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Omar Carrera of San Rafael’s Canal Alliance wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Omar Carrera

CEO

Canal Alliance

91 Larkspur St., San Rafael 94901

415-454-2642

www.canalalliance.org

Professional background: Before moving to the United States, I was a CPA, business consultant, and entrepreneur in Ecuador. I changed careers when I came to the U.S. where I’ve built my career in nonprofit strategy and management. Today, I have more than eighteen years' experience in business operations management in the non-profit and for-profit sector.

Education: CPA

Number of staff: 65

Describe your organization: Canal Alliance exists to help Latino immigrants and their families break the cycle of generational poverty by lifting barriers to their success.

We are a nonprofit champion of immigrants who are challenged by a lack of resources and an unfamiliar environment. We believe that everyone has the right to achieve their dreams.

Every day we educate, empower, support, and partner with motivated immigrants and their families to address their unique needs – from putting food on the table, to becoming U.S. citizens, to learning English, to graduating from college, to obtaining jobs that offer living wages and career-path employment. Because when we support immigrants, Marin becomes a place where everyone can live, learn, work, and succeed.

Our primary strategy is to help youth and adults access education and immigration services, which have the greatest impact on improving long-term outcomes for immigrants.

Because our mission to break the generational cycle of poverty is extremely complex, we also offer services aimed at removing the barriers that prevent people from participating in these programs, including comprehensive social services, behavioral health services, and immediate needs assistance.

Canal Alliance is located in and primarily serve residents of the Canal neighborhood in San Rafael. Every year, we partner with over 60 agencies and engage hundreds of volunteers to support 4,000 individuals and families.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am a strategic thinker and social entrepreneur with more than 18 years of experience in business operations management in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

Prior to accepting the position of CEO, I served for six years as associate executive director at Canal Alliance, overseeing the planning, management and evaluation of our programs and operations.

Before that I worked in a wide range of roles throughout the organization. As a result, I’ve become intimately familiar with the opportunities, challenges and needs facing Latino immigrants in Marin County, and I’ve deepened my understanding of the goals and impact of Canal Alliance’s business model.

As a first generation American, I am also and strong advocate for equity and human rights. Because of my experience immigrating to the United States from Ecuador in 2003, I bring a fresh perspective on the challenges facing immigrants, as well as on the huge economic potential that immigrants represent for our community and our country.

Three generations ago my family was living in extreme poverty in Ecuador. The highest level of education anyone in my family had attained was elementary school. My grandparents made the bold decision to make certain sacrifices in order to break the cycle of poverty.

They knew that the only way to change the future for their children and grandchildren was by providing them with access to higher education.

Being the parents of nine children in a broken economy, they made the difficult decision to withdraw two of their children from school in order to put them to work to generate enough money to educate the other seven.

One of the children sacrificed was my mother. She didn’t finish high school, but instead started working as a seamstress at age 14.

My parents got married when they were 19 years old and had four children. They worked very hard to provide a stable foundation for our lives and futures. My parents instilled in us the values of kindness, respect, honesty, education, ongoing self-improvement and helping others along the way.

Without a doubt these values have shaped every aspect of my life from relationships to career, and even my personal passions and interests.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Becoming the CEO of Canal Alliance is one of the most important achievements of my professional life.

Sixteen years ago, I was learning English as a client of the Canal Alliance ESL Program. At that time, I was identified for my skills to first teach and then coordinate our technology training program.

While I continued to learn English, my previous education and experience as a business administrator, consultant, and entrepreneur, helped me support Spanish speaking clients to learn how to use computers and the internet while I was also growing professionally and support the organization’s programs.

Omar Carrera

CEO

Canal Alliance

91 Larkspur St., San Rafael 94901

415-454-2642

www.canalalliance.org

Since 2004, I had the opportunity to support the organization as a front-line staff, coordinator and program manager for four years.

I was then promoted to support fundraising and marketing strategies.

In 2009, I was promoted to associate executive director, responsible for evaluating programs, improving processes and systems, and providing technical assistance to program directors.

In 2016, I become the CEO of Canal Alliance. My vision and leadership have been instrumental in helping the organization become the leading organization serving Latinos in multiple areas throughout the County.

What is your biggest challenge today?

By far the biggest challenge that we all face is responding to the needs that COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated in our community. COVID-19 does not understand borders, race, religion, socioeconomic or immigration status.

Convincing an individualistic society that the only way out of this crisis will require a collective, comprehensive and multi-sectoral response is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges that I face in my role as CEO and that we face as a community and society.

The historic inequities in Marin County have caused the pandemic to grow rapidly in low-income communities. Resolving the inequities that affect essential workers will help us reopen the economy faster, safely and in the long term.

What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

Canal Alliance has just completed a feasibility study and research project for affordable housing to define our housing strategy and business model.

Canal Alliance owns 12 units of housing in the Canal and we are committed to increasing the availability of affordable housing in the county. The initial phase of this project will focus on the acquisition, rehabilitation and conversion of existing properties to affordable housing.

The lack of affordable housing is one of the key factors that is contributing to the disproportionate impact of the virus on the Latino community in Marin. It is crucial that essential workers who have supported the county, before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and more than likely after the pandemic, have the opportunity to live with financial security and dignity.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

Relying more on cloud-based solutions, outsourcing IT services and adopting an equipment leasing program have been crucial services for Canal Alliance. This has allowed me to focus on our mission and for Canal Alliance to offer virtual services to the community even during shelter in place.

We are exploring the possibility of installing solar panels and battery backups to keep our organization running during Public Safety Power Shutoffs. Essential community organizations can’t be without power.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

COVID-19 is creating an evolving situation with diverse impacts around the world and in all sectors - nonprofit organizations are no exception.

During this crisis, nonprofit organizations have again demonstrated the critical role and value they provide to society.

During this crisis, as trusted messengers, we have been the bridges of communication and the primary distributor of resources between the local government and the community.

At Canal Alliance, we not only transitioned all of our programs to a virtual model, but because of our long-standing service and trust in the community, we were also well positioned to advocate for the resources needed by the community and able to create new services to respond to the impact of COVID-19, which has disproportionately impacted essential workers and low-income communities.

Nonprofit leaders must master their business management and strategic leadership skills to maintain a healthy balance between being reactive and proactive, between internal and external affairs, and between short-term and long-term objectives.

The next five years are going to be difficult years. Nonprofits leaders will have to address the financial and operational challenges created by COVID-19 as we rapidly adapt to community needs and growing demand for services.

Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?

In 2013, I had the opportunity to work with community leaders in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael on a justice research project to define the vision they have for their community.

To this end, a coalition of resident community leaders came together to form “Voces del Canal”, and to lead an unprecedented community research project.

Residents learned to use research as a tool to elevate their expertise, amplify their voices, and lead change in their community. It was one of the most exciting moments of my career at Canal Alliance. The report has been used as a blueprint for launching advocacy campaigns and creating new programs.

What other community involvement would you like people to know about?

I am the League Manager of Marin COED Soccer League. We are a community based recreational soccer league based in Marin County. Founded in 1986 with the mission of offering a balanced and quality soccer competition for all levels of play in a safe and friendly environment.

QUICK TAKES

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: David Hunter, Hunter Consulting.

Current reading: “The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins

Most want to meet: AOC

Stress relievers: Running and soccer

Favorite hobbies: Soccer and salsa music

Social media you most use: LinkedIn

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: Data-driven and client-driven.

Typical day at the office: 80% meetings with external partners and staff. 20% planning, strategy development, opportunity exploration, risk management, future thinking.

Best place to work outside of the office: Mount Tamalpais trails

Words that best describe you: Transparent, direct, team player. A person with clear vision and bold leadership.

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