By Carmela Castellano-Garcia
President and CEO of the California Primary Care Association
I have been President and CEO of the California Primary Care Association (CPCA) for 23 of its 26-year history as the leading voice for California’s 1,300 community clinics and health centers. When COVID-19 hit California, it tested many things about our organization, including our ability to be nimble, member-responsive, and outcome-driven during an unprecedented public health and economic catastrophe. Overnight we had to become a virtual organization, while at the same time our industry was facing financial devastation as shelter-in-place orders discouraged people from seeking non-emergency healthcare. Because our members are paid for face-to-face visits, they have taken a huge financial hit.
Becoming a virtual organization was easier than I had imagined, primarily because we had made some important infrastructure decisions years ago. In 2016, we moved our servers to the cloud in a move that was disruptive and unpopular at the time. We’ve always contracted out our IT needs, and while it’s more costly, it meant we had top-notch IT support which certainly served us well here. Because we had implemented a telecommuting policy as a staff retention effort years ago, we were ready for this change.
COVID-19 changed our organizational priorities in an instant. Instead of planning for our future, we immediately focused on the survival of our industry. In order to do this, we needed to change what most of our staff was working on in a significant way, which led to a complete change in our organizational structure. Within one week of going virtual, we reconfigured ourselves from a departmental structure to one based on small, project-based teams within larger issue-specific pods. Focused on the needs of our members, we were able to deploy staff based on their skill-set, not based on their department or job title.
We also had to look at adjusting our annual budget. We are a nonprofit that relies heavily on membership dues, in addition to grants and other sources of revenue. With our members facing economic hardship, we needed to look at how that might also affect our own financial viability. We immediately revised our annual budget and made the critical decision that we would prioritize people – our staff. As a result, all other areas of our budget were drastically cut, eliminating almost all discretionary spending and travel, and we are now operating much leaner than we ever have. We feel good about our decision to keep our staffing intact as it is in our best interest as we keep an eye toward the future.
As the organization’s CEO, I have found that having a strong leadership team in place during this crisis has been a saving grace. They serve as a tremendous brain trust as we think through and implement these important changes. Having a strong leadership team has meant that I have been able to focus on what was most important when I needed to, and pivot between emerging internal and external priorities. I am able to do what I do best while my team is able to do the same. I am so very proud of what we have been able to do at CPCA, both in meeting members’ needs and being nimble, in these trying times.
Castellano Family Foundation Trustees and Grantees at Blueprint for Action Convening
A Call to Action
Yesterday, the Castellano Family Foundation (CFF) made a bold move. We released an insightful report and made a “call to action” to Silicon Valley requesting a $50M investment in the Latinx non-profit sector in order to uplift, empower and advance the Latino communities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. To those of you who know my parents and the founders of CFF, Alcario and Carmen Castellano, it should not come as a surprise that our family would launch such an ambitious and unique initiative and seek to build a bridge between the philanthropic sector and the Latino community. This initiative is the culmination of the more than 50 years that my parents have modeled an inspiring example of what it looks like to believe in your community, love your community, and dedicate your life to advancing your community through volunteerism, leadership, mentoring, and philanthropic giving.
As far back as I can remember, my parents played a leadership role in advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and in promoting Latino education and culture. As a little girl, I recall my parents advocating at school board meetings for the diversification of the teaching staff at our elementary school in West San Jose. When my younger brother started at the same school a few years later, his kindergarten teacher was Japanese-American. It wasn’t lost on me that this had happened because of my parents. I remember when my dad called the San Jose Mercury News, insistent that they to hire a Latino on their editorial board. Any public opportunity my father had to push this issue – he did. Finally, Joe Rodriguez was hired by the Mercury and he served as an opinion writer for many years. I couldn’t help but believe that my Dad’s pressure was part of the process that led to that change. My dad also played a leadership role in the San Jose GI Forum, a Mexican-American veteran’s organization that for many years organized the Cinco de Mayo and 16th of September fiestas in San Jose. He organized art shows in the San Jose Convention Center for years, which displayed the artwork of local Latino artists and featured Mexican folkloric dance and music. My father also videotaped over 20 fiestas and has the only historic record of those incredible parades and street fairs, which brought record numbers of people to downtown San Jose. My dad has always been a workhorse AND a mover and shaker. That is a very powerful combination.
Cinco de Mayo Documentary featuring footage from Alcario Castellano
My mother similarly played a leadership role in advancing diversity and Latinos during her forty year tenure as an Executive Secretary at San Jose Community College (SJCC). She was a leader and role model for the staff and students at the college, having served as Classified Senate member and President. She was a founding member of the College’s Affirmative Action Committee and in 1969, she wrote the college’s first Affirmative Action guidelines. She was a co-founder of the Latino Education Association at SJCC, an organization formed to support Latino students and advocate for Latino employees. She has also served on the board of directors for several Latino non-profits including the Latina Leadership Network, the Chicana/Latina Foundation, the Latino Community Foundation, Los Lupenos de San Jose, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture.
Building a Foundation
These are just a few examples of the lifetime of dedication my parents have committed to elevating and advancing the Latino community of San Jose and beyond. Given this record of accomplishment in leadership and their devotion to Latino causes, it was perhaps destiny that when my father won the California State Lottery in 2001, the first thing my mom told me when they called with the news was that they were going to start a Foundation and share their good fortune with the Latino community. Seventeen years later, the Castellano Family Foundation (CFF) has provided grants to more than 200 non-profit organizations in Santa Clara County in the areas of arts and culture, leadership and education.
My parents’ journey as philanthropists has allowed them the opportunity to take their message of empowerment and inclusion of Latinos to a national level through their involvement in the philanthropic sector. For more than a decade, my parents travelled all over the country attending national philanthropic conferences and supporting any opportunity to advance DEI issues. My parents were the only visible Latino family Foundation at these events, and people noticed. It was not lost on philanthropic leaders that my parents were advocating for their community – walking the walk as they talked the talk.
My parents also got involved in state and national efforts to diversity philanthropy. My mother was a member of a committee involved in the development of Assembly Bill 624 (Coto), an effort in the California legislature in 2008 led by the Greenlining Institute that sought to compel philanthropy to report DEI data with the goal of increasing investments in communities of color. When a compromise was stuck and the bill was withdrawn, my mother was a founding member of D5, the coalition formed by philanthropy to self-report diversity data. She spoke on multiple panels over the years about the CFF model of community-based philanthropy, the importance of investment in Latinx non-profits, and the need to diversify the staff and boards in mainstream philanthropy. During one plenary presentation at the 2006 Council on Foundations conference in Miami, Florida, my mother called out philanthropy for the lack of investment in the Latino community, citing data from the report by Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) which highlighted the fact that barely over 1% of philanthropic dollars were going to the Latino community. She made people uncomfortable and her veracity was challenged during the Q & A session that followed. She held firm and she held up the HIP report. My mom is a rock star in public AND behind the scenes she was single-handedly running the Foundation with my father at her side.
Chronicle on Philanthropy Conference 2017
In 2011, my father stepped down as Trustee at CFF and along with my siblings, Armando Castellano and Maria West, I also joined as a Trustee along with my mother. Building on my parents’ legacy, and each bringing our own unique perspectives within the non-profit sector to the table, we sought to build on the community-based grant-making model my parents had started, with a fresh perspective and a view to the future. This new dynamic model involves the Trustees directly interacting with and knowing the grantees, a streamlined grant making process that removes barriers, a staff that is there to engage and support grantees with an emphasis on core support. In an effort to look toward the future, we embarked on a series of focus groups to both listen to and learn from our grantees. We wanted to know the challenges they faced with philanthropy, and we wanted to hear their input on how the CFF could help influence philanthropy to break those barriers and build bridges. Through this series of focus groups and grantee convenings, we received a rich set of feedback that brought to light a myriad of challenges faced by our grantees. Most significantly, there was a sense of being undervalued, underfunded and overlooked by mainstream philanthropy. This input compelled us to take action – a call to action – for Silicon Valley philanthropy to invest more deeply in the Latinx non-profit sector in its own backyard.
Castellano Family Foundation Board Meeting. Facilitator Teresa Faye-Bustillos, CFF Trustees Maria West, Carmen Castellano, Carmela Castellano-Garcia, and Armando Castellano, and Angie Briones CFF Program Director
All of the CFF’s efforts to date led us to yesterday – an historic event for our Foundation, our grantees, and the Latino community. The Castellano Family Foundation, a very small but mighty philanthropic organization, joined forces with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) – the largest community foundation in the world with $13.5B in assets in 2018 – to call on Silicon Valley philanthropy to do more. Erica Wood, SVCFs Executive VP, Community Impact, was by our side as we joined with our grantees and the community to make this important call to action.
A Blueprint for Change
We are asking for Silicon Valley Philanthropy to invest $50 million over the next five (5) years in Latinx leaders and causes to achieve better outcomes for the community at large. This initiative will establish a funder collaborative housed at SVCF that includes community involvement, creates a leadership program for Latinx non-profit leaders, and will seek to educate mainstream philanthropy on the unique challenges and opportunities within the Latinx non-profit sector. It is our belief that through this partnership, an increased investment in our community will have an exponential impact and change the way mainstream philanthropy values and interacts with our constituency.
Yesterday marked a pivotal step in the next phase of my family’s philanthropic journey. I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it is to be in a position to carry forward my parents’ legacy in this manner. To see how their lifetime of dedication can inspire others and mainstream philanthropy to do more for the Latinx community. This is what CFF was built on, what has guided us for the last 17 years, and is a tradition we will carry forward for years to come. I am looking forward to the partnerships that will evolve from our call to action and I am confident – that like everything else that involves my parents – we WILL continue to have an impact.
Castellano Family Foundation Trustees, grantees and philanthropic leaders call for a $50 million investment in Latinx-led organizations in the Silicon Valley.
For more information on the work done at the Castellano Family Foundation, visit http://castellano-ff.org/blueprint
As a long-standing social justice advocate and lobbyist, I have been asked by others how to be an effective advocate in the halls of Sacramento or our nation’s capital. I was recently reflecting on this upon my return from Washington, D.C., where thousands of community health center advocates descended on the Hill to advocate on issues important to community health centers and the patients we serve – including the reauthorization of our federal funding for the next five years. Community health centers have a very successful track record of securing bipartisan support both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. The importance of our advocacy and our successful track record got me thinking about what makes our organization and our members’ such successful advocates for the health center movement. I’ve outlined five fundamental things I think are important in being the best advocate you can be and I will tell you how they relate to my own experiences.
Know your subject
One of the soundest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten, and continue to pass on to others, is to come prepared with knowledge in a given area and have the research and/or data to back it up. If you have the information and the proof to back it up, you are that much more credible and become a valuable resource for people in the future. Whether you are meeting with a city council member or a member of Congress, the same rules apply – know your stuff! While community health centers are burdened with significant data requirements from federal and state government and health care payors, one of the great advantages it affords us is that we can tell our story – including how many patients we serve, their income, ethnicity, insurance status, and languages spoken, among other important data points. This is powerful data that helps us build our case with elected officials.
Strength in numbers
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there is nothing more powerful than having a large number of people united in their advocacy on the same issue at the same time. Even though coordinating a trip out to D.C. or a lobby day in Sacramento is challenging and cumbersome, showing up and making your voice heard en masse, is a great way to have an impact. California health centers continue to show up in great numbers to D.C. for national advocacy efforts led by the National Association of Community Health Centers. Year after year, California has the largest delegation. We show up because it’s important and we know that size does matter when you are wanting to get your issues to the forefront with decision makers. There truly is great strength in numbers when it comes to advocacy.
Coordination is Key
Building on your strength in numbers is ensuring coordination between everyone involved. Here in California, that means working with both our regional consortia and individual members, as well as our national association to make the splash that we want when we show up in D.C. and Sacramento. Managing our meetings, coordinating handouts, ensuring we know who will be talking about what, and building off of trusted relationships in a coordinated way are all important components of successful advocacy. If you go into a meeting with ten people, there should be a plan in place so that everyone understands the goal of the meeting, who will take the lead, who will present on issues, and so forth. Also, if it is a large group, the data used should be consistent and the “asks” should be consistent (although both may vary depending on which side of the aisle you are engaging with). Coordination is key.
Quality is as important as quantity
While the sheer number of people advocating with you is important, having the right people is also significant to your efforts. When advocating for health centers, we often ensure we have providers and consumer board members (patients) there to tell their stories first hand – in addition to health center leaders and staff. Hearing from those on the front lines and hearing from patients that directly feel the impact of policy decisions is very powerful. Never underestimate the effectiveness of who you involve in your cause. One thing I have come to realize is that for our cause, doctors and patients are some of the most effective spokespersons in front of policy makers. Who is the most effective spokesperson for your cause? Make sure they are front and center.
Build and foster relationships among diverse groups
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly three decades of doing this work is the importance of building and fostering a diverse set of relationships along the way. Join coalitions, network with like-minded individuals, go out and march and rally with others to build a successful network of advocates that can help you in your efforts as well. Also, step outside your comfort zone of like-minded individuals and reach out to beyond your base to build broader alliances and seek wider support. We are so fortunate to have built such strong ties to both our national organization – the National Association of Community Health Centers- as well as our Regional Associations of California (RAC) which join us in fighting at the local, state and federal levels. Going outside of the health center world and partnering with other allies in health care and beyond is equally important. The broader the coalition that supports your issue, the more likely it is that your issues will be paid attention to by policy makers. For community health centers, having relationships on both sides of the aisle has been key to the success of our advocacy and it has required fostering and developing relationships among a diverse group.
At the end of the day, all of these factors play an important role in successful advocacy. At CPCA, we are fortunate to have dedicated staff and resources to facilitate our advocacy efforts. But I have certainly been involved with smaller advocacy groups that have less staff or are volunteer-based. These organizations are able to put together successful advocacy programs as well. Whether you are a single person, a group of volunteers, or a large organization – I hope you find these tips helpful in becoming the best advocate you can be for your cause. And above all else, being passionate about the issues you are advocating for is probably one of the most significant pieces of this work. Not only will your passion shine through when you speak about these issues, it will also keep you going when you get knocked down –which trust me, will happen from time to time. As long as you believe in what you are doing, are passionate in your convictions, and stay in it for the long haul, you can go far.
There is nothing quite like a young professional with potential, high aspirations and a yearning to make a difference. But how do you turn aspiration into opportunity, and then turn opportunity into success? I recommend these five tips for young professionals of promise looking to turn their dreams into reality:
Listen and learn: I know that you’re well educated and have a lot to offer in the workplace, and I understand that sometimes your older colleagues might seem to you like old-fashioned digital
dinosaurs. But your more experienced colleagues have a lot of wisdom to impart. Take the time ask questions, share ideas and learn from elders and superiors what has been their formula for success. It
might not end up being the exact path you take, but you can always adopt some of the strategies of those who went before you into your own journey.
Work on weaknesses: The sooner a young professional identifies their weaknesses the sooner they can start addressing them head-on. Once you’ve identified your blind spots, you can work to improve upon them, or even surround yourself with folks whose strengths complement your weaknesses, and vice versa. It is always a positive to know what’s missing from your tool box. Because then, you’ll know how to make steps to fill the gaps.
Charting your path: From the outset, you’ll want to be strategic about where you want to end up and mindful about what you need to get there. Be intentional about your career, learn what kind of leader
you are early on, and start plotting the steps to achieve your dreams as soon as possible. The clearer the goals you set for yourself, the more likely you are to reach them.
Financial fluency: Don’t ever fear the math, because it will impact you in so many ways. Good credit and a solid understanding of finances can be absolutely key to achieving your dreams. And be sure to keep a solid handle on any student loans that might come your way. Far too often we see people mired in debt that they had not sufficiently vetted beforehand. Keeping a keen eye on your finances will
benefit you every step of the way. And remember: It’s never too early to start planning for your retirement.
Work ethic: Excellence, commitment, intentionality, and reliability. These are the four tenets I have applied in order to get to where I am today. Not only will these qualities help you when challenges fall
into your path, they’ll also ensure that you work smarter and not harder – making your journey much more manageable.
A young professional who focuses on self-awareness, preparation and discipline will be best suited to respond when opportunity knocks. Make sure you are training yourself accordingly so that you can take
it to the next level when your chance arrives.
Navigating your career into the C-suite requires intentionality and dedication. You’ll learn a lot about yourself as you master how to overcome barriers and seek out opportunities. Ultimately, if you stay focused and make the right moves, you’ll find that you’re prepared when opportunity knocks.
Here are a few tried and true tips for making that journey to the top:
- Do the work, build the skill sets – I know this from experience: If you want to be an effective leader later on, you must develop expertise in your field today and continually build on that experience. Hands-on employees will better understand their team’s needs and concerns as they find themselves in top positions down the road.
- Know your strengths, AND your weaknesses – Ultimately, a leader should want to build on existing strengths while acknowledging and addressing weaknesses. It’s okay if you’re not a star at everything. Few—if any—people are. One of the tremendous benefits of the C-suite is that you’ll have the opportunity to build a brilliant, complementary team around you that can fill in gaps where you could use some help.
- Master the business side – Don’t focus solely on the mission and fail to master the business/finance side of your organization. Dive in on the finances, revenue growth and strategic leveraging opportunities from the onset. Educate yourself early on what makes the numbers work for your business and the sky will be the limit once you’re in the C-suite.
- Build your network and find a mentor – No matter your industry, a timeless key to success is making genuine connections with other professionals. You never know who may end up helping you along the way—or, even better, who you may help move ahead. Always make sure you’re building your professional community, and keep an eye out for a potential mentor who has been down your path before and is willing to help guide you toward your dream leadership role.
- Learn from mistakes – Challenges will occur on your way to the C-suite. That’s okay. Even after you’ve made it, you’re going to continue to experience learning moments. In fact, once you’re in that leadership role, it will be more important than ever to commit to your own personal growth and development. Keep learning and growing.
- Take calculated risks – If you approach your career from a place of fear, it will only hold you back. A discerning risk-taker can advance him- or herself and an organization in ways a timid one cannot. However, be sure to keep the right people around you to carefully analyze risks and help you take the right chances at the right times.
- Put your best foot forward – If you commit to excellence in your work and stay positive and optimistic about your future, then you’ll find you have more opportunities than you might have ever imagined.
- Be proactive – That dream job of yours is simply not going to fall into your lap. You need to scope out opportunities for advancement and be willing to make that move. Make sure you are always striving for excellence, regularly making that ask, and shining bright like a diamond.
The road to the C-suite will be paved with potential for growth. If you work hard, keep an eye out for opportunities, and stay positive and proactive, there’s no telling how far you’ll go.
For most of us, achieving our dreams will not be reached through hard work alone. We all start at different stations in life, and for those who may come from more challenging circumstances, solid guidance from established leaders can make all the difference in the world.
We see it in boardrooms and c-suites across industries: Women and people of color are grossly underrepresented. According to research, women hold under 25% of senior executive titles in the United States, and there are just 4 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. We never had a Latina Fortune 500 CEO until last year. How can we, as leaders, help even the field?
In my experience, I’ve found that people in positions of power can be a part of the solution by mentoring young people of diverse backgrounds looking to positively impact the community.
Without a mentor, young women and people of color often do not see themselves in the faces of the existing leadership in their fields. Implicit biases affect everyone, and surely result in communities and industries missing out on some remarkable young people that are otherwise poised to be future leaders. Often, all they need is a little bit of guidance, a leader who believes in them, and a clear vision on how to achieve their goals and make it to the next level.
Mentorship from an established leader can change a promising young person’s trajectory. It is a vote of confidence that will not only affect how the young person views him- or herself, but others in the community or profession will take note as well.
A mentor can also help open previously locked doors for promising young leaders. We all have varying degrees of privilege, and if established leadership wants to help achieve community equity, we can use our positions to expedite the cause.
I know countless leaders who want to help foster equity in the community, but they’re not sure how to go about doing that. We can all help foster change and equity–as well as the trajectory of a young person’s life–by mentoring young people who may not have had all the same opportunities growing up.