Alumni Spotlight


Alumni Spotlights




Wendy Brown, Class of 2012

Wendy Brown

Co-Founder, Chair of the Board of Directors
Community Investment Collaborative (CIC)

What is new and exciting with you now or since your LEAD VIRGINIA class year?

When I applied to LEAD VIRGINIA in December, 2011 we had just incorporated a new micro enterprise development organization in Charlottesville, VA. The Community Investment Collaborative (CIC) leverages community resources to provide education and capital to entrepreneurs who have difficulty accessing funding from traditional sources. As a co-founder I was asked to bring my nonprofit management and governance expertise to this grassroots effort to expand entrepreneurship in our low/moderate income, minority and previously incarcerated communities. Having previously founded the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE), I was familiar with developing a company and programmatic elements from the ground up, but not in this arena. By building on each others' — and the broader community's — experience and expertise the Community Investment Collaborative has successfully grown into a full-fledged entity with two paid staff, a strong board of directors, 31 graduates of our educational program with 5 start up/expansion loans made to date. In addition, CIC recently won the Community Award given annually by the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council. In our first year, we utilized more than 9,500 hours of professionals' volunteer time - as discussion group leaders, mentors, board and staff - a conservative value of this time is $500,000-$750,000. The expansion of professional staff has enabled me to step aside from daily responsibilities as volunteer Executive Director to focus more on outreach and strategy as Chair of the Board of Directors. I have also been able to consult with other jurisdictions about their fledgling micro enterprise development programs. We have developed a model that not only builds social capital, but relies on it!

How did your LEAD VIRGINIA experience help to shape you as a leader?

Although I have lived in Virginia for 28 years, I had not traveled extensively in the state and not fully realized its remarkable diversity. I did not appreciate some of the assumptions that underlaid my viewpoint on important issues like transportation and energy consumption. Traveling many miles through southwest Virginia and talking with classmates from across the state, broadened my perspective and challenged my assumptions. I believe a good leader needs to listen more than talk and learn lessons from everything and everyone. When I first joined the program I viewed much of what we did with a program developer's eye, critiquing each element. With the advantage of time, I now recognize value in elements that were not immediately apparent to me. While I am often asked to "lead", the experience of being a participant enabled me to see things in a different light, and taught me the importance of understanding and valuing all perspectives.

Since LEAD VIRGINIA, how have you put social capital to work?

One of my favorite things to do is to help people find what they need - whether it is a thing, business or another person. Over the past 18 months CIC has been my primary engine for utilizing social capital to address needs in our community. One of the four pillars underlying CIC is to expand everyone's networks, which will create a web of support for new entrepreneurs and enable them to understand the importance of their own networks. For example, CIC held an entrepreneurs' showcase at a wine tasting venue. More than 100 people attended the event, learned about the new businesses, got to know entrepreneurs and made lasting connections across different parts of our community that do not usually interact. New friendships developed that have resulted in expanded business and understanding. Rather than simply giving money, we are all learning what different parts of our community need/want and how we can work together using social capital to make this a better community for everyone.

What is something that LEAD VIRGINIA inspired you to do that you were not doing before your class year?

I attended Darden in '91 with the goal of bringing business expertise to the nonprofit sector to help it be more effective and efficient. CNE co-sponsored the first state-wide economic impact study of the nonprofit sector, reflecting my desire to help the broader business community understand the importance of the sector as an economic engine. Having said that, I had not thought extensively about economic development on a regional or state level and precisely what elements must be considered. I realized during LEAD VIRGINIA that I did not even know the economic development goals of my own area or how we thought about it. The presentations and discussions across Virginia helped me understand different ways of thinking about this subject. Since LEAD VIRGINIA I have shared insights learned from other parts of the state. I am eager to help grow our local economy through entrepreneurship and the development of strategic investment areas that could create opportunities for many.