Maria del Pilar Avila works as CEO of New America Alliance out of her office in Los Angeles, Calif., but last week she joined more than 200 people at the 12th Annual Wall Street Summit in New York City, joining a diverse group of Latino business and political leaders united in the mission of creating more Latino wealth in the U.S.
Avila started out as a founding executive director of New America Alliance in 1999 — a non-profit organization of American Latino business leaders united to promote the economic advancement of the Latino community.
“It really is an opportunity for us to display the mission of the organization and the priorities that we have — increased participation of Latinos in corporate boards, more Latinos appointed to important political positions as well as increasing the number of Latinos in the asset management sector and in finance,” says Avila. “In essence, it’s a working program — we walk out with new ideas and new priorities over three days.”
Through aggregating relationships and networking, says Avila, you can do more than on your own.
“We are celebrating 13 years since the founding of the organization,” says Avila. “The most important thing I do is work with our members to carry out the mission…an aggregation of 100 very successful Latino entrepreneurs. They manage companies across industries — and give back to the community.”
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, it was only natural for Avila to continue in their footsteps. She says as she grew up, she thought, “How can I add to my family’s success?”
“It’s through entrepreneurship that my family brought prosperity to us,” says Avila about the real estate investments her grandfather began with a small hardware store in Puerto Rico. “As a child, there were so many people coming in and out to pay rent or buy properties,” she recalls, about her family’s business.
When it was time for her to decide her career path, she opted for business as well. Avila graduated with a degree in hotel management in 1992, and eventually became vice president of marketing and events at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Later, Avila was named vice president of the investment firm Palladium Equity Partners before returning to NAA as CEO in 2010.
One of the greatest assets Avila brings to her position at NAA are the contacts she has made since the beginning of her working career.
“My job is that of an orchestra director,” says Avila, who coordinates an amazing ensemble of experts to collaborate on building Latino wealth.
NAA was the brainchild of Raul Yzaguirre and Henry Cisneros, and Avila says that ever since she was asked to jump on board, it has been a very exciting collaboration.
“They empower me to work with them to execute their mission and manage the staff,” says Avila, who has four full-time employees and three consultants. “I’m responsible for delivering the mission of the organization.”
She says since the beginning, the NAA has been concerned about the availability of investment capital for Latino businesses. In 2003, the organization launched the Pension Fund Initiative to provide legislators with the proper tools and information to enable the flow of capital back into the Latino community and to ensure an inclusive financial services industry. Avila says this has made a palpable difference in private equity.
Through the Human Capital Initiative, the NAA has furthered education for Latinos pursuing master’s and MBA degrees by contributing almost $1 million in scholarships to date, and as of this September, Avila says she has also been working on a new program called the American Latino National Summit, which is a new initiative about the American Latino agenda.
“I believe there is a great opportunity for the NAA to have a stronger voice in the issue of immigration, and in the debate process, discuss the positive aspect of immigration in this country,” says Avila. “If we are not at the table where decisions are being made, the challenges that are particular to our community will not be understood.”