Meet 2019 NGen Award finalist Silvia Paz
// By Jacqueline Brennan
Once the votes are counted, this year’s winner will be announced at Upswell this November. Here’s a heads up: Selecting just one winner from our six finalists will be tough. Each is an amazing changemaker who has made great strides toward transformative social impact in the communities they serve through collaborative leadership.
To help you make your decision, we asked each finalist to tell you a little bit about themselves, what drives them, and why the work they do is important.
So meet Silvia Paz, Executive Director of Alianza Coachella Valley in Coachella, California. Silvia is focused on the unmet needs of rural communities and “working with residents and nonprofits to tackle inequities in our region together.”
Q: Who or what inspires you – and why?
SP: When I need inspiration, I turn to the future. I have two young daughters, one is five the other is eight. When the going gets rough I have to ask myself, do I want them to inherit my struggles?
Q: What does changemaker mean to you?
SP: “Changemaker” means taking the steps needed to make this world a better place, even when it may not be popular or easy to do so.
Q: Other than the announcement of the winner of the NGen Leadership Award, what are you most looking forward to at Upswell?
SP: Last year was the first time I attended Upswell, and I found the experience grounding. I appreciate listening to speakers that bring in a national perspective. It’s a reminder to myself that my work is part of a bigger equity movement. I look forward to reliving that!
Q: What is the most personally meaningful action/protest/campaign that you have participated in?
SP: I grew up drinking water from a well and never questioned its quality. It wasn’t until 2009, through my involvement with Pueblo Unido CDC, a nonprofit organization that works with the many mobile home park communities in the area, that I learned of the dire need for potable drinking water in our region.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring contaminant in our water; people who rely on well water are especially at risk. Through Pueblo Unido we started a campaign to change that. This resulted in legislation that allowed us to pioneer the first point-of-use and point-of-entry reverse osmosis water filtration system, which we use as an interim solution. Working with the residents of the mobile homes, in 2014 we organized to change the election system of our water board from at-large to by-district, ensuring a more accountable representative body. Statewide, we joined the Water4All campaign that raised awareness about water needs in California, and installed water hydration stations in various public spaces. By being one of the communities across California making water quality a priority, we contributed to the state’s efforts to increase resources in the form of grants, including the 2019 Safe and Affordable Water Fund.
Q: In one sentence, how would you capture your core values?
SP: Collective impact moves at the speed of trust, faith, and courage.
Q: What leadership qualities do you think are most important for emerging leaders in the charitable community or working for social impact to develop?
SP: The leadership qualities that keep me alive are:
- Being ok with vulnerability – yes, I have cried in public, I have admitted that the results we seek might not be what we attain, and that I cannot do this alone. Doing this has resulted in a collaborative space where we all have something to contribute.
- Learning to distinguish my self from the role. As a Christian, I hold on to the believe that what I’m doing in this world is part of something greater and that I exist outside of this role. Creating a more equitable society is difficult work, full of complications, and when things don’t go right I try to remind myself that I am not defined by specific incidents. It’s like I have pulled myself out and gained a different perspective in order to keep going.