Rosa Cabrera, senior manager for CZI’s community work, is dedicated to creating a more inclusive Bay Area, California, by supporting small business owners.
The people closest to our society’s most pressing issues should be the ones to inform solutions and drive change. Our teams partner with diverse educators, families, community leaders and organizations, scientists and more to ensure the voices of those most impacted are always heard. So when we say to “stay close to the work” at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we mean it.
In this edition of Stay Close to the Work, get to know Rosa Cabrera, senior manager on CZI’s community team. Cabrera has spent her career advocating for Brown and Black communities and is now leading the organization’s new inclusive entrepreneurship program. Learn about her love for the work and CZI’s initiative to support small business owners.
The Bay Area has tremendous diversity and immigrants from all over the planet. People come here to create better lives, and find hustles that sustain them and their families. My work at CZI will support those folks to live dignified lives and, hopefully, build wealth for future generations.
Tell us a little bit about what you do at CZI.
I’m a senior manager on the community team, which works to build an equitable, inclusive, and just California where everyone and every community has the power to shape their future. I lead our new inclusive entrepreneurship portfolio, intending to increase the number of underrepresented folks that can access the capital and culturally competent technical assistance they need to become successful small business owners.
During a typical day, I talk to partners and learn about their work to serve and support aspiring entrepreneurs. A lot of my time is spent building relationships with partners and getting to know them as people. I put a premium on relationship building and believe it’s the key to doing my work effectively — and efficiently. Getting to know partners as whole human beings facilitates trust, honesty, and a spirit of collaboration that would otherwise be absent.
How did you come to be a part of the CZI team? Tell us about your journey.
I came to CZI in January 2019 and was hired to scope a new body of work around decarceration. My background is in public policy — specifically police accountability and criminal justice reform — so I was stoked. I pitched a strategy and launched a portfolio to support a stronger policy infrastructure in Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. Now, that strategy and work live on at The Just Trust, and I’m really proud.
When the organization shifted its focus, I chose to stay at CZI because I loved it and knew I could continue to do great work here. Since 2021, I’ve been a community team member focused on identifying a strategy to create a more inclusive economy in the Bay Area. This inclusive entrepreneurship portfolio is the culmination of that effort.
Doing this work is a dream because I grew up here. Creating a more inclusive Bay Area by supporting people’s hustle is a gift. The Bay Area has tremendous diversity and immigrants from all over the planet. People come here to create better lives, and find meaningful ways to sustain their families. My work at CZI will support those folks to live dignified lives and, hopefully, build wealth for future generations.
We know balancing the demands of work and life can be challenging. What are some of your favorite ways to prioritize your self-care?
I travel abroad as much as possible. I’m obsessed with Mexico and Italy and visit them whenever I can. I believe they are the best food countries in the world, and I feel completely at home in both. I’m also trying to learn to speak Italian.
I spend much of my free time planning travel and encouraging those around me to travel and experience the world. I’m planning a trip for 2024 to Italy with friends from different times in my life. It should be fun, interesting and chaotic — and I’m excited about it!
How does your work at CZI relate to who you are and your values in life?
My upbringing as a child of Mexican immigrants has shaped my perspective on justice, fairness and equity. And the roles of class, gender and race have always influenced how I connect to the challenges we seek to address at CZI. My penchant for justice demands that I act courageously and with fidelity to what is right.
CZI’s mission is to build a better future for everyone. When I reflect on my career before CZI, I have worked to create a better future for all by focusing on communities of color. Whether it was police accountability, criminal justice reform, immigrant rights or educational equity, all of my work has laddered towards creating a country where everyone can thrive.
I love my team! I work with brilliant, kind, compassionate and caring folks. They are funny — and we laugh. That’s so important to me. We’re trying to support communities that are experiencing so much hardship. And we, too, are human beings with full lives. We support each other, and we genuinely care for one another. Working with a team that makes you feel seen and cared for is a gift. That’s something I wish for all of my colleagues.
What’s a project that you really enjoyed and why?
A couple of years ago, we were able to use funds to support existing CZI grantees with large grants to care for their staff and community. These grants — part of CZI’s commitment to supporting racial equity across our work so that our advances serve everyone, including those historically underserved — focused on healing and wellness. They allowed our partners to take care of their employees during the pandemic.
I felt very cared for by my employer during the pandemic. CZI was incredibly generous with us, prioritizing our safety and well-being. I wanted our grantees to feel that level of love and care. Through the grants, we could do that for several grantees, and we got feedback years later that those dollars were some of the most meaningful they had ever received.
What does staying close to the work mean to you?
Staying close to the work means being in close relationship to those most impacted by the issues we’re working to address. It’s understanding where my experiences and knowledge fall short, and identifying experts who can help me fill those gaps. I lean on those who have insights I lack to support my work as an effective and responsible program officer.