Spotlight on Alumnae: Vivianne Mbaku ’09 Strives to End Homelessness (with a Little Help from Her Friends)

For Vivianne Mbaku ’09, one of the best parts of graduating from Scripps is the tightknit alumnae community she became part of after commencement. That includes working alongside two other Scripps graduates, Jin Lee ’06 and Melanie Biles ’18, at Inner City Law Center (ICLC), a nonprofit law firm where she is an attorney.

ICLC provides free legal services to veterans, the working poor, and individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Mbaku and her team of seven attorneys help their clients procure government assistance and benefits—a complicated process that often requires navigating complex legal issues.

Biles spent a year as a Legal Assistant at a pharmaceutical law firm before joining ICLC. She encountered ICLC after an interaction with Mbaku at the Scripps Politics Association’s Student-Alumnae Mixer and was impressed by Mbaku’s work. Biles’ main roles at ICLC include tracking data, increasing efficient technology use, designing and implementing systems of organization, and assisting at partner agency trainings. Lee joined Inner City Law Center’s Public Benefits team in September 2017 as a senior staff attorney. Prior to joining ICLC, she worked for Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles where she specialized in CalWORKs, CalFresh, General Relief, Social Security benefits, and more. Lee, as a public benefits advocate, believes strongly in decreasing the stigma associated with receiving benefits and in increasing access to benefits for the most vulnerable.

“Everyone here is incredibly passionate about working at a nonprofit and dedicating their lives to helping others,” says Mbaku, who was a Latin American studies and politics major at Scripps before attending law school at the University of Utah’s S. J. Quinney College of Law.

While she acknowledges that helping vulnerable populations navigate a complicated bureaucracy can be challenging, Mbaku says that the payoff makes it well worth it: “To see a person experiencing homelessness now living in their own apartment because of our work is very gratifying.”

Biles attributes her time at Scripps as immensely beneficial to her day-to-day work at ICLC where empathy, strong work ethic, sense of humor, responsibility, and service are integral components of her work. She affirms that Scripps instilled in her an empathetic spirit and a sense of responsibility for one’s community.

Mbaku also credits her Scripps classmates with inspiring her work at ICLC. “The women who go to Scripps are committed to improving the lives of others in their communities, whatever path that may take,” she says.