Fresh Insight: Beating the Odds—Together

Maria Medrano

I am a first-generation Mexican American born to a 16-year-old orphaned girl, so the odds of writing this column were stacked against me. But I was blessed with two parents who loved me—each in a very different way—and who loved

raising a strong Latina who would one day become a tech executive at Visa, then Google, and now CEO and cofounder of my own company. I am a testament to how diversity improves return on investment. My Mexican American mom, raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, was a lifelong learner despite having very little formal education. She often reminded me that I was smart because I’ve been in school since I was in utero.

My dad, a Mexican immigrant, moved to the United States at the age of 16 to contribute to the family. His road to green card status was smoother than most, as my grandfather was a US citizen. My dad grew up in a family of 15, with his father working in the United States and returning home once or twice a year to see the family. Because of this, my dad knew the importance of having a father present every day, and I benefited immensely from his focus, and his cultural stories, which I still hold close today.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, within my family and community, I was blessed to be a bilingual translator-turned-advocate. Because of this, leadership began from the moment I could speak. Moreover, I always wanted to be the one to offer a better life to my family. We lived in an in-law unit no bigger than a one-bedroom apartment. At 19, my mom was busy raising my brother and me while my dad worked as a dishwasher. I was always aware of our situation, but never felt shame as my circumstance propped me up higher to contribute to the family. This began with my first job at the age of eight, which was walking neighborhood kids to school and ensuring their safe return home at the end of the day. This responsibility earned me $5 every Friday. I reinvested my pay to contribute to my family. At a young age, I learned the importance of your brand, respect, earning trust, delivering results, and innovating to improve outcomes. This knowledge is echoed throughout my life.

The role of mentors and sponsors made my journey possible, sprinkled with hard work, my firm commitment to my culture, and my innovative spirit, which allow me to show up with an authentic and graceful approach. Those are words that have been used to describe my leadership, which has been refined through every interaction and experience.

As Latinas, let’s not forget our power from within. We have been molded by our unique experiences and our upbringing. We are collaborators, innovators, scalers, adapters, advocates, and full of empathy and love. It is this rich blend that provides me the ganas needed to step into the CEO role of the company I cofounded, Inspirame, an equity-focused education technology company. I look forward to doing my part to end generational poverty through educational attainment—who better than me? I have always enjoyed beating the odds, and I am ready to empower others on a much grander scale. What’s the point in being the first if you’re the last? Let’s partner! DW

Maria Medrano is cofounder and CEO of Inspirame. Born to immigrant parents, Medrano was the first in her family to graduate from high school or college.

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