Rutgers SPAA Panel Discusses Creating a Pipeline of Hispanic/Latinx Leaders in Nonprofit Organizations
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the 15th anniversary of SPAA, and the 75th anniversary of Rutgers University–Newark, SPAA hosted a panel on October 7 to discuss the importance of diverse representation for leaders in the nonprofit sector.
The panelists included Dr. Leonor Camarena, assistant professor at Rutgers SPAA; Victoria Fernandez (MPA'12), acting executive director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership and co-founder of The Nonprofit Professionals of Color Collective; and Carlos Valentin Jr. (BA'13), executive director of ASPIRA Inc., of New Jersey. Anna Agbotse (BA'20), SPAA MPA student and founder and president of We Are the Voice International, moderated the discussion after Sharon Stroye (MPA'06), director of public engagement at Rutgers SPAA, introduced the panelists.
When asked about the motivating factors behind selecting their respective career paths, the panelists delved into the experiences that shaped their current interests and passions. “The motivating factor in selecting my career has to be my upbringing,” said Valentin. “Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, I always believed in the most important capital in the city: its people. In my experience in dealing with the nonprofit sector, I learned that if I can develop a program to address an issue and raise the funding necessary to operate it, then I can impact the community much faster and more directly. And that’s one of the biggest factors of me deciding to work in the nonprofit sector.”
Fernandez said her motivation comes from her experiences growing up, when she decided she wanted to be part of the solution to problems and someone who “stays and does something” instead of leaving and letting the problems get worse.
Dr. Camarena traced her professional trajectory to her interest in public service as an undergraduate and the recognition that the field needs new voices and representation in the nonprofit sector, specifically at the executive level. “Through my experience as a practitioner, it really led into to my interest right now as a researcher and as a professor here at SPAA,” she said.
As the discussion moved to the benefit of the panelists’ public administration degrees and their alignment to their chosen careers, Fernandez said her MPA was “a key to unlocking a lot of doors,” and from a practical standpoint it “provided some greater insights to what I was already seeing in the sector and gave me a bigger context to understand not only what I was seeing anecdotally, but to put some theory behind it.”
For Dr. Camarena, this alignment was about realizing how pursuing degrees in the field could help her work within public service and how doing so allows you to advocate for yourself while establishing expertise in the field. She pursued her PhD having been encouraged to do so by an advisor, and talked about representation within doctoral programs and leadership positions in nonprofits: “From 2019, only 7.1 percent of individuals with doctorates are Hispanics, and of that, only 2 percent are women,” she said. She added that universities are important nonprofits, and if you look at leadership positions in these institutions, Hispanic representation is still needed.
Valentine mentioned how the MPA highlights some of the issues that are of growing relevance as the nonprofit sector grows, for instance the impact of technology and social media on outreach.
Representation and inclusion in the nonprofit sector were seen as key values by the panel. Dr Camarena spoke about the importance of inclusivity when it comes to representation. “Being able to be inclusive and seeing a representative group of individuals, in particular Hispanics like this roundtable is focused on, just goes to show that our voice is being heard and that our way of thinking and our values and how we organize ourselves is also being understood by the greater collective,” she said.
Representation is also important for service delivery, said Valentin, since the lack of representation can mean people aren’t able to access key services they desperately need. Nonprofits providing services to these communities need to establish trust through representation, he said. Fernandez said that this representation is needed not just at the ground level, but also at the executive and board levels as they dictate priorities and decision-making.
The panelists agreed that creating a pipeline by introducing the nonprofit sector to young people is key to increasing the number of Latinx students in the field. They also talked about examining the culture within an organization where increased representation is desired since it can establish that the organization is truly inclusive in its actions.