Alejandra Y. Castillo was selected to lead YWCA USA through a time of what the organization has described as political and budgetary uncertainty. Castillo joined the Washington, D.C.-based organization after serving as national director for the Minority Business Development Agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. She will assume her new position effective Sept. 18.
“She has the expertise, vision, and bold leadership skills needed to elevate YWCA’s voice in the national policy arena and strengthen our network of 215 associations to enhance the day-to-day services we provide to women and girls — especially those of color — to regenerate families and communities, and enable individuals to achieve their hopes and dreams,” Sylvia Hill Fields, national board chair, said of Castillo via a statement.
Castillo, in an interview with The NonProfit Times, said that enhancing services to women and girls, particularly those of color, is more important than ever given the emboldened voice of white supremacy that has entered the national discourse. In elevating the platform with which YWCA is to eliminate racism and empower women, it will be vital to work toward halting any legislative actions that might result in roll backs of equity and civil rights, she said. Monitoring how the judiciary approaches such issues will also be important.
“It is at this time that we are called to really live our values,” Castillo said, adding that she has experience in the political sphere concerning such issues as drug policy, the environment, and health.
Prior to heading the Minority Business Development Agency, Castillo was executive director of the Hispanic National Bar Association and has also served as a senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. She has worked on five presidential campaigns during her two-decade legal career.
In addition to the political climate surrounding race and equality, Castillo joins YWCA at a time in which the federal government has looked to slash its budget with many organizations, including YWCA, reliant on federal funds. YWCA receives just under half of its annual funding, $314 million, from government sources, according to a recent organizational survey. Of that sum, $206 million is from federal sources.
“Policy, programs, and budget are three anchors that really define whether an organization like YWCA can execute its actual mission,” Castillo said. She said that organizational leaders will have to engage both the legislative and executive branch of government during the budget process. Engagement will also take place by using existing relationships with federal representatives to communicate the impact the organization has on their constituencies, she said.
Castillo, thinking forward, hopes to accomplish four objectives in the coming years:
* To ensure that eliminating racism is a principle that weaves through the organizations mission;
* To improve recognition of the organization’s brand and the work that it does;
* To identify and utilize innovative financing means. Social impact investment funds, used both internally and as part of partnerships, was one idea that Castillo posed; and,
* To grow and strengthen the organization’s national network of 215 associations in both number and impact.
Born in Queens, New York to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Castillo has also lived in Texas, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, and Washington D.C., where she has spent the past two decades, according to her organizational bio. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a master’s degree in public policy from the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and a juris doctorate from American University, Washington College of Law. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese and serves on the board of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, the Aspen Institute Latino and Society Program, Project 500 Advisors of D.C., and the American Jewish Committee’s Jewish-Latino Council.
Castillo replaces Dara Richardson-Heron, who resigned from the position this past February after more than four years as chief executive officer. A medical doctor, Richardson-Heron currently serves as chief engagement officer for the National Institutes of Health’s “All of Us” research program.