Lisa Christian, Chief Executive Officer
Deborah (Debi) M. Harris, Vice President of Development
Nelli Abramova, Accounting
Yolanda Brandon, Controller
Elizabeth De Renzy, Researcher and Data
Flor de Maria Melara, Financial Services Associate
Shoky Monfared, Director of Mission Advancement
Shannon Penn, National Program Director
Katie Taylor, Director of Talent Development
Beverly Yee, Senior Accountant
East Bay Hub
Danielle Franklin, Executive Director, East Bay
Susana Gama, Small
Georgina Ortega Moran, Client Services Coordinator
Viridiana Ponce, SuccessLink Specialist, East Bay
New York Hub
Antonia Bowring, Executive Director, New York
Adela Ruiz, Program Administrative Assistant, NYC
San Francisco Hub
Ximena Arias, Client Services Coordinator, San Francisco
Yvonne Casillas, SuccessLink Specialist, San Francisco
Sandra Murillo, Small Business Trainer
Lisa Christian - Chief Executive Officer
Lisa Christian joined Women’s Initiative as CEO in 2013. Lisa is a passionate senior executive with demonstrated success in radically transforming operational, cultural and financial results. She has 31 years of experience in leading multi-functional nonprofit organizations, and is driven to lead organizations and people dedicated to operational success. Lisa is an innovator who consistently achieves superior results, realizing continuous income growth by creating and leveraging a culture of competent leadership, execution and results. Before joining Women’s Initiative, Lisa was the CEO/president of a YMCA in New Jersey that had four branches, 700 employees and served 22,000 constituents. Previously, she was senior vice president and chief operating officer at the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, an 18-branch organization with an annual budget of $35 million. She led the development and execution of a comprehensive strategic plan, with a focus on operational management, community partnerships, fundraising and staff and volunteer development. Prior to her experience in Pittsburgh, Lisa served as vice president of operations at the YMCA of San Francisco; executive director of the Peninsula Family YMCA in San Mateo; and operations director of the Westfield, New Jersey YMCA.
Debi M. Harris - Vice President of Development
Deborah (Debi) M. Harris joined Women’s Initiative in 2013 as Vice President of Development. She is known by family, colleagues and friends for her passion in raising awareness and funding for women’s rights issues. Her prior career experiences include serving as Chief Executive Officer for Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade (Florida), Vice President of Development for Women’s Funding Network, San Francisco, President of Harris In Paris -her company established to provide custom tour excursions in France, and Director of Sales for Sprint Communications.Debi has volunteered over 30 years with Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. – a public service organization committed to the uplift of predominately African American women and girls through programs and scholarships. She has also served on many boards including SAGE Scholars – Berkeley, CA; Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties; San Francisco Alumnae Delta Community Foundation; and the American Diabetes Association.Debi is a graduate of Howard University, Washington, DC; Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management – Harvard University; and Leadership California.
Elizabeth de Renzy – Research and Public Policy Manager
Elizabeth de Renzy joined Women’s Initiative in August 2007. With an MA in sociology from Bielefeld University, she has been engaged in quantitative and qualitative social science research and program evaluation since 1998. She leads Women’s Initiative’s research and public policy to evaluate the agency’s progress towards our mission and measure the impact of our programs on our clients, their families, and communities. Elizabeth collaborates with external research and policy experts to publish topical white papers and findings reports about microentrepreneurs and microenterprise development. She is passionate about economic justice and financial empowerment and her goal is for microenterprise to become a household word in the U.S. and for business development services to be accessible to all high potential women entrepreneurs, regardless of income.
Flor Melara - Financial Services Associate
Possessing a strong sense of duty and a desire to build opportunities for others, Flor de Maria Melara’s passion is to work in Economic Development and poverty alleviation in developing countries. After emigrating from El Salvador as a child, Flor earned scholarships at nearly every level of schooling. She won the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Business Leadership Award that helped her complete her MBA at Mills College. Flor has over eight years of professional customer service, administrative, banking, analytical, research, and project management experience. Flor currently works at the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment as the Financial Services Associate and manages the Financial Services Department. She is an expert in domestic microfinance and partnering with other microfinance organization to bring access to capital to her clients. Flor empowers entrepreneurs to build sustainable financial infrastructures to achieve small business start up and expansion goals. Throughout the 3 years that Flor has worked at Women’s Initiative she has had the opportunity to developed leadership and advocating skills. She is the main point of contact for all NCLR (National Council of La Raza) California advocacy efforts and graduated from the first Leadership Summit held in California. In 2011, Flor was elected by the California State Department’s Partner’s Program to participate in a Business Fellowship program for a month in Mexico DF.
Shoky Monfared - Director of Mission Advancement
Shoky Monfard is passionate about female professional empowerment and is dedicated to serve Women’s Initiative advocating her belief. Shoky’s professional experience includes working in diverse businesses environments such as the corporate world and entrepreneurial startups. As the co-founder of a media company she has built her skills in promoting organizational growth, operational efficiency, and systems’ management. In 2011 her work included collaborating with the executive team of Women’s Initiative to implement operational efficiency, grounding companywide growth, organizational development, and data analysis. Shoky has received an Executive MBA from San Francisco State University with a focus in management and a Business Administration certificate from UC Davis Extension. Shoky is fluent in Spanish and Farsi and she is passionate about implementing her professional knowledge in business growth. She is a great problem solver and motivated in achieving excellence by building strong teams. She is patient and attentive and strives to understand issues and propose direct solutions.
Shannon Penn - National Program Director
Shannon has over 10 years of business ownership experience primarily focused in property management and acquisitions. However, her career began in social welfare which was instrumental in planting her desire to support economic development and adult education efforts in her community. Shannon managed a loan fund for a Financial Development Corporation that provided millions of dollars in capital for minority owned small businesses. She has held numerous leadership roles in collegiate and vocational institutions where she developed expertise in curriculum development and adult learning. She currently offers courses at community colleges and leads professional development workshops for college faculty and administrators nationwide. Shannon combines her passion for business, education and social work to develop services that reach the economically disadvantaged. She volunteers on a loan committee that funds micro-enterprises in her community. She has been invited to speak at a host of business events where her enthusiasm for economic empowerment has encouraged many. Shannon earned a Master's Degree in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley and holds certifications in adult education and accounting.
Katie Taylor - Director of Talent Development
Katie Taylor’s passion is to empower underrepresented communities to bring more effective solutions to our communities’ problems. A Bay Area native, Katie has been working in the nonprofit sector and as an activist since 2002, starting with an emphasis on international development and advocacy for the girl child and eventually coming back to work affecting women and girls in the United States. As a former entrepreneur herself, Katie is delighted to contribute to the work Women’s Initiative does in the Bay Area and throughout the US. Joining Women’s Initiative in April 2010 as a Research and Evaluation Fellow, Katie was hired as staff in October 2010. Katie has built, developed, and managed volunteer programs for national and local nonprofits, as well as educational institutions; published research; and has developed programs and run events. Katie has spent time doing activism work on college campuses and in her community and finds her identity as a Millennial to be a major asset to her work and in her accomplishments. Katie holds a BA in Public Policy and Spanish and Hispanic Studies from Hobart and WilliamSmith Colleges, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Katie currently serves of the board of COterie DAnce Company (CODA), is a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters Bay Area, and serves as a mentor for the Marcus Foster Education Fund. In her free time, she enjoys walking her dog Clementine, taking ballet classes, and living in the Bay Area again.
East Bay Hub
Danielle Franklin - Executive Director, East Bay
Danielle Franklin is a former graduate (1996) of Women’s Initiative and Oakland native. She had her skin & body care business for 11 years in downtown Oakland where she garnered a loyal clientele and managed a professional staff. During that time Danielle was recognized by San Francisco’s Mayor Willie Brown for Excellence in Entrepreneurship. Also, she was the honored candidate for Women’s Initiative receiving the United States Presidential Award for Microenterprise from the Clinton Administration and was featured as an expert in several national magazines. In 2006, Danielle closed her business and went back to school, receiving her Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management from University of Phoenix and her Master’s of Science in Organizational Development from the University of San Francisco. She has worked over the past three years in business development with organizations such as Genentech, Stanford University and Kaiser Permanente. Danielle is a widow (it’s been 20 years) and has a daughter who recently graduated from San Francisco State and is pursuing Medical School with the hopes of becoming a midwife. Danielle loves hiking, cooking and enjoying life!
Susana Gama - Small Business Trainer
Small Business Trainer, Coach, and Consultant at Women’s Initiative for more than 5 years, she also is a HP Life (Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs) Trainer since January 2011. Susana obtained a BA in Business Administration in Mexico and offers extensive experience in the following areas: more than 20 years experience in Business Development and Business Banking, acted as a Financial Counselor for micro business and medium size businesses in Mexico, assisted in the implementation and development of a new program with the Chamber of Commerce and BNCI (National Bank of Interior Commerce) to help new and small businesses to obtain new lines of credit by submitting Credit and Tax Analysis to the decision makers, and successfully opened her own business in Mexico before she came to U.S. Susana is bilingual in English and Spanish.
Georgin Ortega - Client Services Coordinator
Georgina Ortega joined Women’s Initiative three years ago and has brought her experience working with low income populations. She first joined Women’s Initiative as a Volunteer in 2007 and was very impressed and moved about the extraordinary work of Women’s Initiative that she decided to participate in the fellowship program and was soon hired after she completed her fellowship. Georgina works actively in the community representing Women’s Initiative in many events and develops partnerships. She helps other women learn about our services and is responsible for facilitating free orientations in English and Spanish. She is the main contact for client’s interested to enroll in our program and also organize the graduations events. She has a degree in Social and Behavioral Science with a minor in International Relations as well as a Certificate in Early Childhood. She is passionate about languages, diverse cultures and enjoys giving back to the community. Prior to joining Women’s Initiative she was a volunteer in a variety of organizations in Marin. She taught English as a Second Language level at a Christian Church and the San Rafael Library, volunteer at Guatemala Consul as an Interpreter as well as Local Hospitals in Marin. She is currently working toward being a Certified English/Spanish Court Interpreter through San Francisco State University. Georgina is extremely happy and grateful to be part of this community and to work in an organization that is empowering and changing women’s lives.
New York Hub
Antonia Bowring - Executive Director, New York
She brings a unique combination of years of nonprofit management experience and microenterprise knowledge combined with strong for-profit strategic consulting experience to Women’s Initiative. Most recently, Antonia was chief operating officer of the Open Space Institute, a land protection and policy organization that has a 2013 budget of $36 million, and assets of $240 million. Prior to OSI, she worked in strategic and management consulting for non-profits such as Acumen Fund and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and for for-profit companies such as Neuberger Berman and CIGNA. She started her career working on microenterprise trends at the World Bank, and then developed the entrepreneurial training program at Women’s World Banking. She currently sits on the boards of ioby (a crowd sourcing platform for community projects) and Hot Bread Kitchen (a program which trains immigrant women to become bakers and runs a commercial baking business). Ms. Bowring holds a BA from the University of British Columbia, an M.Phil from the University of Sussex, and an MBA from McGill University.
Adela Ruiz - Program Administrative Assistant New York
An immigrant from Dominican Republic, the struggle of her family has always been an inspiration for Adela to be involved with empowering communities and expanding their opportunities. She is the co-founder of a Queens, NY based organization called Immigrant Advancement Matters. Since the age of eight she has worked with organizations like: St. John’s Bread and Life, United Nations Alliance and the Daughters of Charity. Her professional experience includes internships at Year Up, New York City Council and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice as a part of the Jeanette K. Watson Fellowship she was awarded in 2010. In 2013, Adela obtained her B.A. in Sociology and Languages (Italian/Spanish Literature) from St. John’s University. She will be completing her M.A. in Sociology in the spring of 2013 there as well. Topics of study Adela is passionate about are the influence of language, gender studies, global development and poverty. Her passion has led her to work in Panama, Kenya and Detroit supporting women’s education, art/music education and community building. Adela is fluent in Spanish and Italian as is very excited about empowering women to improve their lives and the lives of their families. On weekends she loves trying new foods playing alto saxophone for her acoustic ensemble and a doo-wop orchestra.
San Francisco Hub
Ximena Arias - Client Services Coordinator
Ximena Arias is the Client Services Coordinator in San Francisco at Women’s Initiative. She helps women entrepreneurs and community organizations learn about Women’s Initiative by leading orientations and My Business Action Plan workshops. Besides being an ambassador for Women’s Initiative, she organizes the graduation ceremony from the Simple Steps course. She first joined the Women’s Initiative team as a volunteer, shortly after moving to California. Ximena received her Master’s degree in International Business from the University of Florida and two Bachelor’s degrees: Business Administration and Linguistics. She is passionate about languages and culture, traveling, and giving back to the community. Prior to joining Women’s Initiative, Ximena taught Business English and Spanish Language courses in San Francisco. Back in Florida, she helped start and grow her family-owned small business, AICO, a dental products company. Ximena is excited to work for an organization that is constantly creating positive change in her community one business woman at a time.
Yvonne Casillas - SuccessLink Specialist
Yvonne Casillas joined Women’s Initiative over 4 years ago with many years of experience working with entrepreneurs in the Bay Area and abroad. A California native, Yvonne lived for 14 years in Baja California, Mexico and has been back in the Bay Area since 1992. Prior to joining the Women’s Initiative team, Yvonne developed her entrepreneurial skills by working in her family’s small business based in Santa Cruz County and in a Spanish wine importing startup. She has a degree in Spanish Literature from San Francisco State University and is passionate about social justice. Graduates from our Simple Steps course who wish to turn their dreams into a reality, reach out to Yvonne to have access to business services at Women’s Initiative. These services help our graduates improve their entrepreneurial skills through business consultations/coaching sessions, seminars, actions groups, networking events and more. Yvonne, our SuccessLink Specialist in San Francisco, is an integral part of our team.
Sandra Murillo - Business Trainer Manager
Sandra has brought over 12 years experience as a small business trainer to Women’s Initiative. A graduate of the Women’s Initiative ALAS Program, Sandra started her own insurance agency, MUR Insurance Services, in 1999. She has a breadth of experience in sales, prospecting, customer relations, training, presentations, marketing, financial planning, and loans. Sandra has built extensive business networks that bring personal and professional growth to the women she serves at Women’s Initiative. She has a B.A. degree in Industrial Psychology and a second B.A. in Education. In addition, Sandra is a licensed insurance broker and, financial planning with series 6, 63 and 7 in the State of California. At Women’s Initiative ALAS, she has the key responsibility to provide world class training and consulting to our clients. She has over 20 years of experience in assisting individuals in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, to enhance their learning and workplace performance. Sandra was honored by the San Francisco Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Business Times, and Wells Fargo Bank as one of the 35 most influential Latinos in the San Francisco Bay Area in the area of Nonprofit/Philanthropy. She received her award at the 2007 Latino Business Leadership Awards ceremony at the Hyatt Regency on September 28, 2007. Sandra has received many training certificates and is fluent in Spanish.
Viridiana Ponce -SuccessLink Specialist North Bay and Silicon Valley
Viridiana Ponce has more than ten years of work and volunteer experience in different capacities of the nonprofit sector. She has a B.S. in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and 3 years of public auditing experience. Viridiana manages the Successlink Program for our North Bay and South Bay Clients and is passionate about providing resources to entrepreneurs and creating opportunities for small businesses. She is currently on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization that fundraises scholarships for Latino business students in the Bay Area. She enjoys outdoor activities, traveling abroad, and photography.
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