His upbringing also helped teach him the value of education. Not a stellar student early in his academic career, Espinosa said he was a grade level behind in reading and math. That changed when his mother convinced the new principal to admit her son in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program in fourth grade.
The GATE program changed his life. Immediately the teachers started telling me, Youre one of the smartest kids in the district. They worked with me individually to make sure I would succeed wherever I was behind, pushing me to excel. The short period of time between fifth grade and seventh grade got me a point where I was getting straight As.
I look back at some of those kids who were in the remedial programif you willwith me and really struggling. So many of them dropped out when we were finishing up high school. … Not everyone has the benefit, obviously, of very active parental involvement. We need to make sure that the system works for them, he adds.
In high school Espinosa fell in love with small schools in New England. While majoring in government at Wesleyan University, he wrote for the student newspaper, sang in the Ebony Singers gospel choir and served as the president of MEChA, an advocacy organization for Hispanic students.
Along with a love of politics, Espinosa was drawn to philanthropy. I came to understand the power of that profession. There are nonprofits all around the world that are really doing life changing work, he says.
He came back to California thinking he would work at a foundation. Instead he landed at HP where he eventually became director of global philanthropy. It was during this time he started serving on the boards of different businesses, nonprofits and industry associations across the region. As he moved into the role of chairing some of those boards, people began suggesting he run for office. He did and ran for Palo Alto City Council.
Seeing issues that needed to be addressed, including the budget, city finances, environmental sustainability and land use planning, Espinosa decided to pursue a term as the citys mayor. I was the only Latino mayor in Santa Clara County. That was pretty shocking, he says. Whats so great about the local peoplecome to you with problems and you can really solve them.
After advocating for and seeing through the work of building five libraries in the city, Espinosa finished his mayoral term. One year remains of his City Council term. He sees the economic issues of the past few years changing for the better for his small business constituents.
Having worked a lot with Latino business communities, the good news is I think were finally getting to a point where were starting to see a shift in the economy to support small and medium businesses. I think were going to see some movement there on the federal level. Consumer confidence and other indicators seem to be bouncing back. Hopefully businesses that have been able to make it this far are going to see business pick up over the course of 2012, he predicts.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Espinosa also recently changed jobs, accepting a position as director of corporate citizenship for Silicon Valley for Microsoft Corp. The position merges his interest in education and pubic policy. On the philanthropy side, I love the space. I really think you can have a big impact. I like the private sectorI like being in business, he concludes.