Latina Leadership Institute

This month’s contributor to our blog is Mónica Cucalón, the Managing Director of Economic Empowerment at the Latin American Association (LAA). Mónica writes about LAA’s Latina Leadership Institute, which works to empower low-income Latina immigrants through direct services, partnerships and advocacy. LAA receives funding from AWF for their Latina Leadership Institute through our Women’s Pathway to Success program.

Latinas are one of the fastest growing demographic groups in Georgia yet still experience significant disparities in economic outcomes compared to their counterparts in other racial and ethnic groups. Latinos currently account for 18% of the U.S. population and 10% of Georgia. By 2040, estimates predict Georgia’s Latino population growing even faster, particularly in diverse counties like Gwinnett County.

Despite these growing numbers, Latinos do not yet see the same levels of economic success as other racial and ethnic groups. Atlanta has long been called the worst city in the country for income inequality. This means that, if you are born into poverty in the Atlanta area, it is very unlikely that you will ever climb out of poverty. 43% of Latino children live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, compared to 6% of their white peers, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Research from the Latino Community Fund also shows us that Georgia is home to one of the groups opening businesses faster than any other demographic segment in the country: Latina women.

The Latin American Association (LAA) responded to the growing need of Latina women in Georgia to be supported in their journey to economic empowerment and entrepreneurship by creating the Latina Leadership Institute, with generous support from The Atlanta Women’s Foundation and The Coca-Cola Foundation. Combining business education courses, mentorship, microloans, and English courses, this is an innovative program designed to capitalize on Latina women’s interests, skills, and talents along their journey of personal and professional growth.

Beginning with the basics – classes on credit and budget and what it takes to start a business – the women are funneled through a series of classes designed to increase their financial literacy and support them in creating a firm financial plan for their future. Offered quarterly with flexible schedule, our women will go through approximately 20 hours of business classes at the LAA throughout the entrepreneurship course, “mujeres y negocios” of the Latina Leadership Institute. Once participants complete the business program, they become eligible for a microloan of up to $5,000 to launch or grow their businesses.

Latina Leadership Graduates are making real impact, in their communities and in their households. There is Adriana Bocanegra, who turned her passion for photography into a full-time business earning her own income. We have Eva Campelo from Argentina, who turned her dedication to financially supporting her children into a shapewear business with two locations across north Georgia. The Latina Leadership Institute gave Teresa Rodriguez the tools and confidence to turn her family’s skill in the kitchen into a thriving restaurant business that shares her Puerto Rican cuisine with her community in Mableton.

Adriana Bocanegra and Eva Campelo
Teresa Rodriguez

As a result of the Latina Leadership Institute, low-income Latina women across metro Atlanta are managing their finances more successfully, becoming successful entrepreneurs and small business owners, and experiencing fewer economic disparities and more workforce opportunities. In 2018 alone, 339 women were served through business education, financial literacy, English, and life skills classes with an additional 800 women attending the program’s Latina Empowerment Conference.

In order for Atlanta and Georgia to do well, Latinas must do well. The Latina Leadership Institute, with the generous supporter of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation, is working to do just that.


Mónica Cucalón serves as the Managing Director of Economic Empowerment at the Latin American Association (LAA). She formerly served as the LAA’s Women’s Program Manager for over four years. She is an accomplished marketing and branding professional with 25 years of experience in the United States and Latin America. She has successfully led multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns for consumer products and has extensive experience in market strategy and research, advertising campaigns, branding and consumer behavior. Monica is a strategic thinker who possesses deep insights into the U.S. Latino and Latin American markets. Monica has a bachelor’s in business and a master of marketing from the Technological Institute of Monterrey, Mexico. She lives in metro Atlanta with her two sons.

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