Meet Two Leaders Uplifting Future Hispanic Generations

Meet two leaders strengthening pathways to success for Hispanic communities

The United States annually observes National Hispanic Heritage Month between September 15 and October 15 by celebrating the multifaceted cultures that are represented within Hispanic communities. While the majority of Hispanics in the United States — some of whom may also identify as Latino — have an ancestral connection to Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America, thousands of identities are represented within the larger group. 

This year, Capital One is celebrating the many patterns of perspective, fibers of language and layers of legacy built by many, as a way to support one pan-ethnic community for the “what’s now and what’s next.” Together we co-create, and together we join to celebrate the many individuals that come together to form one beautiful mosaico

We are proud to work with and place a spotlight on two leaders in the community who are working to strengthen and build future Hispanic leaders. Dr. Antonio R. Flores, President and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), has long advocated for improving access to post-secondary educational opportunities. Similarly, Marla Bilonick, President and CEO of the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), heads up support for member organizations to gain access to funding, nonprofit resources and professional development to build thriving communities.

Prosperity For All 

When Dr. Antonio Flores arrived in the United States at the age of 25, he didn’t speak much English. In spite of having to learn a second language, Flores completed his master’s degree and a Ph.D. He later became the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)’s president and CEO. As an immigrant from Mexico, Flores learned about the educational system organically by working at various institutions and the State of Michigan. Those formative years made him a natural fit for HACU, whose mission is to champion Hispanic success in higher education through its 488 colleges, universities and school districts located in 35 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and nine countries in Latin America and Europe. 

In his mind, Flores considers college graduation to be the beginning and not the end of a journey for students.

“Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) serve very large percentages of students of many national origins and racial backgrounds, so these places are microcosms of the American experience,” said Flores. “I succeeded despite growing up in a farming community where the highest education children received was the fifth grade. As HACU president, I want to ensure that we’re continuing to build this country with prosperity for all in mind.” 

Part of HACU’s mission is to help prepare the next generation of diverse leaders in higher education to ensure students have a diverse community at their college campuses. In 2022, HACU will welcome 39 fellows into its fourth cohort of the Leadership Academy, a program preparing professionals for leadership roles in the full spectrum of institutions of higher learning with an emphasis on HSIs and Emerging HSIs.  

“Most of these young people at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are first-generation college students,” said Flores. “For me, that means they’re already leading the way and setting the tenor for future generations. These are the people who are getting the necessary credentials and opening doors for those coming behind them to achieve even greater success. We have a chance to help them through internships and leadership programs and that’s what we’re committed to doing so that they can make a difference for many others who may be less fortunate than they are.” 

As these studies and anecdotes have shown, increasing the representation of diverse teachers and leaders in education could bring a culturally responsive understanding of students, which in turn, can help to influence their academic outcomes. The data on academic achievement is clear: the more education one obtains, the better their prospects for earnings and employment, according to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet senior roles in education are the least diverse, with those who identify as Hispanic representing only 8% of leadership, 6% of CEOs, and 8% of board membership at education organizations, according to a NewSchools Venture Fund report

Part of Capital One’s wraparound support of HACU’s mission includes a grant to help HACU provide leadership expertise for Florida International University (FIU) and the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM) leadership and administrators as a way to close career readiness gaps for undergraduate students. 

“Capital One’s investment in HACU, especially as it relates to efforts involving FIU and UPRM, is central to our mission,” said Flores. “To support the advancement of Hispanic success in higher education through the Leadership Academy is a tangible way of helping institutions themselves advance. Their most important asset is not necessarily money, but people. If you have the right people for the right leadership challenges, chances are that you will succeed.”  

The Latino Economic Engine

Ms. Chavarria, Jenny, and Lillian have one thing in common: the mothers are all striving towards financial stability. The organizations where they seek out help also have one thing in common: they’re members or grant recipients of the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), a national network of 190 mission-driven organizations spread out across 43 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. As part of its mission, NALCAB has been busy addressing affordable housing, investment in Latino-owned small businesses and neighborhoods, financial coaching, and policy advocacy to advance racial and economic justice, affordable housing, gentrification, supporting the growth of small businesses, and providing financial counseling for credit-building and homeownership. In particular, NALCAB President and CEO Marla Bilonick is constantly “ears to the ground,” listening to her member organizations discuss the local needs of low- to-moderate income families and individuals they serve. 

As someone with over 20 years of experience in small business development, community-based financial services and international aid, Bilonick has always been intrigued by the entrepreneurial spirit and how different environments and support systems could help people succeed or fail. Working with small businesses during the September 11, 2001, disaster recovery period, Bilonick grew to understand that even the best businesses with creative plans couldn’t necessarily survive without resources and information. That lesson, she said, laid the foundation for her passion to work in community economic development. 

“These days, I like to get as much input from other people since I find that great ideas exist outside of me,” said Bilonick. “Coming together as a group to unify organizations and listen to their concerns allows NALCAB to influence programming from the government and chambers of commerce. At NALCAB, I get to work with entities looking to grow their local communities. Because I don’t face the end beneficiary of my work, the member organizations help me understand what constituents are saying every day.” 

This year, Capital One is supporting NALCAB’s efforts on three separate national initiatives as part of NALCAB’s mission to advance economic mobility for Latino communities. Those initiatives include:

  • The Pete Garcia Community Economic Development Fellowship to support next-generation Latino leaders in the community economic development field

  • The LEAD Fellowship Program, a new initiative which seeks to train Latino leaders in the asset-building space

  • The National Alliance of Latino CDFI Executives (NALCE), also a new effort that will  allow Latino-led Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to learn from one another, attract investment, and amplify advocacy for equitable policy to support growth and expand impact 

A McKinsey report recently showed that Latinos and Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States, with the highest rate of entrepreneurship of any ethnicity. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Latino-owned businesses generated $500 billion in annual revenue and employed 3.4 million people. Yet Latinos can face discrimination to securing financing to start and scale businesses, often having to rely on high-interest, high-risk sources. That’s why NALCAB has stepped in to help its member organizations ensure their constituents can thrive as best as they can. 

“Having intentionality when we serve Latino communities and community members where NALCAB members are located is very important to me,” explained Bilonick.  “The Latino economic engine is very powerful. If you want to stimulate the U.S. economy, this is the community you have to invest in.” 

The three initiatives all true back to Bilonick’s hope to serve a new generation of leadership excited to work in community economic development. “When we took a look at what’s missing to support emerging Latino leaders, we realized that it’s training tailored to executives,” said Bilonick. “Our program aims to bring cultural competency to the table. We want to bring all the diverse thought leaders into the executive level and we’re developing a curriculum for our fellows to become CEOs for the next generation. Our Capital One partnership feels unique in that there is a lot of dialogue, and it is very community oriented.”

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