#Dynamic, driven and optimistic – these are words friends and coworkers have used to describe Danielle. She is on a mission to change organizations through storytelling, open communication, empathy and inclusion. She worked in government, non-profit and private organizations in the United States, Europe and Latin America, these different experiences have shaped her worldview and taught her to be flexible, empathetic and focused at the same time. Outside work, she is a mother of two boys, an avid soccer fan and an advocate for immigrants and cancer survivors.
What inspired you to work in the international association sector? Would you recommend this career to others? Why/ why not?
Like many association professionals, I stumbled upon a career in association management (after spending time in the nonprofit, government and private sectors) more than a decade ago. Today, however, I could not imagine myself doing anything else. To me, working for an organization whose mission aligns with my own values is a choice and it is also a privilege that I do not take for granted. And although I might have come to the association sector by chance, I have made a conscious decision to stay.
From raising awareness about the importance of accreditation in global STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education to keeping millions of school children fed, as an association professional, I have played a role in helping our members make a positive impact in the world.
For anyone interested in global issues, networking, and community building, associations are a perfect home. I also enjoy the opportunity to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, who are always pushing me to do my best while accepting me as my authentic self.
And because I firmly believe in the power that associations have to make the world a better place, I have always encouraged anyone looking for a career that is as dynamic as it is fulfilling to consider association management. Over the years, I have mentored many colleagues new to the association profession. As a community, I find that associations bring in people at different stages in their lives – from recent college graduates to seasoned professionals in their second or third careers – who are equally mission-driven and eager to contribute. And that fills me with excitement and optimism.
How do you/ your association #EmbraceEquity? Does giving a voice and a space to diverse groups make for better results? What are the challenges you encounter? Did you solve them?
Mine is an immigrant story like many others but at the same time uniquely mine. Back in 1992, when no one I knew would dream about going to college in the United States, I was awarded a US Government merit-based scholarship. That experience shaped me into who I am. As a young woman, I was attending college in a foreign country, when my entire family was back in Brazil. As much as I wanted to understand the environment around me and find a sense of belonging, I knew I wanted to keep my authenticity. And that’s a skill that I have used all my life: the ability to be open to new ideas, new people and new perspectives without losing myself.
I see myself as a connector and someone who can navigate different cultures and groups with fluidity and ease. When contributing to the association sector, I deliberately take every opportunity to bring others with me — when including different people on a panel or suggesting a name that might not have been “the first choice.” In my role as vice president of marketing, communications and industry relations at the School Nutrition Association, I apply the same philosophy. By urging our team to go beyond the “tried and true,” we have been able to bring in fresh perspectives and different faces, diversifying our speaker line-up. For the first time in the association’s 76 years, we had a Latina as a keynote speaker at our Annual Conference. We also had members from different parts of the world and the country share their experiences in videos shown at the general session. They felt seen.
Sometimes, this has not been an easy path, as some people are reluctant to embrace change. But by being intentional and transparent, I have been able to raise awareness about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and how it contributes to the longevity and relevancy of our industries. I have also been able to launch new brands, new initiatives and new programs along the way, bringing more diversity to boards and committees.
As association leaders, we need fresh – and not always young – talent and different perspectives if we are to thrive in an increasingly multicultural and multigenerational world. As an immigrant who came to a career in associations later in life, I understand not only the barriers but also the path to entering a new country and succeeding in a new profession. Especially in a country like the United States, home to the largest immigrant community in the world, many times global is local. As our workplaces, schools and communities become more and more diverse, we need to ensure that they also become more inclusive and welcoming. We will all be better for it.
How important are diversity, equity, and inclusion for the future success of associations? What initiatives, projects and ideas can you share that help other understand the real value of DEI?
DEI is crucial for the future of associations. There are so many members (and association professionals) who have felt invisible for so long and are eager to contribute to the future of our profession if only given a chance.
Upon joining the School Nutrition Association in 2020, I was pleasantly surprised to find other Latinos as part of the staff. For the first time in my association career, I was not “the only one.” And while that was refreshing, once I started digging a little deeper, I saw the lack of Latino representation elsewhere in our association – in senior leadership positions, as conference speakers or subject of stories of our association magazine or marketing collateral. When I asked my colleagues, they were eager to explore the issue and confront potential structural issues in our membership and organization. Considering that nearly 20% of the US population is Latino and, according to data from the US Department of Labor, Latinos account for more than 27% of food service workers, I knew our Latino members were out there, we just had to find them.
SNA started celebrating Cultural/Heritage Months in 2021. We did our first Black History Month Celebration with great success, and I was planning to do the same to celebrate Hispanic History Month. But I had one problem: No one knew where our Latino members were. But that did not deter me. In fact, my experience searching for Latinos in our organization was eye-opening and humbling. I started with the few Latino members who had been active in our organization over the last decade. There weren’t many, but they were ready. In fact, two of them told me that they had been waiting for more than 10 years to finish the work they had started in 2009, when our organization had its first and only Latina president, Dora Rivas.
We connected with her by Zoom, and that conversation led to our first all-Latino panel on webinar, the first in SNA’s history, and a month-long celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month on social media, also a first for SNA.
Our initial outreach to five members became a total of more than 35 member stories and posts we shared on social media during Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). As it turned out, we found that Latinos were all over school nutrition. They were line cooks, cafeteria managers, chefs, registered dieticians, food service directors, executive directors of food and nutrition services.
We kept our promise and booked a Latina as a keynote speaker for our annual conference, her story of grit and resilience resonated with our audience. We also launched our “Bring More to the Table” campaign to raise awareness about careers in school nutrition. The lead character? A Latina with an accent!
This campaign was further developed into a full hiring kit and shared with our members via social media, as they too increase their efforts to hire more diverse staff and make their workplaces more inclusive.
Our sponsors also felt inspired by the messaging and one of them signed a lucrative three-year agreement with the School Nutrition Association to expand on our initial concept for the Bring More to the Table Campaign. They too saw the value in giving different people a seat at the table.