Inspirational Mexican-American social entrepreneur Lisa Trevino Cummins
In light of Women’s History Month, I thought I would celebrate the fact that Latina-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the business community. What’s more, many are also making a big difference in the communities they operate in. While Latina entrepreneurs were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, people now see them as the key to spur on economic recovery.
According to the National Women’s Business Council, there are over two million Latina-owned businesses in the country, a growth of more than 87% since 2007. A 2021 report by Latinas in Business stated that Latinas represent 40% of all Latino businesses. We can definitely see why these businesses are helping to fuel the U.S. economy.
Work that comes from the heart
Many of these women started their businesses after a lay-off, to achieve work-life balance, to get paid what they are worth, and to have more freedom. Many also start businesses to impact lives.
One such Latina-owned business is Urban Strategies (US), a social enterprise that equips, resources, and connects faith and community-based organizations engaging in community transformation. The goal is to help families reach their fullest potential. Established by Mexican-American social entrepreneur Lisa Trevino Cummins in 2003, Urban Strategies is focused around five key areas: early head start, foster/residential care, health/wellness, youth development and equipping leaders.
After twelve years in banking and two years at the White House Faith-Based Office of Community Initiatives, Lisa sought to bridge the gap between available funding and the communities that need it, particularly Latino communities. Since she knew both worlds, Lisa wanted to be the intermediary that helped address that gap. When she started Urban Strategies, Lisa did not want employees. She claimed, “I’m a terrible manager.” Now in their 20th year of existence with over 600 employees, she views every year as a gift and attributes her employees, or “teammates” as she calls them, as the key to making a difference to underserved communities. “It has been their passion for the vision that has allowed me to do what God put me here to do.”
When asked how many people Urban Strategies has helped, she said, “We don’t focus on that. But, we know we have touched organizations and developed relationships around the country and abroad through a variety of US programs and trainings.” What she knows for sure is what one of her mentors, Bob Buford, used to say: “Her fruit grows on other people’s trees.”
Doing the right thing is hard, but doing the wrong thing is harder
Every Latina entrepreneur knows there are challenges they must constantly face, like systemic racism and being ignored by venture capitalists, as reported by the LA Times in 2021. For Lisa, one challenge has been deciding to lead with integrity, as opposed to compromising with shortcuts to go after money. “Yes, you may lose a contract, but you keep your moral compass intact.”
Another challenge has been “balancing passion with feasibility and sustainability. “You can’t always do what you love,” says Lisa, “And you have to make hard decisions when you are putting the company before the self.” While success does not always come from expected sources, she continues to see her business thrive.
Unlike some entrepreneurs, Lisa says that the most satisfying parts of managing her company are that her teammates have discovered their own callings in the midst of their work, and that she gets to see individuals and organizations experience a sense of purpose and fulfilling their potential.
Lisa has some advice for other Latina entrepreneurs:
1. Identify what you are uniquely skilled to do and follow your heart. Do what comes naturally.
2. Do not be afraid to start small. Don’t let grandiose dreams prevent you from getting started.
3. Do not fear failure, but rather listen to it. There are lessons in failure. Not everybody is supposed to be in a particular line of business, so do not be afraid to pivot.
4. Do not go solo. Work with others and embrace the strengths that others bring to the company as partners and teammates.
5. Have fun.
Caring about your impact on the community as much as (or more than) how much money you’re making certainly reveals the Soul of Your Business! The growing sector of Latina entrepreneurs in the United States is already a cultural and economic win, but the legacy left behind is even more satisfying when you have impacted the community around you.