Name: Arnoldo Avalos
Hometown: Gridley, CA & Juchitlan, Jalisco, Mexico
CHCI Program(s)/Year: Internship 1989
CHCI Program Placement(s): U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture
Current Position/Organization: Founder and CEO, Avalos Foundation
1. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
To be candid, I learned about the CHCI internship through my high school counselor. I am not sure how she learned about the program, and although I knew nothing about CHCI, I submitted my application.
My life experiences and background motivated me to be active in high school and in the Gridley community. I became my high school’s first Latino senior class president. I started a MECHA club on campus and was also president of the Spanish club. I always felt it was important to be involved in the local student body, and to provide a voice to Mexican American high school students. Based on my leadership and involvement, the counselor thought I’d be a great candidate for the Congressional internship program. Therefore I applied to program not knowing how impactful the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute experience would be.
I grew up in Gridley, CA, a small rural community where the majority of its 5,000 residents were Anglo American. My family was among the first-generation Mexicanos in that area, most of worked in the agricultural fields. Participating in CHCI’s program changed my mental paradigm; this experience really took me from “not knowing much” to “total exposure”. Most high students read about the executive and legislative branches of government only in textbooks. But to witness it firsthand was a tremendous experience – it can change someone’s life like it did for me – and it can compel students to dedicate their entire lives to community service and public policy work.
2. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
I graduated with honors from University of California, Berkeley with a History degree and then I attended and received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. I have worked for very successful and globally reputable companies though my career. I started as a process consulting re-engineering expert at Andersen Consulting (Accenture), mostly focused on human resources systems integration. Then, I worked at Cisco Systems transitioning from process consulting to the area of recruiting helped build up the General & Administrative function. I continued to grow my career by moving into the area of compensation and specifically focused on sales compensation at Cisco. I left Cisco for Google where I worked closely on sales compensation with Tim Armstrong (CEO of AOL) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Sukhinder Singh Cassidy (CEO of Joyus). Facebook recruited me to start the compensation department in March of 2008. I helped Facebook grow from a company of 425 employees with 60 million active users to now a company over 4500 employees and over billion active users. Today, I am participating in many business ventures from real estate to fast-food restaurants to Silicon Valley start-ups. Additionally, I am focused on building the reach of the Avalos Foundation and helping to grow non-profit organizations effectiveness through board participation.
3. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
The CHCI experience taught me about politics; how policy is made, how laws are passed, how hearings are conducted, and how constituents are represented; and it allowed me view and experience firsthand government at work. This experience empowered me to have a sense (in my work life) how things work together; how you work with others to ensure that you are achieving a common goal; finding people with similar interests to get on the same page and lobby for and achieving a common goal. These skills can be applied anywhere in life, private or public work environments.
I did the CHCI internship program the summer between high school and college when I was 19 years old. It was transformational. Being from a small town with little exposure (to national issues), going into a place with imminent power and distinction where laws are made and living on my own without the security of family and friends and learning to cook, iron clothes, and fulfilling my general daily needs completely changed my world view and my person. The CHCI experience really motivated me to work to change, improve, and better people’s lives through government. This experience truly changed my life/world view/perspective as a person and in my understanding of how you make social change happen on a mass scale. It influenced me to go into politics and to study government, go to Berkeley and then on Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
IT CHANGED THE COURSE OF MY LIFE, but it also became a motivator to understand what’s possible. It also showed me that people are human. The people you see on TV and read about in the newspapers are just like you and I. My CHCI experience effectively demystified this perception; this was a major paradigm shift.
4. How do you continue to give back to the community?
I summarize my philosophy on giving back with a quote from First Lady Michelle Obama: “When you’ve …walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not let it slam shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
In 2012, my wife Alma and I founded and funded the Avalos Foundation (http://avalosfoundation.org), which is focused on providing educational support for low-income students. To date, the Avalos Foundation has provided 14 college scholarships to high-achieving, low-income students from the Upper Sacramento Valley, the same rural, low-income and underserved region where I grew up. Additionally, the Avalos Foundation has sponsored two elementary afternoon school programs (in Gridley and Pleasanton CA) targeting youngsters who are financially disadvantaged and at-risk. More recently, the Avalos Foundation partnered with the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation and the Chicana/Latina Foundation to provide computers and internet access to low-income elementary students in the Pleasanton community.
In addition to the foundation, I have been a major supporter of the University of California Berkeley and the East Bay Community Fund. I also volunteer in my local Pleasanton schools district and with local nonprofit organizations, such as Latinas Contra Cancer and the Pleasanton Partnership in Education, as well as serving on the boards of the Latino Community Foundation and Hermanos Unidos.
5. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
In 5-10 years, I see myself focused on providing youth access to education through my foundation, possibly sitting on boards to advocate for equal education access for all and potentially on board of overseers for the California university system. It is really important to continue to give back, to make sure the door of opportunity stays open for the youth of America (the same opportunities I had). I need to continue to provide those opportunities to students who grew up like me.
The Avalos foundation focuses on providing scholarships to low-income students. The challenges we face in the USA today, regardless of the color of your skin, tend to be based in socioeconomic status – it’s important for me to make sure we ALL still have access to education. It’s the greatest equalizer. Through our family foundation, I want to focus on afterschool and early childhood education programs; giving young people the chance to learn about business and entrepreneurship. It is important to provide equal access to these opportunities to youth in communities without that same exposure. My ultimate goal? To keep the door of opportunity open for future generations.
How do we provide more underserved students with access to higher education, and then answer the question of “What happens after they graduate?” We need to work on identifying job opportunities and other issues of workforce development: placement, job creation, and diversity. I see myself starting a career placement firm to increase traditional underserved people representation in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley.
6. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Remember, success is NOT linear, it’s not ‘up and to the right’; there’s always going to be failure, and you must be resilient and recover from the failure to continue your path toward success. Do not lose yourself in the process of finding your future. Stay true to your core and where you come from, and your family, but continue to search for your dreams, and that defined sense of what makes you happy. If you find what makes you happy in life and career, then you’ll do well very well in life.
Never be scared of changing careers or taking risks to follow your happiness and do not give up your dreams. Sometimes we get locked into a certain path (career/job) because we’re afraid of change or afraid of the unknown, and that prevents people from really searching and trying to find what you really want to do. Follow the concept of “what would you do if you weren’t afraid” and “follow yourself to achieve your dreams.”
Taking calculated risk is really important – if you don’t risk, you don’t gain. That’s just the way it is.