The Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination (FIELD) at the Aspen Institute and the Capital One Foundation announced 12 community leaders names selected to participate as fellows in the Emerging Leaders in Microbusiness Squared (ELM²) program this year. These community leaders involved in different areas of microenterprise development have demonstrated potential for executive leadership and for creating real change in the microbusiness field.
Among them, four outstanding Latinos have made the list to carry on projects that will help grow, expand and empower their clients’ base.
Marla Bilonick, director of small business development, Latino Economic Development Center, (LEDC, Washington D.C.); Luis de la Hoz,vice president, lending team, Intersect Fund (New Brunswick, NJ); Leticia Landa, Deputy Director, La Cocina, (San Francisco, CA); and Gustavo PerezEugui, manager of lending, New England & Internet, Accion East and Online, (Boston, MA) were selected among the 2014 fellows.
ELM²’s goal is to expand the capacity of microenterprise development organizations that create opportunity for aspiring and disadvantaged entrepreneurs. The ELM² program is sponsored through a $170,000 contribution from the Capital One Foundation.
Applicants to the ELM² program had to put forward a leadership project to be developed throughout the duration of the fellowship. Joyce Klein, director of the FIELD program at the Aspen Institute, believes the program perfectly combines the Aspen Institute’s leadership and empowerment objectives with the FIELD program’s expertise in microbusiness development.
More than 25 million microenterprises in the United States play a vital role in creating jobs and building communities across the country. Organizations offering training, technical support and financial services to these microbusinesses are critical in supporting entrepreneurs who are fueling economic growth.
Born and raised Panamanian, Marla Bilonick worked throughout Latin America in private finance banking and consulting enterprises. She moved to New York City in 2002, and connected to her community shifting her focus to the non-profit sector. She applies her banking and finances experience to her position at LEDC.
Her organization attends primarily Latino business owners in the D.C. area, and offers 90 percent of its training in Spanish language. Her project goal is to create new synergies between the training and technical assistance team and the lending department.
“Many apply for the highest loan amount we offer without a true understanding of their financial needs or their cash flow limitations. Some do not have a breakdown of business expenses or need assistance with their credit report. They need help to do some work upfront, and we provide it. The idea is to connect both teams even further,” she explained.
Of Colombian origin, Luis de la Hozwas recently promoted to Vice President of the Intersect Fund’s lending team due to his outstanding performance. His ELM2 project will support efforts to expand and build a multicultural lending team.
“All minorities have poor access to capital due to language and cultural barriers,” de la Hoz said. “Our organization has grown to understand the important role Latinos play in the microbusiness sector. Now I want to expand this opportunity to all minorities, offering services that will allow a dramatic economic change in the way these businesses insert themselves in a formal economy.”
Born in Mexico, Leticia Landa recently transitioned to Deputy Director at La Cocina in the San Francisco Mission District. Leticia oversees La Cocina’s business incubator and the organization’s growing staff. La Cocina channels 45 small food entrepreneurs each year through their program with an average of 15 graduates per year.
“My project involves developing a strategic plan that will allow our organization to grow in a sustainable way. We are planning to open a new location in Brooklyn in the next one to three year period. We receive applicants from all over the world and they enter a 3-year program in which they learn how to build their business around our commercial kitchen,” Landa shared.
Only eight years ago, Venezuelan Gustavo Perez Eugui arrived to the United States to attend college. Since then, he has built a career for himself. Working for Accion East, he is in charge of the New England and Internet lending team. His project involves creating a strategic plan to increase the amount of microbusinesses they serve through the Internet.
“Accion does not have locations in every state so through our Internet services, we reach a vast amount of rural microenterprises working in very isolated circumstances. We served around 900 clients and disbursed over $7.0 million last year. We’d like to increase to 1000 clients and $9.0 million next year with the support of the ELM² program,” Perez Eugui explained.
All emerging leaders agreed that participating in the FIELD program was a unique opportunity to network among peers and share the knowledge, experience and resources the Aspen Institute offers. “The program provides an open environment to exchange ideas with peers and competitors and compare programs and strategies. We all learn from each other,” Perez Eugui concluded.
By Susana G Baumann
(First published on VOXXI February 2014)