Meet Violeta – Blandin Foundation Program Associate & Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow
April 13, 2016 by Blandin Foundation
Today we welcome Blandin Foundation Program Associate – Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow Violeta Hernandez Espinosa.
Violeta joined the Foundation in January 2016 as part of the Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship program out of the Minnesota Council on Foundations. As a Program Associate with Blandin Foundation, Violeta will help advance rural grantmaking in Minnesota while supporting the Foundation’s commitment to leadership capacity building and collective impact.
Violeta will be with the Foundation for three years and we can’t wait until you meet her. Until then, here are a few questions to get to know her better!
What can’t you live without?
Music, the Internet (I Google everything), coffee, corn tortillas, peppers, and my annual visits to see family in Mexico. I think all of these are pretty much self-explanatory but truly, without music and coffee, life wouldn’t be as fun.
What is your proudest moment?
Obtaining my bachelor and master’s degrees, as they are shared accomplishments. My parents brought me to this country as a child to have these kinds of opportunities, so happy to share that accomplishment with them, and I’m also happy to be representing the immigrant and Latino community in the U.S. while accomplishing my personal goals.
How did you get into your line of work? Or What do you love most about your job so far?
I have a deep respect for the field of organized philanthropy, rooted in my personal experience. Donors have funded some of my most impactful experiences in life, from leadership programs to my educational and professional experiences. I like to think that I am living proof that well-thought through interventions, programs and policies can open a world of opportunities for those who may not otherwise have access to them.
Yet some programs that transformed my life have since folded due to lack of funds. Part of my motivation for pursuing a career in philanthropy is a desire to ensure that these types of programs—programs that work—are sustainable and best tailored to those they serve.
My way into philanthropy, however, has been a journey of discovery. I join the field of philanthropy having worked in the private and non-profit sectors over the past eight years. I began my professional life with Cargill Corporation as a grain trader, managing market risk and the supply chain before becoming a Field Recruiter, where my role consisted of developing and implementing a field recruitment process for Cargill meat plants. At Cargill, I observed the inner workings of a financially-booming organization, but also saw the negative effects of some company decisions, which did not align with my values.
Feeling unfulfilled, I decided to shift to the nonprofit sector.
I then joined the Gustavus Adolphus College admission team and became responsible for recruiting students, with special responsibility for coordinating recruitment activities targeted at racial minority students. While the work at Gustavus was better aligned with my values, I wanted to test my passion for service and explore the field of development.
I left Gustavus when I received a Princeton fellowship to serve the non-profit Redes de Tutoría and the Mexican ministry of education where my role was to help bring to scale an innovative classroom-based teaching strategy in mostly rural communities. The opportunity allowed me to interact with programs on both the grassroots level of implementation, as well as the top level of policy-making from the Ministry of Education. Fascinated by the interplay of these two elements in bringing about positive social change, I enrolled in graduate school to allow myself a formal structure to continue learning about pathways to social change. My graduate studies in development helped me realize the level of influence that organized philanthropy has in shaping community programming and interventions.
This realization, combined with my work in diverse realms of the professional world and my personal experience with programs resulting from philanthropic institutions, bring me to this exciting juncture.
What does a vibrant rural community look like to you?
Having studied, for the past two years, what I believe is the equivalent of the concept of “vibrant” communities for my development degree, I had a hard time picking just a few aspects or features that make up the “ideal” vibrant community.
I ended up drawing a conceptual map listing ten or so factors that would create my vision for a vibrant community, along with examples. It is clear from my map that several of these things are highly interconnected, also something that resonates with my learnings from graduate school and my experiences so far.
In this last month or so, I have heard several references to the 9 dimensions of a healthy communities, a framework Blandin utilizes to guide our work, and while I have not yet been introduced to an in-depth description of each dimension, I observe that most of my envisioned ideals could be covered by these dimensions (I didn’t cheat, I drew the map before comparing!).
There are a few aspects from my map, however, that I would like to highlight, which include an accepting and active welcoming of people from all backgrounds, people working together to make things happen, and people maintaining local roots while also understanding global interconnectedness. Broadly speaking, I would call a vibrant community one in which all people in that community are generally “happy,” based on however they define that happiness (check out the World Happiness Report).
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