Celina Pena is the chief program officer at Accion Texas, a designated community development financial institution (CDFI) whose mission is to provide credit and services to small businesses and entrepreneurs who do not have access to loans from commercial sources. Pena participated in the inaugural class of the ELM2 Fellowship, which has just opened the application process for its second round of Fellows in the microbusiness field. The deadline to apply is November 15.
Cleaning the restrooms, making coffee, calling customers for payment, consulting clients eager for a resolution on their cases. These were my days during a typical summer as a youth and young professional at my dad’s law office. Some folks would say, “You have it easy as the bosses’ daughter.” Little did they know I clocked in, worked my best to provide impeccable quality, and truly enjoyed contributing to my parent’s business. This, in effect, lifted all my family. Today, as a microfinance professional I look back to those times quite often, because it reminds me of the entrepreneurs and communities we serve.
As a young leader in the field, I knew I needed to grow to be able to further support Accion Texas’ mission. But I needed help. I wanted not only to work on Accion’s strategic plan; I wanted a strategic plan for myself. ELM2, a Fellowship run out of the FIELD program at the Aspen Institute, offered just that. It allowed me to share my talents, challenge my path of everyday thinking, celebrate and learn from amazing peers, and be open to pushing myself both mentally and professionally. But most importantly, it gave me connectivity to other cultivated leaders.
With ELM2, I got access to leadership at different levels — from the most qualified veterans in the field to my direct peers to leaders from other industries vital to the field’s success. The programs’ in-person meetings brought together these leaders so that the group of ELM2 Fellows could engage in conversations with them on critical topics facing the field. Each Fellow also developed an individual project over the course of the Fellowship and received input from peers support along the way.
So how does an investment in leaders like me build the field? To me, in one word, the ELM2 program stands for “committed,” because of its dedication to microbusiness. The program had both a self-reflective and field-driven component. If you are in the field you know how important this is! After my time in ELM2, I am better equipped and much better connected, not only to advance my own organization, but to support my sister agencies in growth through technology and innovation. I also came back to Accion energized to support my colleagues and staff so that they challenge themselves to be better leaders and grow in the field as trailblazers.
This “small” investment in young leaders like me has the potential to make a big impact on the field. I, along with my peers in the Fellowship, are indeed starting to have the multiplier effect that the “squared” in the program’s name suggests.
The ELM2 program is run by the FIELD program at the Aspen Institute and supported by Capital One. To read more about the ELM2 and other fellows, and to apply to the fellowship program, visit http://fieldus.org/Projects/Elm2.html.