Advocacy and Service Inspire a WFMN Leadership Journey
Erika Idrovo-Cuesta joined WFMN as a Wenda Weekes Moore Intern & continues as a program officer today
In December 2016, I started at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota as the Wenda Weekes Moore Intern. The role I played would later come full circle. As an intern, I was given the opportunity to dive deep into the world of philanthropy. That work gave me an understanding of my identity and the role I play as a young woman in a space of leadership. I worked closely with the Community Impact team and supported in community, grantmaking, and policy work. I have always been passionate about policy, and it plays an important role in my background. When I was an intern, I was planning to become an attorney in order to implement change through policy. However, working and learning with the Women’s Foundation as an intern showed me there are so many other pathways in which the work of policy is embedded in philanthropy. At WFMN, I saw the processes of creating change in a direct way.
Having been impacted by our immigration system, I have always been interested in how our policies affect people in their daily lives. As I evolved through my internship, I was able to find alignment between who I am and the work I want to do.
One of my biggest accomplishments as a Wenda Weekes Moore Intern was working with evaluation of programs and outcomes, and within that, supporting the girlsBEST Longitudinal report, which showed that building the economic power of girls works. The report surveyed more than 400 alumnae of the girlsBEST program between 2013 and 2017. Within that experience, I was able to understand how the girlsBEST program is building economic opportunities with girls. I learned how grantee-partners support girls and young women of color who they know experience barriers, including low incomes, limited resources, access, and more. Partners were providing solutions and access to solutions. I felt connected I had experienced these same things with my own family. The work taught me that I am not the only one who went through these challenges. Listening and learning from the girlsBEST participants made me feel empowered to say, “These are stories I want to tell the world!” By sharing the Longitudinal Study report, I felt that I had made a difference for girls like me and my community.
After my time as the Wenda Weekes Moore Intern, I became the next Dr. Reatha Clark King Fellow at WFMN. As a Fellow, I had even more space to learn what it means to be part of work that drives gender and racial justice. Over time, my career path was evolving, and I decided to shift away from policy to become a lawyer. At the conclusion of my Dr. Reatha Clark King Fellowship, I took time to advance my education and study abroad, and then returned to Minnesota and began working at a law firm. Although this was the work I originally intended to do, I learned quickly that it was not where I belonged, and it no longer aligned with the person I had become.
I chose to leave the field and return to the Women’s Foundation in August of 2019. I started as the office manager and was able to also support in an executive assistant role. With that experience, I was part of helping transition WFMN to a virtual space during the pandemic so we could continue our work in an effective, impactful, safe way.
Looking back now, the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) was first launched when I was the Wenda Weekes Moore Intern, and I was able to support its launch. Years later, I am in a position to lead this work and it feels like my role has come full circle. As a program manager, I was able to lead the launch of a new program called
Dream STEM Lead. Through this work, I came to understand what it means to build relationships and partnerships, using both creativity and innovation. In January 2022, I was excited to be offered a position as program officer with WFMN, which continues the work of philanthropy and takes the lead with the YWI MN program.
In my new position, I am continuing to learn how best to be an advocate and a servant to community. What that looks like is different for everyone, but for me, I feel this calling has been embedded in me through my family and being the first of many. I am the first in my family to pursue higher education by obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Augsburg University. Equity and justice work is a reminder of my calling and who I am as a person; it is truly who I am meant to be in this world. I am excited for my current position with WFMN and to continue the work of the foundation.
“My vision of a world of gender and racial justice is a world that supports and promotes the livelihood of all people, including people who are most marginalized and people with intersecting identities. Equity and justice work should always involve your own self-reflection as well as thinking about others and where they are in their lives. It’s time to move away from the biases. This work is suited a communal space and is community-driven; we need to align ourselves in those spaces.”
By Isatu Shirek, from an interview with Erika Idrovo-Cuesta, WFMN program officer
Isatu is the 2021-2022 Wenda Weekes Moore Intern. From Grand Forks, North Dakota, Isatu believes in the importance of sharing stories to encourage change. Growing up as one of the select minorities in her community has led her to want to encourage and give other Black, Indigenous, and people of color a way to share their stories and inspire change in their own communities. She aims to carry that passion and learned skills with her as the Wenda Weekes Moore Intern at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. She graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University in May 2022 and plans to attend graduate school in communications.
“Working with a diverse group of women for gender and racial equity at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota aligns with my belief in using one’s voice and taking action to change harmful narratives.”– Isatu Shirek