NPO 036: Maximizing Capacity- partnerships, interns, and professional development (Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Pilsen Alliance)

Today's Guest: Byron Sigcho-Lopez
     Bryon immigrated to the United States from Ecuador alone when he was 17 years old, fleeing an economic crisis that caused 1 million Ecuadorians to flee the nation of 12 million. Like so many immigrants before him, he found his way to Chicago and made Pilsen his home. Byron was working as an adult education teacher and volunteer youth soccer coach at his neighborhood public school, Pilsen Academy, when he became involved with Pilsen Alliance in the campaign to save 130 Chicago public schools slated for closure by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Byron remained involved with the Pilsen Alliance and in 2015, began serving as the Executive Director.
     As a community leader, Byron became well known locally for his fights to preserve affordable housing, and efforts to implement democratic community driven zoning processes that the local alderman opposed. He successfully opposed a special service area tax on Pilsen small businesses that would have displaced local business owners. Pilsen Alliance also has impacted the environmental justice issues that touch Pilsen. In 2016, their efforts successfully prevented a heavy-polluting metal shredder from starting up in a dense neighbhorhood full of families. 
     Byron serves as the President of the Hispanic Literacy Council, as a board member of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, is the Community Representative on the Local School Council at Whittier Elementary in Pilsen, is an active member of Local 73, and a member of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. Byron earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Mathematics from Cumberland University in Tennessee, and a Master’s in Economics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently completing his PhD in Policy Studies in Urban Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. This last week, Byron announced his candidacy for Alderman of the 25th Ward in Chicago. 

Nonprofit Spotlight: The Pilsen Alliance
The Pilsen Alliance is a social justice organization whose committed to developing grassroots leadership in Pilsen and neighboring working class, immigrant communities in Chicago’s Lower West Side. They work for quality public education, affordable housing, government accountability and healthy communities. Their goals include using innovative community education tools and programs, direct action organizing campaigns and advocacy initiatives reflecting the popular education philosophy of building social consciousness for personal and social collective transformation.

Lessons Learned:
In our conversation, Byron shares his experience of leading The Pilsen Alliance and how he is constantly finding ways to increase capacity. Some of the key lessons he has learned through his work are outlined below: 

  1. Get the right board of directors and engage them!

    1. While it may be tempting to invite your friends, Byron encouraged folks to reach out beyond that inner circle.

      1. Recruit a diverse group of board members that are well tied into the community and are already serving as community leaders.

      2. Look for a mix of ages, professional experiences, and different social connections.

    2. Engage board members immediately:

      1. Recognize the skills/talents of board members and invite them to share that skill in a tangible way. (For example, Byron was invited to lead training/education workshops.)

      2. Have board members join committees related to their interests-- encourages them to be more active participants, and makes them invested in the work of the organization.

      3. Push board members to not just be an advisory board, but to be leaders of different areas of the organization's work.

  2. Network with other community organizations:

    1. Join existing coalitions.

    2. Reach out to individual community leaders.

      1. Even though they're busy, invite them to spend 15-30 minutes face-to-face.

      2. Sometimes these connections won't have immediate results.

  3. Interns can help build capacity!

    1. Connect with local universities to gain interns from that school.

    2. Research interns are fueled by their own curiosity and can help build the body of proof behind future program and grant proposals.

  4. Professional Development for staff and board. Professional Development can be really expensive, so it's often tough for small nonprofits.

    1. They've partnered with other local nonprofits to co-sponsor (aka split the bill!) professional development consultants to come in for a workshop.

    2. Take advantage of training sessions that are made available through foundations that support your work.

    3. Try a Go Fund Me campaign to raise funds for board members.

  5. Other great advice: Be skeptical when someone says it isn't possible!

Find The Pilsen Alliance online:


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