Vanessa Calderón-Rosado is currently the leader of an organization that has been an installation in downtown Boston for almost half a century, with roots in a high-profile, and successful, protest against displacement in the city’s South End.
Since then, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) has provided and maintained hundreds of units of affordable housing for low-income people, and Calderón-Rosado has shepherded it through some tough times.
IBA’s financials illustrate that point quite clearly: Calderón-Rosado said that when she took over as acting director (followed by CEO) during the organization’s transitional period around 2004, it was running a $200,000 deficit. At this point, its portfolio has accrued $20 million to 30 million in equity, and maintains total assets of about $88 million over seven properties.
However, numbers can’t truly represent the success in leadership of a woman who prides herself most on being a good listener and hardworking member of a team – largely intangible qualities that have earned Calderón-Rosado a role as one of the most influential Latino voices in Massachusetts.
The Puerto Rican native is a tested and true nonprofit expert, having worked at them both in her home country and in the Bay State, in fields including health care, elder services, education (both traditional and special needs) and of course housing – her reputation for this last item earning her a spot on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s housing task force for the city.
Calderón-Rosado said that nonprofit work is by no means easy, but worth the effort.
“These organizations are complex and require multiple levels of engagement,” she said. “You have to be in tune with and focused on the mission.”
“I believe in our social responsibility for lifting everyone up,” she said. “It requires stronger social will from all to turn things around.”
With so much to be done and often too few resources, Calderón-Rosado described working exceptionally long hours with no single, defined role. Each day at IBA is unique, she said, as well as intensive.
“It’s always worth it, in the end, but it’s challenging,” she said, sighing, and repeating with a chuckle, “It’s worth it.
“It has to be done,” she added. “Every bit counts.”
And if it were not impressive enough that she has become a standard bearer for those at risk of being disenfranchised and displaced, she did it as a woman of color herself, which she said comes with a tradition of intimidation and fierce competition.
“You have to fight harder to be taken seriously – to develop credentials, and a reputation,” she said. “It takes more work to be considered a leader.”
Her advice for future leaders of her ilk: Find someone who has done it before and follow their lead.
“Find a mentor, network, educate yourself, show your worth,” she said. “Be results driven, and be adaptable. Be flexible, and deliver!”