accredited investors to close the racial funding gap in start-up capital, a founder member of the Coalition for an Equitable Economy, and an angel investor with Pipeline Angels and Portfolia.

Betty is also involved deeply involved in the community. She is the co-founder and board co-chair of Amplify Latinx / Latina Circle, a non-partisan, collaborative movement whose mission is to build Latinx economic and political power in Massachusetts. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Roxbury Community College and the Board of Ambassadors of Eastern Bank. She is also member of the Federal Reserve Bank’s New England Community Development Advisory Council, The City of Boston’s Supplier Diversity Advisory Council, LISC Boston’s Local Advisory Committee and The Capital Network’s Advisory Committee.

She has received awards from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly – Circle of Excellence Award (2020), Top Women of Law Award (2012) and In-House Leader in the Law (2010); uAspire First Ones Honoree (2020); the Hispanic National Bar Association Leadership Award (2019); GetKonnected GK100: Greater Boston’s Most Influential People of Color (2018); State Street Corporation’s Community Award (2017); and Women’s Bar Association’s Pioneering Women in the Law Award (2017). She has been featured in Boston Magazine, Boston Business Journal, Boston Globe and Hispanic Executive Magazine.

Betty obtained her JD and MBA from Northeastern University, and her BA in History from Bard College. She is fluent in Spanish and resides in Dorchester, MA.

Karen Holmes Ward

CityLine Host and Director of Public Affairs and Community Services, WCVB Channel 5

Karen Holmes Ward is the Director of Public Affairs and Community Services as well as host and executive producer of CityLine, WCVB’s award-winning weekly magazine program which addresses the accomplishments, concerns and issues facing people of color living in Boston and its suburbs. Many notables including Oscar winners Regina King, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Octavia Spencer, Denzel Washington, Louis Gossett Jr., Barry Jenkins and Spike Lee among others have been interviewed by Karen for CityLineCityLine has been a recipient of the Associated Press Massachusetts/Rhode Island ‘Best’ Public Affairs Program and numerous Emmy nominations.

Karen also oversees WCVB’s public service and community outreach efforts including the station’s work on Five Fixer Upper, renewing and refurbishing common spaces for area nonprofits and Extreme Makeover: My Hometown, raising awareness about the need for affordable housing in the Greater Boston area. She was instrumental to launching Commonwealth 5, WCVB’s first-of-its-kind web-based initiative that promoted philanthropy by matching viewer-donors with non-profits via the Internet. The program’s success was recognized with a National Emmy Award nomination.  Karen served as Executive Producer for Return to Glory, a one-hour prime-time documentary hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor Andre Braugher about the famed Massachusetts 54th Regiment. Return to Glory was syndicated nationally and seen in over 80% of the country.  Karen was part of the team honored with a National Association of Broadcasters ‘Service to Community in Television’ Award for WCVB’s community service efforts during and following the Boston Marathon attack.

Karen has enjoyed a forty-year career in broadcasting including early stints as a writer at WEEI News Radio, News Director at WILD-Radio where she hosted a daily one-hour talk show, and a reporter at WGBH-TV.

A graduate of Boston University’s School of Public Communications (now COM), Karen has received honorary doctorates in humane letters and communications from Boston University, Cambridge College and Merrimack College. She was inducted into the 2018 Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed upon individuals for their outstanding achievements and unparalleled contributions to the broadcasting industry in Massachusetts.  She has received numerous awards for her work in the community including the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences ‘Silver Circle’ Award for Lifetime Achievement, Boston Jaycees Ten Outstanding Young Leaders Award; National Association of Black Journalists Region I  Journalist of the Year; Big Sister of Greater Boston Achievement Award; Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts President’s Award; Women of Courage and Conviction Award from the Greater Boston Section National Council of Negro Women, Inc., and MassVote’s ‘Champion of Democracy,’ among others.  Karen has been a mentor to dozens of nonprofit groups over the years, serving on boards and assisting them in learning how to use the power of television to advance their causes.

Representative Liz Miranda

State Representative for the 5th Suffolk District

Since elected in 2018, Elizabeth “Liz” Miranda has served as State Representative for the 5th Suffolk District of Roxbury and Dorchester. Representative Miranda currently serves on the Joint Committee(s) on Community Development and Small Businesses, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Veterans and Federal Affairs, and the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

In her first term, Representative Miranda has filed and passed legislation to reform policing and save black lives, improve racial disparities in maternal health, promote environmental justice within disproportionately impacted communities, and ensure a just recovery for micro-to-small businesses most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was the first legislator in the Commonwealth to establish a district-led community care program that assisted over 3,000 vulnerable residents in Roxbury and Dorchester with food security, housing assistance, unemployment assistance, and access to COVID-19 testing. As the daughter of Cabo Verdean immigrants, Representative Miranda has been a tireless advocate for the Safe Communities Act and the Work and Family Mobility Act, while leading the fight for an equitable recovery that includes BIPOC workers.

Prior to serving in the Massachusetts Legislature, Representative Miranda was a non-profit leader and community organizer, which began as a teen living in the Dudley Street Neighborhood through the Nubian Roots Youth Committee, the DSNI Board, Mytown, Inc., the Orchard Garden’s Teen Center. In 2017, Representative Miranda lost her 28-year-old brother, Michael Miranda, to gun violence. After her decades long advocacy for gun violence prevention, losing her brother was a catalyst in her entrance to electoral politics.

Her professional roles have included serving as the Executive Director for the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center and Director of Youth Opportunity Development at Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). Rep. Miranda’s career has aimed to build resident-led leadership and advocacy for youth development, violence prevention, and justice.

Representative Miranda is a Wellesley College alumna and proud graduate of Boston Public Schools, graduating from the John D O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. She currently serves as an External Advisory Board Member for UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, as well as co-instructor on UMass Boston’s Practitioner Scholars Program. Additionally, she most recently served on the Boards of Score4More,Inc., The Roxbury Historical Society, Union Capital Boston, and We Are Better Together, working to help end gun violence through trauma-informed community healing. She is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Boston Alumnae Chapter and the Wellesley Club of Boston.

Altaf Saadi

Instructor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
General Academic Neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital
Associate Director, MGH Asylum Clinic

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Awardee

Altaf Saadi, MD, MSc is a general academic neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center and Instructor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. She is also a faculty affiliate with the Mongan Institute, Associate Director of the MGH Asylum Clinic, and medical expert with the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network. Her research focuses on neuropsychiatric health disparities, immigrant communities including asylum-seekers and refugees, and addressing inequities through community-partnered and policy-relevant scholarship and action.  One of her projects focused on understanding how hospitals and healthcare facilities can ensure that all patients feel safe when accessing health care, regardless of their immigration status, exploring the concept of “sanctuary” and “safe spaces” in the clinical setting. This research, publicly available on, has been used by healthcare facilities nationwide to create more immigrant friendly healthcare spaces.  

Dr. Saadi has conducted forensic medical and psychological evaluations for people in the community and in immigration detention centers, partnering with human rights, legal and civil rights organizations like the ACLU. She has also assessed the medical conditions of confinement in immigration detention at facilities in California and Texas, including with Human Rights First and Disability Rights California. Most recently, this has involved serving as a medical expert signatory to Amicus Curiae briefs in lawsuits to ensure incarcerated individuals are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her academic and personal writing work has been published in JAMA, JAMA Neurology, JAMA Network Open, The Lancet, Neurology,the Washington Post, Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, STAT News, Boston NPR’s CommonHealth Blog, and Undark Magazine, among others.

Her commitment to racial and social justice has involved leveraging her expertise as a neurologist to explain how police officers have used junk science to defend brutality against young Black and Brown men. In influential Op-Eds and subsequent media coverage that included WGBH Boston NPR’s All Things Considered, she has spoken against the diagnosis of excited delirium and the use of carotid neck restraints by law enforcement.

Dr. Saadi completed her neurology residency training at the Harvard Massachusetts General Brigham Neurology Program, where she also served as Chief Resident. She completed her undergraduate studies at Yale College and earned her medical degree from Harvard Medical School, where she graduated cum laude and received the Dean’s Community Service Award. She is an immigrant from Canada, born in Iran, and of Iraqi and Iranian heritage.

Deb Taft

Chief Executive Officer, Lindauer

Deb Taft’s professional, civic and social justice leadership has created lasting impact in the education, healthcare, civil rights, and youth service arenas.

A longtime respected leader in the nonprofit sector, Taft is CEO and co-owner of Lindauer, a global search and talent firm serving nonprofits in the education, health and science, arts and culture, policy and advocacy, and civic and social justice arenas. She previously led domestic and global consulting practices for nonprofits around the world as Senior EVP and Managing Director for Grenzebach Glier and Associates in Chicago. Taft also served as Chief Development Officer and Interim Chief Strategy Officer for Girl Scouts of the USA in New York. As one of the most senior officers in this iconic leadership organization representing girls in 112 US councils and 94 countries, she played a critical role in transforming organizational talent, culture, and social impact, including leading the $1 billion ToGetHerThere campaign, the largest fundraising campaign for girls in the world, and the global alumnae initiative to engage 59 million former Girl Scouts. Taft held prior executive and senior roles at Simmons University, Tufts Medical Center and Tufts Hospital for Children, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, and Concord Academy.

Taft was one of the founding team members of City Year, which today has youth service teams in more than 31 regions across the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. She also serves on the boards of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, The Giving Institute, and the Human Rights Campaign Fund in Washington, DC, a role that includes serving as the lead volunteer for all of HRC’s LGBTQ civil rights efforts throughout New England. She continues to advance inclusion and equity in fundraising, philanthropy, and nonprofit leadership through her current work with Women of Color in Philanthropy (WŌC) and Allies in Action, Women in Development, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the AI in Advancement Council, and Giving USA. Taft holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and an MBA from Simmons University.


Learn more about each of these unstoppable women by joining us for our 26th Academy of Women Achievers Celebration.

May 25, 2021
11:30AM – 1:30PM
Virtual event




About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at