Amy Lestition Burke, the Chief Executive Officer of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), brings 24 years of expertise in association leadership, partnership cultivation, revenue development, and community engagement strategies. With a strong focus on uniting individuals to address common challenges and achieve shared goals, Amy has a proven track record of driving impactful initiatives, such as introducing new mental health certifications and fostering diversity discussions. As a dedicated advocate for the solid waste and resource management industry, she excels in connecting with key stakeholders, aligning actions with organizational missions and visions, and ensuring the association’s continued success. Committed to giving back to the association community, Amy actively shares her knowledge through presentations, committee involvement, mentorship programs, educational initiatives, and holds the prestigious title of Fellow of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). In her personal life, Amy finds joy in family time, exploring the world through travel, indulging in skiing adventures, and enjoying leisurely shopping experiences.

Amy Lestition Burke
Chief Executive Officer, Solid Waste Association of North America

Amy’s Story: Discovering My Passion for Associations

From the moment I started my career at the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives (GWSAE), I recognized and understood the value and power of associations within our society. With two degrees in international affairs, my career goal became to parlay my passion for associations with my enthusiasm for driving business globally. From the beginning, the associations and its leadership have encouraged and supported me to gain expertise, knowledge, and experience in the international association sector. It’s exciting to be leading the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), representing the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean as executive director and CEO.

At ASAE, I lead the creation of knowledge and supporting international association practitioners by serving as staff liaison to the International Advisory Council. During my more than 16 years at MCI USA, I embraced the global identity of the organization and leveraged colleagues around the world to expand my experience. Within MCI USA, I served many international associations, including International Technology Law (ITechLaw) Association, Photo Marketing Association, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA), Special Libraries Association (SLA), and International LGBTQ+ Travel Association.

Amy’s Approach: How to #InspireInclusion through Our Work and Actions

How do you #InspireInclusion in your interactions with association teams, leaders, or members? We’d love to hear about the strategies you’ve adopted to promote this important value. (#InspireInclusion is the motto of International Women’s Day 2024) Since I can remember, I have been surrounded by strong leaders, starting at home. My parents taught me the importance of giving back as they strove to make where we lived a better place through community volunteering. They also instilled in me that each day I need to deliver my best. As someone who started as a coordinator working for an association, I know the vital role each person plays on a team. I believe and live in servant leadership.

It’s from experiences like these that I’ve been able to create a culture of staff empowerment, starting with clearly articulating and painting the overall vision, importance, and desired results to the team. A culture of empowerment requires careful curation and nourishment, like the flower of Tan Hua. I train and elevate staff by providing professional development opportunities, shared learning exchanges, coaching, mentoring, and the space to brainstorm, generate, share, and implement new ideas. The Washington Post former Publisher, Katharine Graham stated, “To do the work you love and know that it matters; how could anything be more fun?” My career in the world of associations enriches my life. Each day, I look forward to enhancing connections with the team and members, and together working collaboratively to achieve results, advancing the association’s mission and vision and thus impacting society.

Amy’s Perspective: On the Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Associations

In my current role as Executive Director & CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are core values. As a leader, I am using my voice to identify opportunities for SWANA to play a pivotal role in instilling greater respect for centering the ideas and voices of those who have been typically underrepresented and from communities who are typically underserved. The 2022-2027 Strategic Plan has been created through a lens of DEI, moving SWANA to be an advocate for the profession and to foster a culture of belonging inclusive of diverse perspectives. By infusing a DEI mindset throughout the association, including its 47 chapters, we will be able to develop programming, services, and products that exceed the needs of the profession and magnify the profession’s voice.

Amy’s Initiatives: Actions and Inspirations for Fellow Association Leaders

Information has the power to do many things: to educate, to inspire, and to excite. When I served as the Executive Director of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) (2016-2021), I served as the leader and spokesperson for specialized librarians and information professionals who serve as the fact-checkers and storytellers of knowledge, working to combat misinformation and disinformation across institutions, organizations, countries, and cultures. Because of what they do, it is vital that they and therefore SLA, the staff team, and I were sensitive to and aware of the potential for cultural gatekeeping, unequal access, and other restrictive and/or discriminatory practices.

SLA is committed to equity—in access to information, in availability of opportunities, and in the treatment of members, industry partners, and all with whom the association engaged and interacted with. In 2017, I led the creation of the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force as a call to action, responding to North Carolina’s HB2 legislation, a « bathroom bill » that included various discriminatory provisions. Under my direction and leadership, the Task Force issued recommendations for creating a more welcoming organizational culture that was implemented in 2018 – including forming a Diversity Inclusion Community Equity (DICE) Caucus.

Following this, I led SLA to intensify its commitment to what is now called the DICE Community with a renewed focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Open to all SLA members, DICE develops and shares resources to promote equity in the association and the profession and provides a safe space for open discussion of these topics. An SLA-wide survey was created to capture the voices and experiences of SLA members, determine the extent to which members feel SLA is inclusive, and identify the level and types of discrimination that occur within SLA.

Through listening and collecting information, guidelines were developed to promote diverse speakers and panels and a checklist of webpage guidelines to ensure that webpages are more inclusive, accessible, inoffensive, and usable across SLA’s more than 80 components. SLA is hosting DEI-focused magazine-article reading groups; providing guidance on land acknowledgments; and currently creating SLA’s new mentoring program through a BIPOC perspective.

Our DEI efforts have already shown tremendous progress: 17% increase in speaker diversity across all SLA learning offerings; 5% increase in BIPOC representation among SLA volunteer leadership roles; 100% increases in both DICE online community membership and posts in the DICE online community; and 700% increase in DEI learning programs. Our DEI initiatives will continue to strengthen as the conversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion evolve.