In episode 7 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton, nonprofit strategy consultant is talking to Cinthia Manuel.
We talked about:
• the challenges nonprofits face in trying to make their services more accessible.
• What to think about before getting started with community engagement.
• Why Cinthia thinks traditional mentoring is backwards.
Cinthia Manuel is the CEO and Founder of Autentica Consulting, LLC. She specializes in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Mentoring; and Multicultural Marketing. She is the proud daughter of immigrants and a first-generation Latina. She was named one of the 23 Business People to Watch in 2019 by the Portland Business Journal for her work contributing to communities of color through professional development, mentorship, and entrepreneurship. She is passionate about education and has worked with the Gates Millennium Scholarship Alumni Association, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and the United Negro College Fund. She is a TEDx speaker. She deeply believes that building strong communities is key to creating a powerful voice that drives change.
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Carol: So welcome Cinthia to the podcast. I'm really excited to have you. Thanks for being on.
Cinthia: Thank you so much for having me, Carol.
Carol: And just to get us started, can you tell listeners kind of how you came to the work that you're doing? Kind of what was your path? What was your journey?
Cinthia: Yeah, so I'll give you this super brief version.
But I actually started with a background in coding when I was like super young. And then I quickly, when I started doing internships in school, and in college, I realized that my other passion was marketing. And then I went on to do that for almost 10 years. And slowly, I ended up working for a health insurance company, a startup company that was in need of just, you know, people to come and get it going. And I had been working in the healthcare system and marketing for a few years at that point. And I said, absolutely, so I jumped on board and I got embedded into the startup world, I guess you can call it. And I was doing operations marketing and customer service sales outreach. And it was a really great way for me to explore what was out there and how my skills could be transferable in different areas. And so after that, what I really decided to enjoy in that job was how much I was connecting with the community and really transferring that information to develop the products and services we wanted to do. And so then later on, I ended up in another nonprofit organization. That was I had to set up a program for students at we were placing students of color in companies across the Portland metro area in Oregon, and I really was utilizing my negotiation skills or my strategy skills in that area and again, trying to bring onboard, what we were hearing in the community, what we're hearing from the business side as well as the students. A when I was having those conversations, a lot of the things that kept coming up was a lot and diversity, equity inclusion. And I was meeting with CEOs, VP, C's, etc. like managers in all different areas, all different industries. And they were asking us, well, how do we continue to have this conversation? How do we attract talent? How do we retain talent? How do we develop the talent? And I was like this is a little out of my range. And so then I decided to go back to school and get a certificate and a strategic diversity management from Georgetown University. Because I think I just wanted to have the lingo and be able to have those more effective conversations. And that's when I realized that that was truly probably one of the passions that brought together everything that I had learned in the past. And so now I am a consultant, I have my own company, I am Equity and Inclusion consultant and I love it so much because I have not only the freedom to be able to design what services I want to provide to the community that I care about, but also I'm able to continue to learn and be part of this bigger conversation that has happened in in the US.
Carol: And my listeners are generally nonprofit staff, board members, and association staff. And, you know, across our entire culture, folks are grappling with diversity, equity and inclusion issues and and we're recording this in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and it's only highlighting the huge inequities that are throughout our system, but for those organizations that are serving and wanting to I think people have been talking about this for a long time, but the progress forward hasn't been what we've, wanted, what would you say are the key kind of things that folks need to start thinking about and conversations that staff and board members need to start having?
Cinthia: Yeah, great question. Definitely think like you mentioned, this pandemic is kind of highlighting a lot of the areas where we still need to do a lot of work. I will say one of the key things you know, I mentioned a lot earlier, that going out to the community, and really talking to individuals. I think that one of the things when we implement policy, so great services that serve those in need. We often forget that there are inequities within those communities themselves. What I feel like I've seen a lot lately is policies that are like, they want to be equal, right? They want to be accessible. Yeah, that is one of the biggest things where they are failing, and accessibility. So I'll give you an example. Super quick. And this is more like a general example. But when we're talking about providing meals to students in schools they are saying, okay, you know, we'll give you the meals, we'll just come and get them at the school, but there are a lot of kids that don't have transportation to get to those sites. And then there might be only one. So a lot of the schools were saying, okay, we'll be open for breakfast, and we'll be open for lunch. So that means that they have to take two trips to figuring out if their parents are still working. What does that look like accessibility? The students that are special needs, what does that look like for them so I think one of the things when it comes to building policies or programs is really understanding the mix. Behind every single thing that could potentially affect somebody not being able to access some of the services.
Carol: Yeah, there's just so many assumptions built into, you know, the sudden move to okay students, all students are going to be learning online. Well, you know, what access do they have to a device that can access the internet? You know, what Wi Fi to folks have on the other end. I mean, it's just there's so many. I mean, we're having to make a really quick pivot, but at the same time, yeah, there's so many ripple effects.
Cinthia: Yeah. And I think especially when it comes to nonprofit because nonprofits are there to serve the community, especially right now in moments of crises and anxiety and stress. And also, I feel like we are uncovering a series of things that came along with what we're providing services for in those areas. And I think mental health is a big issue. Well, when it comes to how do you even process that you need some services? How do you know where to find information? I think a lot of the times, we also forget, what language do we want our communities to receive information from, like, my parents are mostly Spanish speakers. And right now, if honestly, if it wasn't for me and my sister who are home or English speakers, we wouldn't be there and wouldn't be able to get a lot of the information that they need. So I think that's another key thing. If you're an organization that is providing a service, you know, try to be able to help other communities even though they might not be your target market. And if you can bring language on board it, that’ll be a huge help for the communities too.
Carol: Right. So hopefully, organizations have a lot of those things set up already, but because it's hard to create all of that in a crisis, but it's so important. One of the things that you focus on Is his community engagement? What would you say is really key to effective community engagement?
Cinthia: Yeah. So when I think that, you know, I try a lot of different things, because I think one of the key components that I found when I was doing community engagement was gaining the trust of the individuals that I was actually trying to help or trying to reach out to. And that can make or break a lot of the programs that you implement. Because again, you know, I think nonprofit organizations, often we get an idea of like, you know, we see any, we want to fill it and we want to do everything we possibly can. And there are other organizations who are backing that up financially. But then we come to those communities and we're saying, Hey, you know, here we are, we're providing the service to you. And they might be like, I don't know who you are. Why should I trust you? And I think that sometimes organizations may spend a lot more time trying to gain that trust in services that have been kind of halted in some ways, when it should be all the way around, you should have gained the trust of the community you're trying to serve. And really be genuine. I think one of the things that I always talk about is authenticity. And people can read through your emotions and can read through your body language and your intentions. So I will say, be authentic, be honest, be caring and empathetic, but really gain that trust of that community to be able to really gain and extract their real needs that the community has and for them to be able to, to know that they can feel comfortable utilizing the services you're providing.
Carol: And almost being in partnership rather than being you know, a one down or that power dynamic of the organization. I think too many organizations, their first step towards you know, trying to center equity more is to start doing, if I haven't been doing engagement, taking that step. And just as you said without putting the people in the center and really starting to build that trust, it's going to feel, you know, it's not going to feel helpful to folks in the community. So what are some things? What are some practical things that folks can do to actually start building that trust?
Cinthia: Yeah, so one of the things I will say is that, so it might be, it may feel a little awkward, but, you know, so let's say that your nonprofit may provide meals, let's just stick with that. But I think that one of the ways to do that is to really engage in your community is to try to see if you can get engaged in other activities that our community cares about, other festivals where you need to be at, and not necessarily as a provider, not necessarily as the organization, building community. I think it's so important for them to see you for them to get to know other families for you to get to know people in the school district because a lot of times we don't realize, but healthcare organizations like hospitals or clinics, local clinics, especially, or schools are the ones who are sending individuals to specific organizations to receive the services. And so they are, they already have a build system, trust system with their community. So kind of going to them and saying, hey, we want to be part of this community. So how can we join you in this effort, right? And literally, you can even do events in the community for free but just information or like not not even selling their services at all. It's more about just saying, can I you know, can I join this organization and planting trees, can I go to an after school program and get to meet the families because once I've seen you people quickly understand and feel the connection. And like I said, I think a lot of the time we need to go to the source or what people are getting there, they already built it, they have a trust source from to, to just say, teach me about your community, right. Like, let me be part of this community. And I think the other thing, too, that I will say is when you're coming on, be yourself, don't, it’s not about the organization at a point, it's about the individual. And people see the individuals are part of the organization, which means that if they can trust individuals, they can trust organization,
Carol: Yeah, I think as you were talking that's definitely key what I was thinking about in terms of, you know, just remembering like to put away your organization hat and just remembering that it's person to person, communication and you're building relationship and
you know, just taking the time to have done your homework in terms of who else is already in the community where you can find allies where as you're saying people already have relationships and trust built, that you can build on. And then of course, you're going to have to build trust with those potential allies. But too often, I think, you know, we have so many small organizations trying to do great work. But they're doing it a little bit in a vacuum, and they're not seeing what else is, you know, what else is in their vicinity? Who else is doing work similar to them or maybe complimentary to them? And it seems like, I don't know we have such big systemic issues to work on that my hope for nonprofit organizations is to kind of get out of the idea of competition and really get into more of the idea of partnership and how can we complement each other. How can we, you know, work together, which is hard work. It's not easy to do collaboration. There's a lot of things that get in the way. But you know that that's my hope overall so that we can all have a greater impact. Where do you think organizations kind of make mistakes when they try to do that community engagement work?
Cinthia: What do they make ain't gonna really go along with what you mentioned earlier? That competition, right, I think is trying to say, trying to be driven by what they feel. They think the community needs, because a lot of the times I have had plenty of conversations in the nonprofit world with other nonprofits, especially healthcare, that was where I came from. And you know, people were saying, Hey, you know, we see this need, we see that people should get this in order for them to accomplish why, for example, in this number of organizations getting built and like you said there's already so much duplication of services. And also there are people then I think, to me, what it looks like is the more and more nonprofit organizations come up to try to serve the same community for the specific need, then you have people who are knowledgeable in that area is splitting it up into this nonprofit organizations, trying to help them come up, come up to speed or, you know, kind of build some momentum. And what happened, what happens is, yeah, you have this organizations that they're feeling in their heart, and sometimes based on the grants, that these are the services that they need to provide for our community that they might not really know very well or if they know very well, there may be their services that they're trying to provide are already a duplicate of other services that are already out there. I know in Portland a long time ago, when I was helping build, I was part of this organization that had nothing to do with nonprofits. But we were trying to provide data to them about homelessness, and how many people in Portland were homeless. And this is like four or five years ago. And so we started talking to all these nonprofits, about their services, because we wanted to compile them in one. We wanted to have a web interface where you can go in there and say, like, do you need access to showers who can provide access to showers, you need access to meals, like breakfast, lunch, and whatever. And what we started finding is what you mentioned earlier that there was a lot of application. And then the worst thing was nobody could keep track of an individual. So we were like, we were triple counting. Sometimes a person and one day, because one person will go to one place to get a shower. And then a few hours later, they will go somewhere else to get a breakfast meal. And then some morning on the afternoon we'll look at dinner and then the evening and then they’ll go there for shelter. And these are organizations who are saying, Oh, we have four people that utilize the service. Right. And in essence, it was the same person, but they couldn't tell it was the same person. So when they were applying to grants, a lot of the grants, were saying, well, we're seeing a huge intake on shelters. You know, because we have X amount of people asking for shelters, when in reality, it could have been the same person, but they just went to different shelters at different nights. So again, I think one of the things too, that I see a lot is when we're applying for grants. And like I mentioned earlier, sometimes the grants come with requirements or the saying, you know, we'll give you the money to do X. But you also have to make sure that you're collecting this other data. I think it's important to ask, when you're applying for grants, why are they? Why do they feel the need of that data is important or why do they feel the need to provide that additional service is important? Because I think a lot of times too, what happens is it distracts you from your reading your purpose and your real goal, because you're trying to meet the needs of the grant, the organization that is providing the grant, therefore, people feel are feeling overwhelmed, because they're like I gotta do what I feel is a need in my community, but I also have to meet the requirements for this grant, that, you know, is going to help us provide those services. So just, I think be really honest with organizations because as organizations that are providing the grants might not be in the front line a lot of the times and they're also going by what they, what data they're getting, what information they're being getting, as well, and it might not be the right. the right opportunity for a nonprofit that really wants to serve our community in a certain way.
Carol: Yeah, and of course, as you're talking about those data issues, and you know, there's been such a shift to try to shift from, you know, just counting output, so who showed up at what place of course, you know, there's huge privacy issues with with the scenario you just talked about. In terms of data, and, but also trying to as grant makers are trying to move towards helping organizations be able to measure their impact, that's a complicated thing. And it's hard, especially community based organizations for them to have the bandwidth. You know, literally and not literally, to take that on and really have a useful kind of data collection system that goes back to, and can feel like, right can feel like, kind of bureaucracy or, you know, why are we, why do we have to do this? Yeah. So, uh, you are a TEDx speaker, and your focus was on mentorship and you say that, that mentoring is backward. So I'm, I'm wondering if you'd like to talk a little bit about kind of, what do you think is baffling about the traditional approach and some thoughts in the mentoring area.
Cinthia: Yeah, no, thank you. Yes. So I did add TEDx on mentoring is backwards. So basically what I was coming from on that is that a lot of the times when we think about mentoring, we think, you know, we train the mentors, we're training the mentors for them to actually be helped them to be able to get to the next step. And what happens a lot is that, as a mentee, we feel like there's a couple things that are happening, right. So one, we're like when we asked for some support from a mentor, we respect them a lot. And we're also already grateful that they're giving us their time to engage with us. And so that investment is great but the mentor is trying to move an agenda based on what they think we need because we have come for the support. And so what happens is that a mentee is not being trained to actually manage their own mentoring relationship themselves. So we should be the ones, mentees coming to the mentor and saying, hey, Person A, I really need some support in this area. And this other skills are the time commitment that I'm asking for the support for me. And then the mentor should be the individual that we're asking for help from, she'll decide okay, so do I have the skills or the experience that this mentee is trying to go after, the mentor saying oh, I want to mentor you or companies saying so and so is going to mentor you Cynthia today when there might not be a connection in terms of understanding what my real needs are. So when I was saying the mentoring is backwards is because for the longest time, you know, we have invested so much money in companies and organizations and the community spend so much money meant like training their mentors to be mentored. But there's very little investment and actually helping individuals learn how to become mentees. Like, you know, for us, a lot of the one of the big questions I get is how can you really make the most of this? resource? Yeah. And you know what? Totally, and, like, a lot of us don't get training in high school or college about how to, you know, how do you plan your career? How do you understand all the skill sets that you have? How do you, you know, transferable skills. And I think it came to like, to me when I was working at the last nonprofit organization, helping students get placed into internships, I mean, they couldn't even sell them. And then when I said that they sell themselves as like, you know, they do the elevator speech, to really showcase their skill sets. And, you know, I was just like, we have not been taught to do that at all, like we kind of, we aren't on our own. And one of the big questions that I get asked all the time is, how do I, how do I ask someone to be my mentor and there was some way that the question keeps coming up all the time is because we are literally not trained to know and understand why we should be looking for a mentor that will work for us.
Carol: And I see parallels between, you know, our previous conversation where this is at the one to one level, right? It's about a mentor and a mentee. But if it's all about the mentor, and what can they provide, if you think of that, as the organization in the community, if you know that the traditional approach has been, it's all about the organization and what it can provide the community, let's flip that around and say, well, you know, helping and, you know, creating ways for the community say, no, these are the things that we need. And these are the things that the resources that we're looking for, in the same way that you want to help a mentee, you know, take ownership of that relationship and take ownership of you know, what they're trying to get out of it. Yes, it was interesting parallel.
Cinthia: Yeah, totally. I think a lot of people don't realize that right? Because for the longest time, I was one of those people that I can skip going to two individuals that were not only in a higher level position than I was, because I thought this is how you do mentoring, this is what we've been trained to do. We've been trained to look for those people that have the jobs that we dream of or have the profession that we want to go after. But in reality, like mentoring can be peer mentoring, it can be, you know, I took on my TED Talk, finding you're unlikely. So sometimes we get into relationships and relationships where there's not engagement because we feel like oh, well, the mentor doesn't really match with my style, or my expertise, and then the mentor thinks exactly the same thing. So that relationship doesn't really flourish as much. And then mentors are saying, you know, think immediately like, oh, that person wasn't into it, the person didn't when I get whenever we engage, when it should really be, they should really look at the other way, right? Then they can say, you know what, like, I'm gonna actually see why we're so on like in, and why can I actually learn from this relationship? Is there something that they know how to do really well that I don't? Is there information that they have that I haven't been exposed to? And so I'm trying to find, again, learning opportunities and those situations. And that's what happens. A lot of times, you have corporate programs, and they kind of match you based on the needs of the mentor, right? Like, when can the mentor meet where, you know, how much availability Do they have, you know, who's gonna leave that relationship? And that's why I think a lot of times mentors shy away from wanting to be mentors because they feel that our suitability is false within them. And the mentor mentee is suspected to kind of follow their lead, when again, it should really be all the way around.
Carol: Yeah, and I worked for an organization where we started out, the program started out as a one to one mentorship for emerging professionals in the particular field that that organization serves. And what we found over time is that it worked way better if we moved it to a group mentoring model. So we had a solid mentor, we ended up calling them coaches, you know, who had been in the field for a little bit longer, but then had a way of leading and facilitating a group of people. And so, you know, it gives you that many more chances to connect. Because when we did the first instance, where it was one to one, about a third of the people ended up having a great relationship, and they're probably still connecting with each other, you know, some maybe met one or two times but it didn't really work, and then it dropped off. And then, you know, maybe the other third never ended up getting in touch with each other. That just wasn't enough structure and kind of support for them all those tools that you're talking about. And it was so interesting to see that. Then we move to that group model, you know, you have that person who is a little further ahead, but then you also have the peer relationships being built as well. And so you know, they just have that many more chances to connect with somebody that many more perspectives. And the other thing that was really interesting, that we learned, we found worked better, which was surprising, was the assumption that at first when the when the program was built that, you know, we should be recruiting people who are super senior in the field, you know, they've been doing it for 35 years, you know, whatnot. And what we actually found was that people, maybe five to 10 years ahead of where those professionals were in there just that far ahead was a much better connection because they could still remember having to learn, you know, they could still remember, for the folks who have been in the field for so long they had long forgotten the experience of being new and having to go through that learning curve. So it was really interesting. All those assumptions that we had that we had to rethink.
Yeah, so, so I want to, at the end of each episode, I'm doing a little game with folks. I have a box of icebreaker questions. I'm really glad that other people have created lots of things like this, because even though I am a facilitator, it's not it's not my strongest strength. So I've got a couple questions here. And I'm just going to pick one. And so my question for you is, if you could solve one world problem, what would it be? Excellent question.
Cinthia: Exactly. So one world problem. I think it would be, oh, gosh, I will I think I'll be our. accessibility to opportunities when you graduate college. I think a lot of the times, like I mentioned earlier, that we don't prepare students enough, and what the real world looks like. And we expect them to act like they know automatically how they should survive. So for me, what I think is a world problem is because it does affect a lot of individuals and affects a lot of communities and I've been in that area for so many years and seen it repeatedly and even with myself as a first generation woman of color what that looks like. So I will say that will be the one problem I will want to fix is providing more real life experiences as you're going through college and high school. So then you know what to really spec and really know how to navigate the environment once you graduate in this and are able to be an adult.
Carol: I think that would be awesome. You know, I felt clueless when I was graduating about all of that. And you know, not a parallel experience in terms of being first generation. But you know, my mom was mostly a stay at home mom. So she hadn't gone through that. And I don't know, somehow we never got the memo of how to navigate so it took a lot of stumbling and a lot of meandering to figure it out. At the same time, I do feel like young people feel like they have to have it all figured out. And I think that part of that, part of your life is a little bit of that stumbling and meandering that where you learn, and you try different and I guess hope just hoping for folks that they're willing to try different things and know that, you know, over time, I mean, I feel like I'm, you know, I might have finally figured out what I'm supposed to do when I grow up. But yeah, it takes a while. It takes a wow, yeah, that would be a good one. So what are you excited about in terms of things that are emerging for you right now?
Cinthia: Oh, I guess what I'm excited about is, you know, really trying to figure out how to continue to find passion in what I do. Think you know, is it in the times that we're on right now with a pandemic, trying to really be creative and really dive into maybe, skills that I didn't really utilize as much in and connect reconnecting with people. I think that has been one of the things that I really have enjoyed the most is for some reason, you know, I always tell people like, oh, we'll come back we'll have coffee, we'll have learned. And you know, that happens very slowly. Because all the things that are on the way and with, you know, in this situation that we are right now, is like I'm automatically sending messages to people in the cyclists jump on zoom. And I think I'm learning so much more about individuals, how they're trying to cope with this situation. And it's helping me really understand a little more about who I am and, and really try to bring up a different perspective on how to look at things, opportunities, innovation, accessibility. And I think right now that just one is, is definitely a moment where I kind of feel that there's a lot of opportunity for growth. And it's also an opportunity for risk.
Carol: Definitely. So how can people find and get in touch with you? How can they find out about your work?
Cinthia: Yeah, thank you. So you can go to www.autenticaconsulting.com/ and that's authentic in Spanish and it's authentica. And yes, my website, you can find the things that I do there, you can definitely go to my LinkedIn is Cynthia Manel. And my Twitter is also Cynthia Manuel. So yeah, follow me as well. And, you know, hopefully we can connect and I'm happy to just have conversations about nonprofits equity, diversity and inclusion. I’m always happy to talk to new folks.
Carol: All right, well, thank you so much.
Cinthia: Thank you so much, Carol
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