Melissa E. Riley, Owner & Principal of Native Community Development Associates (NCDA) Profile

Melissa E. Riley
Owner & Principal
Native Community Development Associates (NCDA)

Melissa E. Riley, Owner & Principal of Native Community Development Associates (NCDA) Certificate

“Make your fear a weapon to win.”

Melissa E. Riley, Owner and Principal of Native Community Development Associates, tirelessly served Native Americans and Alaska Native communities for years. This encompassed child protective services, intimate partner abuse, and other vulnerable person situations. She emphasizes that it is a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico, which has a rich history.

Melissa's upbringing on a Native American reservation, where she gained knowledge about her family's past as prisoners of war and their challenges in adjusting to life there, shaped her desire to become a helping professional. Despite feeling restricted and dissatisfied working for other organizations, she took a leap of faith in 2006 and established her own company, regardless of being afraid of potential failure. Although she acknowledges the need for dedication and perseverance, she has found immense satisfaction in running her own business.

As a minority woman and small business owner, Melissa competes with big organizations for funding and target groups, but she is fine with that. She understands that she won't win every bid or grant application, but it's satisfying to have a loyal client base and receive referrals. She believes that running a successful business requires good business practices like honesty, integrity, and accountability.

Melissa's grandmother, who owns a business and is successful in real estate, has imparted valuable advice to her about taking risks and not hoarding money. Her great-grandparents have also been inspiring role models, teaching her the importance of hard work, generosity, and humility. Wendell Chino, a tribal leader, has had a significant impact on her career; although he has passed away, his words and actions continue to influence her, reminding her to speak the truth, act with passion, and help others without fear. Overall, Melissa has been surrounded by wisdom and strength throughout her life.

Visits to the neighborhood and the development of human services programs helped Melissa become a more effective leader. Over the course of seven years, she learned to watch and listen before expressing her thoughts and goals. Melissa, a curriculum and instruction doctorate student believes academic knowledge and research are meaningless without empathy and learning from the people targeted. As her role evolved, she taught communities how to construct programs and offered ongoing support. Her knowledge and education helped her lead as an education executive director. Knowing she doesn't know everything and that servant leadership works best makes her a good leader.

Melissa also believes that using phone calls or virtual meetings is the most effective way to communicate with employees and customers because it reduces misunderstandings. She also ensures understanding by using a teach-back approach and interpreting tone and body language. She provides feedback to employees using an internal evaluation tool or contact form and addresses concerns promptly. She is committed to ethical business practices and effective communication with clients. When evaluating new business opportunities, she considers factors such as time commitment, costs, service goals, and a communication plan. Unlike her competitors, she prioritizes her clients' needs and avoids using generic methods in her evaluation services.

Melissa finds feedback for her services to be nerve-wracking. She regularly checks in with clients during the process to assess their satisfaction and address any concerns. It is helpful when clients proactively reach out for updates or to discuss their concerns, as it allows for prompt resolution. Positive feedback on the individual's LinkedIn profile has been received, which is motivating. Additionally, a final meeting is held with clients to discuss any important matters.

As stated by Melissa, effective leadership requires self-evaluation and the acceptance of one's talents and weaknesses. She feels a good leader unites people and gets their trust to finish the job. She's worked with insecure bosses that hurt the company's progress. Melissa also understands that leadership requires learning and development. She now considers her staff's emotions while making leadership choices after learning from her own experiences.

In order for her staff to interact with customers successfully, Melissa thinks it's critical for them to grasp the organization's mission and their part in it. She values and takes the time to talk to every employee and consultant to ensure their well-being. Regular check-ins promotes a team-oriented mindset, which has become even more important during the pandemic. Melissa recognizes the importance of mental health and self-care for her employees and enjoys engaging with them to ensure their well-being. Although it hasn't always been perfect, this approach is generally considered a best practice by Melissa.

It was when Melissa had three scientists on staff, so she only needed to contract one for a government contract. Two field investigations in a distant forest were needed to gather plant data. This was her first scientific research; therefore, she needed the correct team and methods. Melissa supplied her workers with tools and communicated consistently to finish the assignment. She feels that treating employees well and valuing their jobs makes them brand advocates. Melissa trusted her staff to communicate and operate properly with the customer even when she couldn't be there. Her team and their efforts helped the project succeed.

Although Melissa's team lacks software tools, she does significant study on trends and problems impacting communities both locally and nationally. This research informs her curriculum development and technical writing, particularly for grant applications. Her primary goal is to assist people, so she takes responsibility for staying informed through research.

Melissa is enthusiastic about her new project, where she creates educational materials for paraprofessionals in fields like social work and education. She will be testing her curriculum next year, and despite not everyone enjoying writing, she finds it exciting and enjoyable. She takes pride in knowing that her work can aid in workforce development and positively impact families. Additionally, her business will require aspects of organizational development like artificial intelligence (AI) and increased competitiveness in areas such as grant writing, training, and curriculum development.


Native Community Development Associates (NCDA)


Melissa E. Riley
Owner & Principal
Native Community Development Associates (NCDA)


Native Community Development Associates (NCDA) is a woman-owned, Native American-owned, small business that was created in 2006. NCDA has developed a strong reputation throughout the country based on quality work, honesty, and integrity.

Inspiring Leaders Magazine 2023