Yisel Cabrera: “Be the Best of Whatever You Are”

One of the best ways for a community to help support women social entrepreneurs is by buying their products and services and then talking about it on social media. Another way is by supporting organizations that help boost women entrepreneurs by providing mentoring opportunities and technical assistance. We all have a role to play in […]

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One of the best ways for a community to help support women social entrepreneurs is by buying their products and services and then talking about it on social media. Another way is by supporting organizations that help boost women entrepreneurs by providing mentoring opportunities and technical assistance. We all have a role to play in closing the gender funding gap for women entrepreneurs.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Yisel Cabrera. Yisel is a Community Relations Manager at the Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services in Washington, DC.

In this capacity, she is responsible for developing and directing philanthropic, charitable and community relations programs that meet the goals of the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Ford Motor Company. She is also responsible for overseeing all projects undertaken and proposed in Operation Better World cities, and maintaining relationships with community leaders to confirm Ford’s commitment to the enhancement of quality of life in the communities it serves.

Thank you for joining us Yisel! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born in Cuba and raised in Miami. My parents fled the island when I was four years old. They were political refugees who left everything behind in order to live in freedom. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but my sister and I felt happy and safe. My parents worked very hard to give us a good education and taught us that nothing in this world is just handed to you, you have to work for it.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was about 12 years old, I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and fell in love with the book. I identified with the March family’s closeness, struggles with poverty, and their determination to live a principled life. My favorite character in the book was Jo because she refused to conform to society’s expectations of how women should behave. She was a free spirit who wanted nothing more than to go out into the world and do brilliant work. But her family always came first, and for them, she was willing to sacrifice her freedom. To this day, I still relate to Jo.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

There’s a poem by Douglas Malloch called “Be the Best of Whatever You Are” that has always resonated with me. I won’t quote the entire poem, but my favorite line is — “If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, Be a scrub in the valley — but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill; Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.” There have many times in my life when I haven’t had the job, position, or role that I desired, but I have still given it my all and made the best of my situation. I never stopped trying to be the best at whatever I was. This way of thinking has been very helpful to me in my career because it shows that I am not afraid to do less glamorous work when needed.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Our mission at the Ford Motor Company Fund is to strengthen communities and help make people’s lives better by providing access to opportunities and resources that help them reach their full potential. One of the programs that I’m directly responsible for is the HERImpact initiative for women social entrepreneurs. The program helps to provide women with technical assistance, mentoring, coaching and access to capital to help start or grow their social enterprises. It launched in Washington, D.C. in 2018, in partnership with 1863 Ventures, and was modeled after a similar program we developed with Michigan Women Forward (formerly Michigan Women’s Foundation) in Detroit. Since then, we have invested 250,000 dollars in women-led social enterprises and have helped more than 500 social entrepreneurs increase their capacity through Entrepreneurship Summits, online tools, and networking opportunities in Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Miami. During these uncertain times, we are especially proud to continue supporting women who are using a market-driven approach to help solve real problems in their communities.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I’ve always liked challenges and have never been afraid to take risks. I believe that the only way to grow is by putting yourself out there and doing the things that make you feel uncomfortable. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to take more calculated risks, but I still go after my dreams and passions with the same intensity. My parents always encouraged me to face my fears head-on and never stop learning and growing. I don’t know any other way to live.

Can you tell us a story about an individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Stephanie Cummings, CEO and founder of Please Assist Me, was the first-place winner of the HERImpact DC Pitch Competition in 2019. Her company connects people with reliable assistants through a tech platform to help them manage day-to-day chores and tasks. Her women employees are all W-2 employees and enjoy a dedicated part-time schedule. The winning funds helped the company expand to more apartment complexes and hire more assistants. She also went on to win 20,000 dollars at the Vinetta Project’s 2019 final venture challenge and receive another 130,000 dollars in investments. Earlier this year, Please Assist Me was featured in DC’s list of the 20 most promising tech companies in the DMV. She also participated in Georgetown-based Halcyon Incubator’s new Opportunity Intensive fellowship program.

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

One of the best ways for a community to help support women social entrepreneurs is by buying their products and services and then talking about it on social media. Another way is by supporting organizations that help boost women entrepreneurs by providing mentoring opportunities and technical assistance. We all have a role to play in closing the gender funding gap for women entrepreneurs.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is about stepping up to face a challenge and motivating others to do their part. It’s about listening to people and encouraging them to reach their potential.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Here are 3 things I wish I would have known before embarking on my career:

1) There are always people willing to help mentor you. You just have to ask them. When I was in my early twenties and just starting out in my career, I thought the executives I worked with were not interested in me or in my professional growth. I was afraid to approach them. Then one day after delivering a successful presentation, a woman who I greatly admired congratulated me on a job well done and asked me to lunch. A few weeks later, I finally got the nerve to ask her to be my mentor, and she happily accepted. To this day, she is someone I can still call whenever I need advice.

2) Things are not always going to work out the way you want them to. That is OK. The path to success is rarely linear. I have made lots of mistakes and have taken some wrong turns in my career, but I’ve learned from every experience and am better because of them.

3) You may be done with school, but you should never stop learning. Learning new skills can help maintain your competitiveness in the workforce, inspire creativity, and fulfill personal desires and goals. I always thought I didn’t have the time to learn a new skill that wasn’t directly related to my career, but after receiving a DSLR camera as a Christmas gift a few years ago, that all changed. I took a photography class and learned about lightening, depth, and composition. It changed the way I look at the world.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I believe we all have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than how we found it. There are many ways to achieve this. Some people dedicate their lives to public service, others work in the nonprofit sector, some choose to do good by serving God or their families, and others change the world through innovation and entrepreneurship. We each must find our own path to living a life with purpose.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many, but if I had to choose just one, I would love to have a conversation with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was the first woman to be Secretary of State in the U.S. and the first foreign-born woman to serve in the Cabinet. I have always admired her for being a trailblazer and for continuing to support and empower women around the world.

How can our readers follow you online?

Yisel Cabrera on LinkedIn

@yiseldc on Twitter

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