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Latino activist leads local funder

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By Ret Boney

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Andrea Bazan-Manson, one of North Carolina’s leading Latino advocates, has taken the helm of the Triangle Community Foundation.

Bazan-Manson, former executive director of El Pueblo, a public policy and advocacy nonprofit serving the state’s Latino community, succeeds Shannon St. John, who in 21 years as the foundation’s founding president built its assets to more than $100 million.

“I’m really excited to take this next step,” Bazan-Manson says.  “I’m in awe of the history of this foundation.”

Established in 1983 with a gift of $3,000, the foundation has $104 million in assets and about 10 employees, and houses about 570 funds that awarded more than $9 million in grants last year to support the work of Triangle nonprofits.

The foundation conducted a national search to fill St. John’s job, says Peter Meehan, board chair and a member of the search committee, and unanimously picked Bazan-Manson over five other finalists.

“We were impressed with everything about Andrea,” he says.  “Especially with El Pueblo – the creativity and energy it took to get that going and to build it into what it is today.”

Since starting Oct. 3, Bazan-Manson has attended three receptions to meet donors, is holding one-on-one meetings with her staff and board, donors and community organizations, and is awaiting the results of a study of the foundation’s performance with donors and community groups.

That information will inform a six-month strategic planning process she is leading with the board and staff to chart the organization’s future.

“You always have to change things,” she says.  “I have a strong interest in having the foundation be more involved at the community level with donors and community organizations.”

The strategic planning process will take into account the foundation’s current efforts as well as those of other community foundations throughout the U.S. to “explore all the roles the foundation could play,” she says.

“I think foundations have a role to play in policy and in public policy debates,” she says. “I’m interested in seeing us be at the tables in which decisions are made. There’s a lot of flexibility in the role we can play.”

Andrea Bazan-Manson

Job: President, Triangle Community Foundation, Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Education: B.A., sociology and anthropology, Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss.; master’s degrees, social work and public health, UNC-Chapel Hill

Boards/appointments: National Council of La Raza; National Immigration Law Center; John Rex Endowment, Raleigh, N.C.; N.C. Center for Nonprofits; N.C. Medical Care Commission; N.C. Institute of Medicine

Born: Boston, 1967

Family: Husband Jim Manson; three daughters, ages 8, 5 and 4.

Hobbies: Playing with daughters; traveling to see family; beading

Currently reading: “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels,” by Michael Watkins; “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins

Inspiration: Parents; Raul Yzaguirre, president, National Council of La Raza; former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt; two youths she mentors

There may also be some realignment of staff and board structures, she says, but quickly adds she doesn’t believe the foundation needs to change “too much or too quickly.”

“We want to be thoughtful about any changes we make,” she says.

Born in Boston while her father was training at Harvard, Bazan-Manson spent most of her childhood in Argentina, her parents’ native country.

But when she was 15, her family was driven out of Argentina during a time of military rule when her father’s neuroscience lab was forced to close, and the family resettled in New Orleans.

Bazan-Manson moved to North Carolina to get master’s degrees in social work and public health and, given her fluency in Spanish, she was quickly identified as a resource to the Latino community.

In 1994, she was tapped to join the committee planning and managing the inaugural Fiesta del Pueblo, a community festival designed to celebrate the area’s rich Latino culture.

“I couldn’t really see the importance of it at the time,” she says.  “We got heavy media exposure and this group was asked to represent the community.”

The Fiesta is now an annual event, drawing about 60,000 people this year, and the planning committee eventually formed El Pueblo, which started as an all-volunteer nonprofit, to build on the momentum of the Fiesta.

Around the same time, Bazan-Manson received a grant to put together a Spanish-language resource guide for the Triangle, giving her greater insight into the needs and offerings in the community.

Those experiences, coupled with her time working on maternal and child health issues, and with the state on minority health, prepared her well for the role of changemaker.

She continued to support and serve on the board of El Pueblo throughout the years, often volunteering more than 20 to 30 hours a week, and became its first executive director in 1999 when the group received a $100,000 operating grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

“I realized I had a role to play that was maybe a bigger role,” says Bazan-Manson.  “The need in the community was tremendous.  The growth happened quickly, but it was thoughtful growth.”

By the time she left El Pueblo in September, the group had 25 employees, including interns and an annual budget of $1.5 million, and had grown into a formidable force for advocacy and policy change in North Carolina.

“Lots of things were just beginning then and I was right there,” she says.  “I realized to make a change, you had to be involved at the policy level.”

She helped create and was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs in 1998, and in 2002 was named to the board of the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of Hispanic Americans.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Easley appointed her to the North Carolina Medical Care Commission.

Saying goodbye to El Pueblo was hard, she says, but she is convinced El Pueblo is ready to take the next step.

“You have given so much of yourself to something,” she says.  “I wanted others to have the opportunity I had there.”

Now, Bazan-Manson brings that energy and forward momentum to the Triangle Community Foundation and to charting its course for the future.

“It’s such a privilege for me,” she says, “to be part of a process that will eventually move us to a place where we’re a more active participant in the community.”

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