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Empowering Next-Gen Leaders in Charlotte

“The well-being of Latinos is the well-being of everybody,” which is why one Charlotte business leader relies on a “business builder” program to empower local merchants and owners from Latin American nations.

Astrid Chirinos is president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte, an organization she helped to establish.
National Journal
Astrid Chirinos
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Astrid Chirinos
Jan. 17, 2014, 6:44 a.m.

Astrid Chiri­nos helped to form in 1995 what is now the Lat­in Amer­ica Cham­ber of Com­merce of Char­lotte, back be­fore the re­gion’s Latino pop­u­la­tion ex­ploded. Char­lotte, for in­stance, is about 13 per­cent non­white His­pan­ic, with about 15 per­cent for­eign born — twice the rate of the state in gen­er­al.

A nat­ive of Ca­ra­cas, Venezuela, Chiri­nos, 52, ap­plies her back­ground as a Mer­rill Lynch fin­an­cial ad­viser and a pub­lic-re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing ex­ec­ut­ive to her role as LAC­CC pres­id­ent. Dur­ing her ten­ure, the num­ber of mem­bers has grown to 500.

This in­ter­view, con­duc­ted by Next Amer­ica Ed­it­or Jody Bran­non, has been ed­ited for length and clar­ity.

We’ve ex­pan­ded the cham­ber, but now we have to make sure we’re tak­ing care of the 500 mem­bers we have. We have to go deep­er and wider and really serve. Our fo­cus is to foster growth with­in the Latino com­munity but also the com­munity at large. 

It was here at the found­a­tion that we were work­ing with the Found­a­tion of the Car­o­li­nas, do­ing a study on the demo­graph­ic change of this whole re­gion, need­ing to tell the story of growth, the change in dis­par­it­ies, is­sues, op­por­tun­it­ies, and the fact that the com­munity, even though it’s so will­ing, [a lot of mer­chants, busi­nesses and res­id­ents] don’t really know how to take this shift in demo­graph­ics.

So we’re work­ing per­son­ally with the Lat­in Amer­ic­an cham­ber to shift that paradigm from the needy com­munity of Lati­nos to the giv­ing com­munity and to the eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment that is the an­chor of growth.

That’s one reas­on I’ve cre­ated a plat­form that cre­ates op­por­tun­it­ies, ac­cul­tur­a­tion, and lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment. It’s not just Lati­nos. It’s the shift in ages, gender, and not even ma­jor­ity-minor­ity [demo­graph­ics], but it’s most of those vari­ables and the di­versity of thought that comes in­to the Latino com­munity be­cause we have mil­len­ni­als like any oth­er group, we have gender [chal­lenges], and it’s crit­ic­al to take a look at this as a whole.

The well-be­ing of Lati­nos is the well-be­ing of every­body. The idea is that we’ll all do well if we take a look at our im­mig­ra­tion is­sues; our work­force can be­ne­fit all of our in­dus­tries. We can’t turn our head any more. Our col­lab­or­a­tion is so im­port­ant to build un­der­stand­ing, to have buy-in and to make this in­form­a­tion — this real­ity — ac­cess­ible in a non­threat­en­ing way.

We have the LACC Busi­ness Build­er, which provides con­tacts, op­por­tun­it­ies, con­tracts, ac­cess to help for Latino busi­ness own­ers and en­tre­pren­eurs want­ing to move to the next level if they have a busi­ness plan. If they don’t have one, we help them cre­ate one. One thing lack­ing — tre­mend­ously — is that road map. There’s no one there to help in that ef­fort be­cause we have a lot of so­cial or­gan­iz­a­tions, but we don’t have eco­nom­ic or­gan­iz­a­tions. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to com­bine those skills, their en­er­gies, tal­ent and op­por­tun­ity to move to the next level.

For in­stance, we had a bakery that has been in busi­ness for three years, and now with the busi­ness plan they have tripled their sales. They un­der­stand how to do it. They now have to man­age their growth — isn’t’ that ex­cit­ing? — they were do­ing it in­tu­it­ively and now they’re do­ing it stra­tegic­ally.

Or an­oth­er one is a roof­ing com­pany where the hus­band left and the Lat­ina was left with two chil­dren. [With her in­volve­ment with the Busi­ness Build­er pro­gram], she’s gained self con­fid­ence — she’s from Peru — and she’s now sign­ing con­tracts and mak­ing present­a­tions, thanks to the dif­fer­ent skills that she builds on in the class and be­ing around oth­er en­tre­pren­eurs and build­ing a board of ad­visers. Of course, that’s a very un­usu­al busi­ness for a wo­man but she’s do­ing well.

And then there are the clean­ing com­pan­ies. Mario, who’s from Ecuador, has just grown his busi­ness and had ac­cess to lines of cred­it, and is net­work­ing through the cham­ber. The plat­form we have has the net­work­ing op­por­tun­it­ies, and it’s not just pro­grams to re­tool you. You put them in prac­tice with our lunches, break­fasts, and after-hour mix­ers and ex­pos — that’s the whole idea. You learn it in the class and you put it to work. And they learn to look at their fin­an­cials. They un­der­stand it’s not about rev­en­ue, it’s about how much you re­tain. You cre­ate ef­fi­cien­cies. It teaches you how to do busi­ness in the U.S., as an Amer­ic­an, not a Latino look­ing for op­por­tun­it­ies and work­ing them­selves to death. It’s about strategy. Work­ing smart. Work­ing hard but smart. It’s a three-month pro­cess.

In the sum­mer, we have the youth en­tre­pren­eur pro­gram, where in a week [the teens] can cre­ate a baby-busi­ness plan out of their pas­sion and learn how it could be im­ple­men­ted. Do they really want to be a en­tre­pren­eur or is it a dream? Are they made out to be an en­tre­pren­eur? It’s very prac­tic­al. It’s kind of a guided start for them. 

Then we have the lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tute for pro­fes­sion­als and en­tre­pren­eurs to move ver­tic­ally. Lati­nos tend to stay in sur­viv­al and safety mode and don’t tend to get to be in­teg­rated. So we make sure we go through that in com­munity en­gage­ment, per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al de­vel­op­ment, and we give them the tools [to try to as­cend]. We show them how to work in the United States and how to use their dif­fer­ences to make a dif­fer­ence and make it bet­ter for your­self. The whole idea is to move them ver­tic­ally.

And then [this year] we have the train-the-train­er pro­gram. We’re get­ting ready to start it. We don’t have enough bi­lin­gual bi­cul­tur­al lead­ers — maybe three if at all. We need to train more so we can de­ploy this pro­gram.

We have to start some­where. We’ve been for­tu­nate. We have sup­port from cor­por­ate spon­sors and found­a­tions, and we’re very ex­cited about what’s com­ing up.

We’re an eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion cre­ated to cap­ture funds from gov­ern­ment and found­a­tions to strengthen the pro­gram for more people, for in­ter­na­tion­al trade, for com­munity re­vital­iz­a­tion, in­cub­at­ors, ac­cel­er­at­ors — so that we’ll all work to­geth­er.

‘MY VIEW’ OF THE NEXT AMER­ICA

Jody Brannon contributed to this article.
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