A child gets a polio vaccine in Nigeria, a homeless person in Chicago finds shelter and a hot meal or a teenage girl in Brazil is the first to finish high school in her family. These “little miracles” happen every day without big headlines thanks to the world of social philanthropy, a complex universe that requires the action of thousands of organizations working for the most inconceivable causes around the world.
The Edwin Gould Foundation (EGF) is one of 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in existence in the USA. And they happen to have a Latina at their helm, another little miracle that does not happen frequently.
“Women, and specially Latinas are not well represented in the philanthropic sector,” said Cynthia Rivera Weissblum, the EGF President and Chief Executive Officer. “It is traumatic the low level of Latinas in high level positions in the nonprofit sector,” she shared with LatinasinBusiness.us.
Under Cynthia’s leadership, EGF –an organization that helps motivated low-income students get to and through college– has also launched an accelerator for nonprofits focused on that same mission. The accelerator is a unique combination that includes incubation services, grant making and advocacy focused on improving educational outcomes for low-income youth.
“My own parents never made it to college so mentorship for me was –and continues to be– a personal challenge,” she shared. Her father was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and her mother in Coamo, Puerto Rico. They both moved to the United States and met in Manhattan, soon starting a growing family that lived in the Tri-State area. Her parents never attended college but they were very committed to putting their three daughters through higher education.
Mentorship in social philanthropy
As a leader in the foundation, she made her personal mission to mentor as many young women involved in advocacy in the New York region as she could. “As women, we have to raise awareness that giving everything we have to our families and our work, little is left for us,” she affirmed.
“I was delighted to become part of the New America Alliance American Latina Caucus because connections and mentoring are very important for Latinas. It is uplifting to be part of this group that is committed to define and support the power of American Latina leaders,” she said.
Talking one-on-one with mentors and finding a group of diverse people that can advise you on different aspects of your life and career is her suggestion to her mentees. “We need guidance and we need to build relationships that allow us to talk about everything that is of our concern, for instance, money, family or career.”
Unfortunately, she believes women still have it very hard in the work environment when it comes to career and family. Women are still seen as the parent responsible for childcare and caregiving, and many career opportunities are not offered to women for that reason.
“The 50/50 balance between men and women related to caring for their children is an illusion,” she said. “Your partner has to understand that it might come the time when the balance is 80/20 and they have to be ready to take the challenge,” she affirmed.
Male and female leadership in social philanthropy
Cynthia has built strong relationship with male mentors throughout her career as well because men have a different perspective on issues, she said. “Instead of being confrontational, we need to navigate through and nurture our relationship with men. Sometimes women we get on the ‘treadmill’ and just keep going; men can help us stop and see more clearly the complexity of a situation or given circumstances,” she noted.
Before her leadership at EGF, she served as Director of the New York State Mentoring Program, and later, as CEO of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), which developed SEO Scholars, one of the premier college preparatory programs in the country.
Cynthia currently sits on the board of Philanthropy New York, Year Up, Fund for Modern Courts and is a member of Hispanics in Philanthropy, New America Alliance and the Donor’s Forum, to name a few. She is a frequent television commentator and has lectured at Columbia University, the Philanthropy Roundtable Annual Conference, and the National Council for Community and Education Partnership. She will be a panelist at the 15th New America Alliance Wall Street Summit this October of 2015.